The Essentials to Happiness

Alexxandra Shuman - South Burlington, Vermont
As heard on This I Believe Podcast, December 17, 2018
Alexxandra Shuman

When Alexxandra Shuman was in eighth grade, she was diagnosed with clinical depression. But it took more than medication for her to feel happy again. Ms. Shuman believes she has to look in the right places in order to find happiness.

Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: hope, love
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As a child, I was generally happy, singing and dancing to my favorite songs, smiling and laughing with my friends and family. But as far back as second grade, I noticed a “darkness,” about me. I didn’t enjoy engaging in many things. I didn’t relate to my peers in elementary school because they appeared so happy, and I didn’t have that ability to achieve happiness so easily.

In middle school things in my life began to get even worse. I began withdrawing from everything I once enjoyed—swimming, tennis, family. I hated going to sleep knowing I had to wake up to another day. I was always tired. Everything was horrible. Finally, midway through eighth grade, I was told I had a chemical imbalance, diagnosed with clinical depression, and put on medication. It took months for me to feel the effects of the medication.

When I began to feel happy again is when I realized that I had to take the responsibility for getting better myself, rather than relying on medication and therapy alone. Aristotle said, “To live happily is an inward power of the soul,” and I believe that this quote describes what I had to do to achieve happiness. Happiness is a journey. Everyone seems to need different things to be happy. But I believe people are blinded from what truly makes one happy.

Growing up, we’re encouraged to be successful in life, but how is success defined? Success and happiness are imagined now as having a lot of money. It is so untrue. Recently I went to Costa Rica and visited the small town of El Roble. I spent the day with a nine-year-old girl named Marilyn. She took me to her house to meet her parents. It was obvious that they were not rich, living in a small house with seven children. The house was cluttered but full of life. Those who have decided that success and happiness comes from having money and a big house would be appalled at how utterly happy this family from El Roble is. People say that seeing things like that makes you appreciate what you have, but for me, it made me envy them for being so happy without all the things I have.

“The essentials to happiness are something to love, something to do, and something to hope for,” a quote from William Blake sums up what I believe people need to realize to be truly happy in life. People need love; I feel they need their family and their friends more than anything in the world. People need work to do, something to make them feel they are making a difference in the world. People need to know that more good is to come in the future, so they continue to live for “now” instead of constantly worrying about the bad that could come. And most importantly, people need to know that happiness is not something that happens overnight. Love and hope are happiness.

Alexxandra Shuman wrote this piece when she was 16. When we broadcast her essay, she was a 24-year-old graduate of Smith College with a degree in Art History. After studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she discovered her passion and is now completing her second year at the New England Culinary Institute. She has curated exhibits at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and recently completed an internship at the renowned WildFlour Pastry in Charleston, South Carolina. She is very happy.

Recorded by Vermont Public Radio and produced by Dan Gediman for This I Believe, Inc.