I, like many others, have been searching for happiness most of my life. Happiness has always been an abstract concept to me, something that was always just slightly out of my reach. I’ve lived a good portion of my life acting out the phrase: “if this, then happiness.” If I lose 20 lbs., then I’ll be happy; if I increase the number of friends I have, then I’ll be happy; if I train and complete a 5K, then I’ll be happy, etc. A vicious cycle of following the “ifs” in my life, going wherever they took me, but always walking away feeling hollow, frustrated, and sad. And the happiness target was always moving, and most of the time I was barely keeping up. I spent so long looking for happiness anywhere I thought I could find it: through school, from friends, having an ideal body, exercise, being busy, being available, saying yes all the time. Why was I doing what I thought was all the right things but still feeling empty? Like there was a hole inside me that just couldn’t be filled no matter what I put into it.
Then, early last year, I started a small routine, insignificant almost. I started taking my contacts out when I got home from work. My eye doctor had advised me to give my eyes a break after being in front of a computer all day and so one night, when my eyes were particularly dry, I came home from work and took out my contacts. And from there I started slowly adding to this routine: washing and moisturizing my face, brushing and flossing my teeth, drinking a cup of tea, reading or listening to a podcast. When I think about this now, it’s almost as if I had been running away from myself. Previously, I had filled my time with anyone other than myself, desperately not wanting to be alone with just me. And I was doing anything to take up my time instead of just quietly being.
Taking the time for self-care inadvertently forced me to spend a small amount of time with myself every day. And the more time I spent with myself, the more the answers for finding my happiness became clear. Happiness for me wasn’t about anything externally actionable but instead was a choice, a conscious decision, to see myself for who I really am when I put myself first.
My therapist told me that everyone carries around a “bucket” to be filled. Sometimes we put into others buckets, or sometimes they put into ours. But what I had forgotten to do, and what my therapist pointed out so plainly, was that I had forgotten to put into my own bucket. Happiness, for me, wasn’t about achieving goal after goal, or about saying yes to everything and everyone, but instead was taking time each day to put myself first and to get to know and love who I am.
I’ve added a few more routines into my life, like picking out my clothes, shoes and accessories for the following day because I discovered in the alone time with myself that I really like fashion. I also prepare and pack a healthy lunch the night before a busy day at work. And I do so many more small things now: I drink a cup of tea every night, and always by candlelight; I listen to more music; I write; sometimes I color. And I’ve become ok with many things in my life that at one time or another felt like they would crush me. I don’t worry (too much!) anymore about how many friends I have, if I’m missing out on an event, or if my jeans will ever be anything other than a size 14. I’ve chosen happiness and it’s finally chosen me.
What has your journey to happiness looked like? I’d love to hear from you!