“Your Pursuit of Happiness and The Irony of New Year”

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This year I decided to spend New Year’s Eve a little differently. I was at home alone. At 5.00pm I started my workout for the day, at 6.00pm I had a shower, and at 6.15pm I started cooking dinner. While my potatoes were roasting away in the oven (and no that’s not a double entendre; my potatoes were actually roasting in the oven) I spent some time reading, then washed some dishes, and by 7.30pm I was sat on my sofa eating a nice fat piece of steak with a bottle of red sat by my side. After I finished my dinner I settled back, dimmed the lights, and set about watching a few episodes of Mad Men while the content of the wine bottle slowly got lower and lower. By 11.00pm the wine had turned into whisky, and by 11.40pm I was headed upstairs. At 11.55pm I climbed into bed, turned out the lights, and settled in for a good night’s sleep while I could hear the New Year fireworks exploding around the village.

To spend New Year alone and to not be bouncing around like a demented chimpanzee as 11.59pm becomes 12.00am, and one year rolls into another, seems almost inexplicable to some people. But that’s simply how I chose to spend it this year. I’d had invites to a couple of parties which I am truly grateful for (thanks guys), but I just wasn’t feeling the need for any fuss this year. And no that isn’t because I don’t like New Year or because I’m a miserable SOB, it’s simply because I just didn’t want to do anything this year. End of story. But that’s where the problem begins, because along with Christmas, New Year falls foul of pressure. The big P. Be happy. Go crazy. Make sure that when midnight approaches you’re on form, you’re at the top of your game, you’re deliriously happy, most likely ridiculously pissed, and then shout Happy New Year, hug and kiss your friends (possibly some strangers too), cross your arms, hold hands, sing Auld Lang Syne, and then it all reaches a peak of happiness that you’re to hold onto in a still-frame moment forever; like when Rocky Balboa embraces Adrian at the end of the first Rocky movie. It’s a monumental moment.

The real kick in the balls is that at New Year when we put so much pressure on ourselves and have so much pressure put upon on us to be happy and to make it the greatest celebration of the year, it more often than not ends up leading to us feeling completely disappointed and even downright miserable. That’s the irony of New Year.

And that brings me onto the subject of happiness, how it eludes so many of us, and what we can do to achieve it.

Happiness is not the clothes you buy or the car that you drive; they’re just pleasures. Happiness is not instantaneous and there is no quick fix or a pill which you can take. Well actually there is a pill you can take to find happiness, and it’s called ‘marketing’. But that pill is actually a placebo. Marketing sells happiness as a product which tells us that if we buy this then we’ll be happy, if we buy this we’ll meet our perfect partner, buy this and you’ll be complete. Buy this and life will be just fine and dandy. Buy this and life will be perfect.

Happiness is not just one of those things that you find lying around in the back of your wardrobe or hidden underneath a rock somewhere out in the countryside shouting “find me, find me, I’m right here”. And true happiness is also not something that is provided by the people that are around you. Let me qualify that statement. Yes of course it genuinely warms your heart when you share moments of love and affection with the people who really matter, and although this does form part of what makes us truly happy and complete as human beings, they are still just momentary highs. But just like when you eat a bag of Haribo, get a sugar rush and end up running around the room like a rabbit on crack; eventually the sugar rush fades, the energy dissipates, and then you’re back to being just you, only with a few extra calories now in your system and waiting to show themselves on your hips. And it’s the same with happiness. They are happy highs, but they come and they go and then you’re left needing another, and another, and another. And you become reliant on happiness being provided from outside of yourself which is ultimately beyond your control and so you’re never really in control of your own happiness. Those momentary pleasures are in essence just a series of highs that cannot be sustained, although they are still essential as part of the jigsaw puzzle of happiness and that’s exactly why human connections are one of the most beautiful things in this world.

But true happiness is something that can only come from inside yourself, and strangely enough, the actual pursuit of happiness IS the happiness. When you actually reach that finish line and achieve a goal it feels great, it’s monumental, it’s glorious; but then it comes back to the ‘sugar rush theory’. The happiness that comes with achievement ultimately fades and then there can even be a low feeling which follows, until you then find a new goal to work towards. So if true happiness comes from within, then it stands to reason that what makes us happy is to look within ourselves at who we really are and what we really want. Once we’ve identified what that is and what it looks like, we can then start working towards achieving those things. We can work towards not where others want us to be, but where WE want to be.

In my late teens and into my early twenties I went through my first serious phase of questioning where I wanted to go and what I wanted to become. The idea of travelling was in the back of my mind but it was more a fantasy rather than something I thought would actually become a reality. I was in a relationship at the time and when I talked about my ideas of wanting to fill up a backpack and head off and see the world, my girlfriend responded by telling me that I was a ‘dreamer’ and that I ‘could never do that’. But in the back of my mind, deep down, I knew it was who I was; or at least, I knew it was who I wanted to be. Needless to say, things didn’t work out and my girlfriend soon became an ex-girlfriend, but during the final months of that relationship I held hard onto my dream. The dream was of heading off to Thailand, of seeing a whole new world, and of exploring the treasure trove of islands. The only island I’d heard of at the time was Koh Samui, and the only thing I knew about this island was that there was a waterfall located in the centre of it. At this time I even had a song which captured my dream both lyrically and musically, and I’d listen to this song every evening with eyes closed, imagining myself on Koh Samui, sat atop this waterfall looking out above the treetops. But a few minutes later the song would end and then I was back in the real world.

When I found myself single again I slipped into a life of heading out every weekend so I could drink with my friends and catch up on everything I’d been missing out on. But going out like that every weekend was not making me happy. Sure, it was blowing out the cobwebs and was getting me a few girls’ phone numbers, but it was also draining my bank account and it wasn’t really affording me any true happiness. But what it did do was allow me to see what I did want in my life, and more importantly, what I didn’t want in my life. This chapter then came to a close and I decided it was time to really look inside myself, deep down, and figure out exactly what I wanted to do next. I didn’t think about what I thought I should do, or what others wanted me to do; I only listened to my own heart and identified my own calling. A few weeks later I’d booked return flights to Bangkok, giving me a full two months in a land which would be completely alien to me.

Before I knew it I was there, initially venturing to the west, then the north, and then to the south, but all the time still remembering the centre-point of my dream and the vision I’d held on to for so long. Eventually I reached Koh Samui and on one glorious afternoon I managed to talk one of the locals into driving me out to the waterfalls on the back of his motorbike. Upon reaching the falls he decided to head up with me and help me by clearing a path through the bush and helping me to avoid snakes. And then we were there, atop the waterfall. I gestured to my new friend to wait for me while I walked up to the edge and sat down. I took out my CD walkman (yes a CD walkman, give me a break, this was 2004), pressed the headphones firmly into my ears, and then pressed the play button. And I listened to that song. My song. My soundtrack for this dream, and for this moment. I looked out above the treetops and watched the birds flying free, the water flowing over the edge of the falls, and my feet dangling over the edge into nothingness. And for four-and-a-half minutes I bathed in the glory of triumph and the high of achieving my dream. But just like all those evenings at home spent dreaming of this moment, the song then ended and I was back in the real world.

What then followed was actually a bit of a low point. Not a low point of misery or depression, but just that feeling of, what happens now? The real glory had begun when I took that first step towards the dream, and the real feeling of happiness came when it all started to feel real and achievable. And then the defining moment was atop that waterfall when the dream was fully realised.

It is through trial and error, success and failure, making mistakes, and making decisions which have proved both good and bad in which I’ve been able to draw a few conclusions on this subject.

And yes, there is both good news and bad news.

The good news is that the key to happiness is found within yourself. This is good news because how much closer to home can you get than yourself? You don’t need to get into the car, drive into town, crawl bumper-to-bumper in traffic, and then try to find a parking space to then go rushing to a shop which you hope to reach before closing time in which you then scramble to the counter in a big sweaty mess and ask if they have that happy pill that you’ve driven all the way into town for. Save yourself the petrol money and the car parking charges and realise that hey, it’s right there within you, and it always has been. It’s just up to you to find it.

Unfortunately the bad news is that you don’t just decide one day that you want happiness and then instantly find it, this takes some work. Every year we hear the phrase ‘new year, new me’ which is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard. You don’t suddenly wake up on January 1st and become a new person. It doesn’t happen overnight. And you don’t need to become a new person, you just need to become the real you; what you really are deep down. But what you can do when you wake up on that first morning of the New Year is to take the very first step on the most beautiful journey you’ll ever take in your life. It’s not an easy journey and it takes real soul-searching. In fact it takes painfully searching questions in which you have to ask yourself who you want to be and what you really want to do and achieve in life. And the truly painful part is facing the possibility that you may have to accept that you’re not already on the right path, that you may not have been for quite some time, and that you need to make changes. And changes can be difficult, they can be messy, and they can upset those who are currently with you on your journey if they don’t like the path you may wish to take. But that’s when you need to ask yourself if these people are the people you should really have in your life. The right people in your life are those that will stay by your side when you are being your most authentic self. For those who don’t like it and who become a negative drain upon your life, well, sometimes you have to say goodbye, and this is not easy.

Sometimes you need only listen to yourself, even if those around you are saying the complete opposite of what you believe is right for you. Sometimes their words can be negative and may be borne out of jealousy and resentment of the fact that you’re taking control of your life when they’re not. Don’t listen. And sometimes even positive words can be counter-productive. When we get told “you’re special just the way you are” it can actually do more harm than good. Yes of course in that person’s eyes you are special, but in the grand scheme of the world, I’m afraid you’re not. By implying someone is special it gives the impression that you don’t need to try, that you don’t need to change or work hard to be and do something special, in which case you’re never going to advance or achieve great things. And like with the key to happiness, what we really need to believe is that there is something special within ourselves that we can only realise through hard work, and through dedication to the self and the continual pursuit of bringing it all to fruition.

But did you notice that I said it’s the ‘key’ to happiness that’s within you, not the actual happiness itself. And that’s because the key only lets you know what it is that you want and where you want to be. And that’s when the real journey begins.

True happiness is found in taking control of your life and choosing your own direction and working doggedly to get there. True happiness is found in authenticity, through being able to be exactly who you are and being surrounded by people who will love you for that. True happiness is in developing self-assurance and eliminating the need for external validations. True happiness is found in taking responsibility for yourself and holding yourself accountable for all of your actions; both good and bad. True happiness is found in hard work and in the grind that comes with following your own path in life. True happiness is a journey. It’s not the destination.

As for me, maybe next year you’ll find me dancing around like that demented chimpanzee singing Auld Lang Syne and eating a bag of Haribo.

Happy New Year to you all.


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