Happiness Now: Stop Beating Yourself Up About Unrealistic Achievements
Photo Credit: dusan jovic/Unsplash
No one moves to New York City hoping to be average. Like an overwhelming number of New Yorkers, you could have felt your professional aspirations lead you toward the bright lights of the big city. Or, you could be fleeing from the monotony of a hometown that never felt quite big enough for you, seeking adventure in the center of the universe. But absolutely no one moves to New York City thinking it's the perfect place to build a mediocre life.
Yet somehow, this place, and other bustling cities just like it, has a way of making you mediocre. When I moved to New York City from my suburban hometown, I had all the proverbial stars in my eyes. But now, almost 15 years later, I realize I spent the majority of my 20s simply working my butt off to afford to be here, taking away from the time I could spend pursuing my actual goals.
Woken by the Pandemic
Big ambitions in a big city often necessitate investing your energy in a primary profession while keeping your passions secondary — or, worse yet, neglecting them altogether. Many times in life, it can take a major event to wake us up out of our complacency. For me, it took a worldwide pandemic.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always loved being busy. I can’t remember a time when I didn't jam-pack my schedule with various classes, activities, and social events, and that has continued into adulthood. Up until last March, that is. Suddenly, my usually filled-to-the-brim schedule was clear. Clear, that is, except for work.
Now, I want to take a second to shout from the rooftops that I cannot emphasize enough how lucky I am to have a job during this pandemic when so many do not. I do not take this fact for granted. But, when you lose every other part of your life (for the most part) that makes living worthwhile, you’re forced to take a really stark look at your life. I still spend a large amount of my time working, probably more than I did before the pandemic because I’m working from home and have nowhere to go. But for the first time in my adult life, I have nothing to do with my free time.
I have spent so many years pushing off personal passion projects and not pursuing my interests simply because I didn’t have the time. I always assumed that somehow I would find time later. Later never happened. Maybe I never made later happen. I have sacrificed a lot of long-term goals in order to survive in the short term. But what’s the point of surviving if you spend the majority of your time unhappy? If you’re not working toward something bigger?
For the first time in my adult life, I have nothing to do with my free time.
The pandemic has also forced me to try to come to terms with something a lot of us are struggling with — the fragility of life. As someone who has battled multiple chronic illnesses since my youth, I’ve always had an awareness that life was temporary and could be taken from me at any moment. And, I have to admit that has greatly contributed to a lot of my decisions in which I’ve sought gratification in the short term versus planning for the long term. I was never all that confident that I had a longer term to plan for.
Then all of a sudden we’re hit with a virus that kills people of all ages, of all types. And even if it doesn’t kill you, it can leave you with long-term health issues. I’ve seen people around me, people my age, die. Without warning. And I can’t help but think, how many days, hours, leading up to their deaths did they spend worrying about bills? Or deadlines? Or a million other things that didn’t matter in the long run? A million other things that didn’t make them happy? What a waste of the precious few moments that they unknowingly had left.
Not to get all John Lennon on you, but imagine there is no heaven, no hell, no nothing after we die. It’s a frightening thought to be sure, and I’d wager there are many people who have turned to religion simply because they didn’t want to face that possible reality. At least, I know that’s why I did in the past. But if this is the only life we get, then any moment we spend worrying about something that doesn’t matter in the long run — every minute spent waiting in line for the bathroom, or angrily tapping your foot in a doctor’s waiting room, any moment spent unhappy — is just wasted time.
But, that depressing realization doesn’t exactly change things. We still have to survive in the short term while trying to plan as best we can for the long term. We can’t exactly go to our respective bosses and tell them that, since spreadsheets don’t fill us with indescribable joy, they can take their job and shove it. But we can try to live more mindfully and use our time more wisely.
Every day, we all have time we spend passively. For many of us, that means mindlessly surfing social media on our phones or watching brainless YouTube videos. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s important to shut your brain off sometimes. But maybe you can shave off an hour or two here and there and invest your time toward something that can make you happier in the long term.
Is there a language that you always wanted to learn? There’s an app for that! Your grandma’s famous casserole that you’ve always wanted to learn how to make? Put your free time where your mouth is. Or maybe you’re a few hours away from writing that short film you’ve been toying with in your head. Just do it.
I haven’t exactly mastered the art of mindful living. I’m pretty sure I checked Facebook (yeah, I know I’m old, fight me) multiple times while I was writing this piece. But at least I was aware of it. A year ago, I wouldn’t have noticed. So even though I’m still chasing my happiness, at least I feel like I finally have a shot at catching it.