What does it take to be happy? The variables change and the levels I need of certain things have fluctuated throughout my life. As a child, I needed very little to spark the joy. I would sit for hours in my play room and use imagination to carry me into that promise land of bliss. I was happiest when I was discovering something new, singing a song, writing a poem or creating a scenario to play with my barbies and hot wheels (yes I had and loved both.) Sometimes all it took was a high five from a new friend or staying out on the front yard running around until the sun set on my house in Miami. My mom would try calling me in for dinner 3, 4, 5 times until she gave up and brought a plate out for me to enjoy outside. I’d sit on the cool concrete front stoop enjoying the fragrant black beans and rice as the sun duck down further behind the neighborhood. The palm tree I used as a swing would stare at me from a few feet away, beckoning me to finish my meal quickly so I could take the final few leaps before bedtime. It was such a thrill to hang on to the leaves and catch air down the sloping hill of my front yard until I circled 180 degrees back to the other side of the tree. Happiness was simple.
As I got older, it was all about fitting in. The security of belonging to a group made daily life easy at school. Just follow the self-imposed rules and every experience was sweeter. Strayed and the hell was imminent. Yup mean girls was a very real occurrence at our school and I experienced both sides of it. I remember ostracizing some people because our group decided not to like them. But I belonged and thus was happy. I also remember the gossip that occurred later when I decided to step out because I was upset with our actions. Eventually, I got lucky and found an amazing group Senior year, one that was tolerant, driven, smart, and kind. Popular for the right reasons, this time the happiness felt deserved.
Now, my happiness equation has become an adult’s wishlist; a combination of practical wants and primal needs with the occasional whim of fancy required to jolt the mundane.
Identity/Career + Love + Financial Freedom + Adventure=
As I approach the end of my twenties, the things I want have morphed into a complex to do list, one that can easily become unmanageable and stressful if I forget to pause for a moment.
So that’s what I did recently on a beach in California. I said to hell with sand creeping into the seams of my book and let them blow into every crevice without wiping the grains away. I didn’t care if my hair got tossed out of place in the wind and left it blowing wildly, instead of tying it back. I stopped looking at the time. Stopped focusing on how I’d need to fly back home in a few hours. I didn’t care who was watching. I lay down on my belly, stared out to the ocean and relaxed as the waves provided a subtle soundtrack to the story I was reading to myself. And then I paused further. Closed my book, sat up and leaned back. I splayed out like a starfish, a sort of sand angel. Now the grains crept into my strands and the cloudless sky became the backdrop to which I imagined my thoughts could be drawn onto. Nothing that usually matters, mattered. All those things that add up to a bad day or stressful time in my life….dissolved. I was left with a moment where my sensations became the focus. Breathing, seeing, and feeling became enough. And that is what the happiness equation is truly about. Existing.
When we step back and try to add in all of our desires we ultimately find that they do not equal happiness.
They give us the wrong answer every single time.
Even if we are one of the lucky few that do achieve everything we wanted, it’s too arduous a struggle to hold onto every element for long. And we have to be prepared to live with having just 4 out of 5, or sometimes even just 1 out of 5 things from our equations sometimes.
It’s time to simplify.
And I don’t mean romantic love although it can sneak in there. Love of life is more the gist. Simply loving the feeling of being alive because we don’t have a lot of time here. And we don’t know when it’ll be our time to go. So I’m going to make an effort to let go of all these things I want more often and just enjoy the time. It’s not going to be easy in any way, but I want to try. I really do think it’s worth it.
If you’re feeling brave, head over to check out these photographs by Angelo Merendino and I promise, perspective won’t be far out of your grasp.
What does your equation look like?
What truly makes you happy?