Lately I’ve been thinking about a lot of things that come with being an adult. Paying back loans, investing, health insurance, rent, and that ever elusive “five year plan”. In the midst of all this I’ve been circling around the question of what exactly success looks like to me.
Is success power, or money? Influence? Title? In reality I think most people come to the conclusion that success is not something that can be tangibly measured.
For me, I think that success is defined by happiness. But this concept isn’t any less elusive than the concept of success itself. Happiness doesn’t necessarily mean that you walk through life in a state of euphoria, to look for that is to end up chasing cheap thrills and quick highs. Impulse buys, and bad decisions. Expecting happiness to be a state of EVERYTHING IS AWESOME a la Lego Movie is ridiculous.
So what is happiness? How do you get there?
If you ask me (and you didn’t, but you’re here reading anyways) happiness is built on the freedom of choice.
Happiness has highs, and lows, and stress, and exhaustion. Happiness is the ability to throw your self into something full force. Happiness is knowing when to engage and when to pull back, and feeling like the elements of your life are in your control.
Think back to middle school. Most middle schoolers I know detest school, or at least claim to. Do 12 and 13 year olds really hate learning? Do they really hate being with their peers for 6 hours a day? I would venture to say no… but I think most people DO hate feeling that they are being forced to do something. When you have no control over the events of your day, its easy to resent the thing that takes that control away.
Think forward, what are the things that are most upsetting to adults? Not responsibilities that we have chosen to take on. If you volunteer for a project at work, or to help planning a charity event, or to fund raise for a cause, its almost fun. You take pride in what you are doing, how you have chosen to spend your time and the responsibility that you have taken on.
But conversely, think about how you feel about a demanding boss, or being summoned to jury duty. Frustrated. Grumpy. Disgruntled. Not Happy. These things take away your ability to chose what to pursue and how to spend your time.
So what about when life throws you a set of circumstances that take away your ability to choose? There are all sorts of situations in which you have exactly zero choice. Sometimes things just happen. According to this theory, how can you be happy when life plays you a bad card?
Well I would venture to say that no one is happy when they get dealt a bad hand (excuse all the playing card allusions lately). But you CAN find happiness in how you choose to respond, what you choose to do next.
So in the spirit of being young and naive and optimistic, here’s a cliche. Maybe life really IS what you make it. Success is determined by your own definition, and happiness is quite literally, in your control.