The Importance and Pervasive Possibility of Happiness

Forest - Cottage Grove, Oregon
Entered on May 4, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

Over the past few years I have struggled with maintaining my own happiness, a problem countless people face on an ongoing basis. The issues that have caused my unhappiness, their respective remedies, and the experience as a whole have led me to believe that happiness can not always be conjured through a positive mindset, but that through careful introspection into the issues that are causing one’s unhappiness, one ought to be able to fix the problem. After watching what depression and general unhappiness has done to various people I have known, as well as myself, I feel that the ability to find happiness is one that must be tended to before any other problem can be addressed.

Sometimes an unhappy person may need to make a lifestyle change to lift their perspective, but in other situations the problem may be resolved simply by finding a legitimate justification for the choices in one’s life. This second scenario was the way in which I came to terms with the cynical world view I once developed. I was in high school when, along with the new freedoms I enjoyed, came a sense that it was the extravagance that I took part in that was allowing for and fueling the poverty and world conflicts I wished to do all I could to resolve. The realization that I was finally in control of my life, coupled with my sense of an inability to change, resulted in a very dark outlook on my lifestyle. However, after many important conversations and many hours spent contemplating and writing on the subject, I was able to come to a small but important understanding. I realized over time that although the world may have many problems, I do not need to let them affect my own personal happiness and that my happiness does not help or hurt anyone but me. I also learned that although I could do nothing to change the world immediately, I could begin to research, explore, and imagine new ways to help in the future. For the first time I found that my imagination, by far my most treasured resource, was infinitely more potent when my mindset was positive. This discovery convinced me that maintaining my own happiness is the most important task that I have in this world and one that must come first before all others.

More recently, my ability to sustain my own happiness was threatened again by my own choices. When I arrived at college, I was filled with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a deep need to continue writing and learning about music. However, hours away from my home in the woods and suddenly living with a stranger in a tiny dormitory room in the city, I was understandably afraid. Life provided me a “safe” route on which there was no chance of me trying and failing to realize my dreams. I ended up spending my first term laying in bed watching movies and surfing the internet. Sometimes I would go entire weeks without playing the piano and without writing or learning a single note. From my cocoon I experienced the withering of my own soul. As before, it took the wisdom of others, as well as countless hours spent in quiet meditation on the subject to fix the problem. This time, unlike the last, it was at first unclear to me why I was unhappy. My mind found the easiest reasons to blame the problem on and did so until I finally discovered the root of the issue – the fact that I was not playing music. At the time there were scapegoats available to me on which I could blame the problem without taking responsibility myself. As soon as I began to practice again and get back into the flow of creative writing, my opinion of myself and of my world changed dramatically over the course of a few days. As before, my creativity was greatly aided by my positive mindset and my mind was no longer clouded by unhappy and destructive thoughts.

The more informed I become, the more difficult it seems to be happy. I sometimes feel as though I take on another responsibility with each piece of knowledge I acquire. But if I ever begin to let the world, or my own failings bring me down, I spend as much time as it takes telling myself that dwelling on the anger or sadness will do nothing but cloud my creativity so that I can not even hope to do better. Someone whole-heartedly shares my conviction that all people can be happy: the Dalai Lama. In the book The Art of Happiness, written by Howard C. Cutler, the Dalai Lama is quoted extensively. I found confirmation of the ideas I have discovered on almost every page. The thought that someone who spends all of their time contemplating issues such as happiness and the problems of the world could have come to the same conclusions as me was very encouraging. Intuitively, I now feel that all people have the power to be happy, and that it is an issue which all of us must address before we can begin work on any other aspect of our lives.