Growing up in the rough way that I had, the concept of happiness was always so foreign to me. It was an abstract idea that, although it was always talked about with such fondness, it seemed not many people were actively pursuing. I think that is something that could be said especially for my community; one where the concept of “getting by” trumped the importance of self-care. I think that’s one of the reasons why my family was so toxic, and why for the life of me I can’t really pinpoint a time in my childhood when I was truly happy.
This may seem like an angst-filled post in which I proceed to blame all of my life’s shortcomings on my shitty upbringing, but that’s not what this is. Maybe that’s what it would be if I was still that young teenage girl with bottled-up hatred for the world and an unwillingness to understand the people that hurt her, but I’m wiser now, and I understand that the events of my childhood were as a result of a chain reaction that commenced before I was even a thought. Rather, this post is about my own struggle with the pursuit of happiness, and how I struggled to try and find it as far away from home as possible. If it wasn’t for my unhappy life and my desperation to blindly follow an idea of where I thought happiness resided, I would have never applied for the scholarship that payed for the exchange that changed my life.
When I received the good news it was one of those days. One of the “bad days” that me and too many other unlucky children had the misfortune of experiencing throughout a traumatic childhood. I refer to this as one of the bad days because, although there were rarely any truly “good” days in my household, the “bad days” made me wish for the days that were just slightly less than ok. I had received the call that I would be leaving for France shortly after an episode in my household and all I could do was sob. I’m sure it confused the volunteer as they were probably not used to that reaction, but after the episode that had just occurred a few minutes prior, getting the news that I could finally escape my own personal hell was enough to bring me to tears. From then on it was all about France for me, and a lot of people I knew were annoyed because it was all I would talk about. But little did these same people know that for this fifteen year old girl, this France trip meant survival. It was the first time I really saw a chance that I could truly be happy, and that’s how my pursuit of happiness began. However, things rarely work out as one plans them to, so instead of being truly happy with my new life, I became just ok.
Now I am not going to lie and say that there weren’t times when I was truly happy, because there were, but they were fleeting. Behind the persona I tried to create of this perfect, well-adjusted girl embarking on a new adventure, the demons of my past and present continued to haunt and hinder me, never truly allowing the feeling of happiness to stay. I knew that it was all temporary; that I was going to have to leave my life I’ve built, my friends, my persona, and my “happiness,” and return to the shell that kept all forms of light from reaching me. And that made me just ok, because, with those thoughts looming over me, I could never truly be happy.
So I returned, and I was right. It was back into the shell for me. It was back to “bad days” that made me wish for my “just ok” days that I fooled myself into believing we’re the only days that I was truly happy, and I was angry. So angry. So much so that I became a person that I didn’t like, content to believe that I left the version of myself that I liked back in France along with my happiness. But I was wrong, she was with me the whole time, and it wasn’t until I came to realize that fact that I could truly begin healing from the wounds inflicted in my past.
That didn’t mean, however, that my pursuit of happiness was over. Au contraire, it was just beginning. And if you expected that by the end of this post I would have found all the answers to obtaining true happiness than let me tell you, this is not that post. The truth is I’m still actively pursuing my own happiness, and my I have no answers as to when my pursuit will be over (although I suspect it will occur somewhere in Hawaii). It’s been four years since I was that naive fifteen year old girl searching for happiness, and I still haven’t found it yet. But one thing I’ve come to realize is that to pursue happiness in the form of a physical object or idea is to place more hurdles between yourself and the finish line, because once these things have been obtained and you realize that they don’t help you achieve true happiness, it becomes harder to find. In my opinion, true happiness has to come from within; it comes from the soul. The only thing you can do to awaken it is to nurture your soul and yourself in a way that keeps you physically and mentally healthy and allows for peace of mind.
Is this something that I myself have achieved? No, not even close. I still have a lot of peace to make with myself and others before I can truly achieve peace of mind. Maybe that’s why I travel, to avoid it, knowing the people that I have yet to make the most peace with are within my own home. I can admit that I’m not ready, and I’m still young so it may be a while before I truly am. However, that is certainly not the only reason that I like to participate in new cultural experiences. The world is a big place, and it can be scary, especially for someone that first learned the world was evil from within the walls of her own home. I don’t want to be scared anymore. So I travel, to prove to myself that not everything about this world is evil; that there is still a beautiful silver lining even in the scariest of thunderstorms. I want to believe that there is still happiness in the world. I want to meet people who have found it. I want to find my peace. Is there a chance that this happiness I seek is an abstract concept that might not even exist? Maybe. But does that mean that I should give up my pursuit and accept the unhappiness or “just ok-ness” offered to me by my circumstances? Hell no. And I won’t. I won’t stop until I complete my pursuit of happiness, or until I’m dead. Whichever comes first.