The real power of traveling to far away lands is that doing so teaches you an immense amount about yourself. You go far away from everything you know and end up learning about that which you thought you knew best, yourself.
During my adventures I have met many thousands of people. Despite speaking different languages, generally different genetics, and having completely different upbringings, every person that I have met has fallen into one of two important classifications. They either consider themselves happy or they don’t.
The importance is in their opinion, not mine. It is their happiness, not mine.
It is common knowledge that the aspect that separates the happy from the unhappy isn’t situational or economic. Many famous and rich people consider themselves happy. Likewise, many unknown and poor people consider themselves happy. Paradoxically, the opposite can be true for similar people who are in the same situation. Anyone can be happy or unhappy, external factors are not the sole determining factor.
So what is the real difference between a happy person and an unhappy person?
The difference isn’t defined by the normal measuring sticks of life. Newspaper section titles don’t apply here. Instead, the answer is something that is not typically applied as a measurement at all.
Happiness for any length of time requires maintenance. The birthday candle gets blown out and eventually the child’s smile relinquishes its grasp. The grand slam is hit and eventually the fans drive home. The double chocolate chip cookie is eaten and eventually the taste fades.
The difficult aspect of happiness is not finding it, happiness is everywhere. Instead, the difficulty is in maintaining it.
This is something that I sometimes forget. I work incredibly hard in my life to live in very specific ways (minimalism, paleo, digital nomadism). I pursue these things because they make me happy. Once I am successfully there, the natural conclusion is to think that my work is done and I will now live happily ever after.
But as we all know, that is not how life works.
Happiness requires maintenance. Priorities change, interests fade and relationships ebb and flow. The reason happiness is so hard to sustain is because, like life, happiness is a moving target.
Do yourself a favor and do some intentional happiness maintenance today.
- Are your primary relationships still bringing you the same happiness that they have in the past?
- Is your job still bringing happiness into your life?
- Are your hobbies still bringing you the happiness that made you interested in them in the first place?
If the answer to any of the above questions is no, don’t consider it a failure. Instead, perform some routine maintenance.
In my life, I have had jobs that I have worked incredibly hard and passionately at only to realize that my priorities and interests have changed and that I have been going in the wrong direction for months.
The same has happened with interests, hobbies and relationships.
The problem was I blindly ran in the direction that had once made me happy without doing the maintenance required to account for changing targets.
So how do you avoid these common pitfalls? The answer is the same as it is for all incredibly large problems, start small.
Make tiny actions and begin trimming that which is unnecessary. Identify what does make you happy in the given area of your life and begin recalibrating your happiness target. Focus on the positive, not the negative.
We live in a world of constant change and movement. In order to thrive, we must focus our attention on the world around us. Sometimes though, this means we miss changes that occur within ourselves. Don’t let this dictate your classification of your own happiness. Remember, happiness is yours to sustain. You just have to remember to take action and perform the necessary maintenance.