My ideas about what it means to be happy and how you get there keep changing. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve also been sleeping horribly lately, so I’ve had some time on my hands.
Your upbringing, your genes, and your overall body chemistry play a big part of who you are and how your head works. Most of that is just hands-off immutable stuff without a doctor or therapist in the picture. But for everything they can’t touch, there’s plenty that you can. (Whether you think so or not.) That’s where you can focus if you’re trying to change things.
Change can mean lots of things, too. Whatever you think will make you happy is probably what will. You won’t always be right. It’ll take a lifetime of trial and error to figure it out. It might even take talking to someone to help you think things through. Maybe if you started working out that would make you happy. Maybe getting married would do it. Maybe a different job. Who knows. Everybody’s got different motivations.
I believe you can fundamentally change who you are for the better, but I also believe it’s super hard to do. There’s a reason people say “People don’t change,” and while I don’t think that’s true for everyone, I do think changing yourself and who you are can really be difficult. I have guesses about how to make it happen, but I think it mostly boils down to time, dedication, and influence. Mostly influence.
You can devote time and dedicate yourself to a task. Anyone can do that; it just takes focus. Influence is a much less concrete concept and influence is everything.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
– Mark Twain
That quote kind of gets at what I’m thinking of.
Our interactions with others influence everything that we do and everything that we are, and that only gets truer as we get farther and farther away from where we started in life. Over time our own perceptions and behaviors are all increasingly tied to the people that we’ve chosen to let into our lives (and some that we haven’t).
Environment plays a part, but the people that make you laugh, make you cry, make you worry, make you indifferent…everyone you interact with, no matter how briefly, can shape who you are.
Maybe you’re like…buying a hot dog from a guy with a mean face, but he shows you incredible kindness. Two for the price of one. No questions asked, just here ya go. Free dog just because. Or maybe your eyes are puffy and red when you ask for extra onions and he notices and takes a minute to ask if you’re okay. Suddenly everyone you run into with mean faces will seem a little bit nicer. Or maybe just hot dog sellers will. Or both.
Maybe it’s enough to just work really hard to get to a spot in your life where you “feel happy” and then just go it alone. Find a nice quiet place out in the woods somewhere – some little secluded shack on the edge of a lake, surrounded by forest and bothered by no one. Maybe with a dog. Definitely with a reading list. It sounds great, but it won’t be for long.
Humans are social creatures. Without regular interaction with others, we just lose our shit. Even though solo mountaineers and sailors manage to do it for brief periods, socially isolating your brain is risky.
People are always changing. Your own concept of happiness and what’s important to you will continue to evolve and change with every passing day with or without human interaction.
The truth is that this constant cycle of learning about ourselves, about each other, and about what really motivates our own happiness will only end when we die. It’s a constant thing to chase happiness, find people who inspire and lift you up, and mold your life around it all. I guess that’s what we’re all looking for.
Surround yourself with the people, ideas, and things that have the capacity and the ability to make you happy. Do that as much as you can.
Tell the people who touch you that you appreciate them. Tell them you love them. None of them are perfect, but their good parts will rub off on you and will stay with you, hopefully pushing you to make others feel the way they’ve made you feel.
Cultivate the ideas that make you smile and follow their lead. Write silly things. Read books. Write books. Find people who share your opinions and realize that for all you’ve got in common you’re a pretty diverse crowd with a lot to learn from each other.
Don’t discount the importance of having “things,” because they can help you find your happy. Don’t just watch TV. Look at it for the content delivery box that it is, and take time to appreciate all the emotions and insights into the world that it’s brought you. Don’t just ride in cars. Look at them as remarkably engineered transportation devices that can carry you to meet friends old and new.
We’re all just motes of light, flitting through time, meeting others and changing hues along the way. Try to be as colorful as you can.