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June 25, 2017

Why I Stopped Trying to be Happy.

https://unsplash.com/search/backpacking?photo=FvfK16cHRrE

I am an emotional person.

I always have been. I had a temper as a kid, I was a classic moody teenager, and now that I’m older, I’ve worked hard to learn to channel my emotions in a positive way.

Still, sometimes they overwhelm me—and whether it’s anxiety or excitement, I feel drained after. When I’m angry, I want to destroy cities. When I’m sad, I want to curl up in a deep hole underground. When I’m anxious, I feel scarily nauseated. And when I’m happy, I’m wired and jittery, my energy comes out in spurts and I can’t sit still.

Is this really what I’m working toward?

At some point, I began to wonder what exactly happiness means. Sad, happy, anxious, excited—these are all emotions and part of my way of handling them is to understand that they are fleeting. Emotions come and go, rising and falling with the ups and downs of life.

What is happiness anyway? My entire life I was told by people that they “just want me to be happy,” and then society defined what “happy” was for me. College, marriage, kids, a stable and “successful” career, retirement, and naturally, death.

I began to think maybe I didn’t really want to be happy, maybe I was just seeking contentment on a daily basis. Instead of a flaring emotion that overtakes me, I wanted a foundation of positive feeling. Yet, I didn’t find happiness or contentment during or after college.

Instead, I found myself when I traveled to faroff places. The first time I felt I truly fit in was when I studied abroad in Spain for three months—and again when I left to backpack through Europe for six months. Though I can’t exactly say I was happy the whole time I was backpacking in Europe. I was still working through travel anxiety in the beginning and every time I had a train or bus to catch, I had nausea.

I don’t consider myself to be the most outgoing person, and sometimes I spent 10 minutes working up the courage just to say “hi” to another backpacker. Sometimes, I didn’t even feel like figuring it out. I was tired of finding where the bus stations were and learning to communicate in another language.

For two weeks I was sick. One night, I even had to sleep in a parking lot—don’t get me started on unwashed, smelly bedsheets in Turkey.

No situation ever seemed perfect, and while there was always something to rave about, there was also always something to complain about.

Yet, I was addicted. I didn’t want to go home.

In fact, it was the last thing I wanted. I started to wonder why, while also working to understand my new deep love of travel.

It’s great yes, to see spectacular architecture and to have adventures all the time—but it’s more than that. It’s the underlying transformation that occurs, the one we are not always aware of, but suddenly when we look back at who we were two months ago, we realize we are someone completely different.

It’s the feeling of discovering we loved something we might not have known existed. It’s that self-motivation cultivating itself and bursting forth. It’s the feeling that our minds are turning inside out when we are immersed in a concept we haven’t experienced before.

It’s the constant, unavoidable learning. The repeated perspective shifts, forcing us to go deeper and deeper into our views on life, the world, and ourselves.

And suddenly, I realized, that I don’t really care whether or not I’m happy. I need to be fulfilled.

My fulfillment is learning, experiencing, and doing new things every week in a city with new people. My fulfillment is creating, putting hours into my short stories to make them the best they can be—even if they never get published.

My fulfillment is challenging every aspect of myself, pushing it to one more level, seeing just how far I can go. My fulfillment is striving to chase my wildest dream, even if it means saying good-bye to new people I connect with and cherish on a regular basis.

Even if it means having to learn a new environment on a monthly basis. Even it if means financial instability and understanding that, while I am not in the perfect place yet, I can work hard to be where I want to.

I don’t want to be content, either.

I want to have peace with who I am and an understanding of all the choices I’ve made up to this point in life. I want to understand why I made them, what I’ve learned from them, how they contribute to who I am today, and then be able to decide whether or not I want them to contribute. I want to develop my own philosophy to live by.

Forget it. I don’t want to be happy. I don’t want to be content.

I want to be at peace with myself. I want to be fulfilled. And I’m daring to make it happen.
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Author: B. Ryan
Image: Denys Argyriou/Unsplash
Editor: Taia Butler
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman

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B. Ryan