Don't Tell Me How to Be Happy

photo by benjaminasmith

photo by benjaminasmith

If you don’t have white teeth, you’ll have fewer friends.

If you get a new smart phone, your life will be fuller and more connected with the rest of the world.

If you buy life insurance, you’ll have peace of mind and financial security of your family.

If you buy your significant other a Lexus for Christmas, you’ll be fulfilled by the giving spirit of the season.


There are a whole lot of people out there telling me what would make me happy. Trouble is, most of them are also trying to sell me something, so it’s with a healthy dose of skepticism that I listen to their advice.

But it’s not just advertisements that have been beating their messages into my head for my entire life. It seems like just about everyone has something to tell me about finding contentment. Teachers tell me what skills I need to make a living in the real world. Blogs preach their truths of what would really fulfill me. From people I know and trust to complete strangers, everyone has an opinion—and I’ve been intently listening for nearly three decades. Why wouldn’t I? We all want to be happy, so we take as many tips as we can get.


That's Just, Like, Your Opinion, Man


Then I realized that even though it’s nice to hear what others have to say, nobody can really tell me what would make me happy but myself. I welcome practical advice from people, but in the end I can really only listen to my own instincts to actually achieve happiness. Every time I’ve tried to use someone else’s rules, there has been a little voice inside me shouting about what I really wanted. So I would just ignore it, because how could I know better than someone who’s experienced more and been through worse?

One day I stopped ignoring my little inner voice and started listening a bit more. As it turns out, it was really worth listening to. Because as much as I continue to love hearing others’ philosophies on happiness, what makes me happy doesn’t come from anything external, advice included. True, it took a little bit of insight from other people along the way to help me realize this, and that’s to be expected. But I had to really figure out who I was first. This wasn’t all that easy for me, and I feel like I’ve only started to grow into the person that I truly am over the past couple years.


I'd Buy That For A Dollar


It makes sense why it can be difficult to figure out who we are when we live in a world that seems hell-bent on insisting that it’s done so already. But the fact is, the world spends so much time telling us what we’re not, it can be hard to figure out what we are.

You’re not pretty enough, you’re not cool enough, you’re not talented enough, society tells us. But none of that has to do with who we really are. So many of the “needs” we feel are created by someone who's trying to take our money. They feel like real needs until we consciously go without them, only to realize we don’t actually need them at all. I think we figure out who we truly are when we stop being the people society has constructed and instructed us to be. When we can step away from those expectations, we can weed out the things that don’t help and keep the things that do. It’s actually amazing what we’re made to think we need. But people lived without so much of the stuff we have now mere years ago, and happiness is not a new invention.

When all is said and done, you can only count on yourself—for happiness especially. You’ll make mistakes along the way, but you’re the only person that you have to answer to at the end of the day. And when you know who that person is, happiness will become a simple equation.