Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with some students. One of them said to me “I can’t wait to be actually successfully happy.” I was surprised by her statement which implied that she had never been happy and her response was “Well, of course I’ve been happy, but it’s not real happy because it’s other people’s happy. I want to make my own happy – then I’ll know that I’m successful. Right now I’m too obsessed with other people”
It’s certainly not a far fetched notion that teens over-obsess over “other people”, but it is probably an idea dismissed by most adults. However, the more I reflected on the idea of “making your own happy”, the more I realized how right this girl was.
True “successful happiness” is reached when your life is made up of things/actions/people that you sincerely want; that moment when you stop coveting the lives of others or comparing your own measures of success to other people’s, and most importantly, that moment when you stop being jealous of “other people” because your life is all you want or need.
This is indeed an incredible place to be.
The weeks approaching my 40th birthday (which was last weekend), I did what I usually do about my journeys, I wrote about it. In trying to assemble a list of 40 things I’ve learned about life, it became apparent that a few themes seemed to dominate the paper landscape. So I did what any good teacher did, I organized. So here, friends are some personal conclusions I’ve reached after four decades of life.
1. The state of women in the world has not changed since my early feminist-teen years. I always thought that by the time I got to this age, being a woman would be awesome. That around the world women’s health, economic situations, political power, day-to-day living and general freedoms would no longer be controlled by religion, government or culture. I thought that violence against women would be seen as archaic and the “way things used to be”; that women would all support and encourage each other’s individual choices in life even when they conflicted with their own; that gender specific rhetoric would never cross the mouths of young girls; and that men would have taken up some of the feminist reins and helped create a truly equal world. Alas, the proliferation of media has shown me that this is not the case, and on some level we may even be worse off in part because of the same said media. I hope that in the next four decades (but hopefully much sooner), these things I hoped for long ago will somehow materialize.
2. Sincerity is a very difficult thing to master and even harder to identify in others. I’m not talking about the inevitable jealousy that sometimes rears its ugly head, I’m talking about reaching a place where you actually mean it; a place where the motivation behind your thoughts and actions is pure and unadulterated desire to do so. The disappointing life lesson has been the realization of others’ insincerity, manifested in family members who allow money to dictate relationships, friends who toss you aside when they no longer need you, and coworkers who pretend with a selfish end-game in mind. But the journey here ends when you reach a point when sincerity is the main motive behind what you say and do. I am here now.
3. The human body will respond to the way it is treated. If you treat it like a garbage disposal for unnatural food, toxic substances, and mental anguish it will respond accordingly with unhealthy manifestations of rage. I think I’ve successfully conquered all of these things, except for the latter; something which I have yet to learn to manage properly. I continue to internalize way too much, and the stress reeks havoc on my well-being as it does with so many other people. I am still working on not “sweating the small stuff”, especially at work, and focusing instead on what really matters because, almost always, it’s not that which I get stressed out about.
4. Experience wins over stuff – every time. I’ve realized over the years that humanity’s obsession with stuff is merely a distraction, a temporary detour on the path to finding real satisfaction. The most detrimental thing we do to ourselves is waiting (wait for next week, next year, when I get a better job, when I lose 10lbs, etc.). Life will not wait, and happiness is worth actively seeking. Time and experience will always unfold the same answer: things will never bring you real joy, and one of the most fulfilling experience is love. Real love and partnership is so worth it. It takes time to find, longer to hone, and a lifetime to cherish, but it is the one thing the drives life.
There you have it, me at 40: happier and healthier than I have ever been and that I ever dreamt I would be. Here’s to another 40…