Do You Really Know What Makes You Happy?

When you ask yourself what makes you happy—really, truly happy—do your answers feel rather vague? Do you find yourself listing off things that make other people happy out of sheer convenience? Do most activities not really do it for you? While some of us are lucky to have discovered our passions early on, so many more of us get so lost in the mire of life, responsibility and adulthood that we have no real sense of what makes us truly happy.

So you don’t like shopping. You don’t like watching or playing sports. You don’t like working out at the gym. You don’t like going out and drinking alcohol or coffee with friends. You do not think you are artistically inclined. So all you do is plop on the couch and watch television when you get home simply because there is nothing else that can fill your void of passion better than mindless entertainment. You may feel alone and unfulfilled—passionless. What can you do to enrich your life and begin the journey towards discovering your passions? Seek out community.

Take a class. If you had three lives in parallel universes, what would your job be? A rock star? A chef? A painter? A spelunker? A marine biologist? Another way to look at it is to consider what made you happy as a child? What interested you? Take one of these ideas and pursue a course in it. You obviously have some interest in the topic, so expand your horizons. By learning more and more, you will be able to finally discover what actually lights your fire within. Happiness is all about growth. Can’t afford a class? Take a book out from the library and devour it. Borrow equipment from a friend. Make things happen and stop making excuses. Try anything new.

Join a group. Do you kind of enjoy road biking? Why not look for a riding group that meets and rides weekly. Things are always more fun when you are surrounded by a positive and supportive community. Look for a book club, a writer’s group, a dinner group, a wine and cheese club or weekend backpackers. Get together with a group of friends and try brewing beer. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or help with elderly care. Surround yourself with people who do things that spark a little bit of interest within you.

Make a new friend. What, you don’t need any more friends? You’re too old to go out trying to make friends? Hogwash. Making a new friend is always a good thing. Invite someone new over to your house for tacos, or plan to meet up for coffee. Or go to the rock gym and belay each other! Take a note from five year-olds; it’s easy to make friends if you want it to be.

Stop feeling defeated, like this journey towards happiness is too hard. Okay, maybe painting doesn’t work out. Don’t just plop back on your couch and give up. Try something new. If nothing else, trying and trying will keep your life rich and interesting. The worst thing that can happen is you experience beginner’s embarrassment and get a little bruising on your ego. Oh well.

Being surrounded by supportive, happy people is essential to rediscovering your own true happiness, even if you don’t really consider yourself a people-person. Sometimes we avoid the things we don’t like to such an extent that we create a void that is just filled with boredom and television. We aren’t unhappy, but we definitely are not happy either. In order to find what makes you truly happy, you may have to dig in to the things that make you slightly unhappy. Like new social situations, keeping your pants on after work, waking up early to join a community bike ride. New situations are usually uncomfortable, but real happiness lies at the edge of your comfort zone. Complacency is boring.

That being said, some of us do know what makes us happy, but we hold it hostage until we can achieve a specific goal. I’d be happier if I could lose 10 lbs. I’d start dancing again, and I love dancing. Ten pounds can reference making more money, moving to a new state, changing careers—any big change that you might hold responsible (ahem, hostage) for your happiness. Replace ‘dancing’ with whatever you want: playing tennis, dating, baking cakes, doing stand-up comedy, et ceteraThe point is, putting terms on your happiness is stupid. Why? Because you could be dancing now! Lose ten pounds, gain ten pounds, that shouldn’t stop you from doing the things you truly love.

We often blame our life circumstances for our lack of happiness. For instance, during tough times, I always have a secret wish that I could move out West to some place like Bend, Oregon. But, while that would be fun, it wouldn’t change my life. Yes, the mountain biking would be better and the nature is gorgeous, but, after the invigorating shake-up, my life would continue and the same problems with self-worth and happiness would rise to the surface again.

Happiness is an ever-evolving journey. There is not always one answer that spans your entire life. Open yourself up to the world and you’ll be rewarded with enrichment and purpose and passion. It just takes a little work, a little discomfort, and a little will. But remember: you deserve to be happy.

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