Most of the time, people mistake ‘happiness’ as the life goal. A destination we have yet to reach. But you have heard of that ‘Instagrammable’ inspirational quote which says that happiness is, instead, the journey.
Unfortunately, quotes don’t solve any problem. And sometimes, they are so simplified that we tend to misunderstand them. Yes, I agree that happiness is the journey, but it doesn’t mean that our new goal is to now be happy all the time. That’s where people get the concept of happiness wrong: it is not constant. Your journey doesn’t have to be always bright and beautiful. There will be storms.
It’s time to delete that misconception from your neurotic pathways. Happiness is not constant. If, after reading the quote, you’ve set yourself to achieve 100% happiness in your day-to-day, you are bound to failure and disappointment. Happiness isn’t the destination, but it is not entirely the journey either.
So what is happiness? And how dare a 22-year-old like me lecture you on such ‘wisdom’?
I don’t have the ultimate answer to the meaning of happiness, but I do have to admit that sometimes I’d catch myself being happy. And by catching those moments, I’ve learnt a lot about myself and what happiness means to me. And I want to share that with you.
The concept of ‘happiness’ is complex and ever-changing throughout our life stages. Just like love. When I was a kid, true happiness came in the form of getting books as gifts. When I was a teen, happiness was people reading and loving my stories.
So what is the meaning of happiness at 22?
How can a 22-year-old feel content with what she has when she hasn’t even earned her first paycheck, is living on a student budget and stays in a small room with cheap furniture? When you’re 22, there’s so much left to be done. There’s so much to aim for and accomplish.
One of my long-term dreams is to buy my own apartment or a loft. But I don’t tell myself: “As long as I’m not living in my dream loft, I can’t be happy.” That’s the worse thing you could do to yourself. On the other hand, sometimes, I sit on my bed and feel grateful that I’ve got a roof over my head. Being an international student and living on your own in a foreign country does make you more grateful for the simplest of things. Because that’s the thing: you’re on your own, and if you can’t pay rent anymore… you are fucked.
And that’s how I’ve been happy even as a student. Sometimes I’d feel it growing inside. The tingles… that feeling of satisfaction, of having everything you need to be living and healthy.
During the last few months of my degree, I’d think about how far I’ve come: I have a room I can call home, friends I can hang out with at any time, freelance writing gigs for some side money which added up to my monthly allowance, and yes, enough money to live and enjoy life. I didn’t always have all of this at the same time and not everyone has these privileges or such an independent life. My parents don’t fuss over my whereabouts; I can travel at any time without anyone’s permission.
My lifestyle as a student was not luxurious, but it was enough for me to feel happy. At some point, I felt like I could keep living like this and not need anything else. And that’s happiness at 22 for me. That feeling of having enough.
You may know that I’ve travelled to Penang several times while I was studying in Malaysia. There was a time I stayed there for one whole month for a short internship. It was in the early days and I was always broke at that time. My monthly allowance was lower (blame currency fluctuations) and I didn’t have any side income. My Penang housemate thankfully lived a very frugal life, so I’d just hang out with her all the time, getting the same cheap meals all the time.
But was I unhappy? Not. At. All. In fact, I was living ‘the dream’, that is, I was living right in the middle of the artsiest town I have ever seen. Art murals everywhere, smart academic scholars, exhibitions, festivals… I was broke and lived in an old room which floor creaked all the time, but I was beaming with excitement every single day of my internship.
I went back to Penang one last time a few months ago, and I was a different person. I met up with my ex-colleagues and they told me about how my meals were cheap and repetitive back then… and my response was: “really?” Yes, I had totally forgotten that part, because all I remember was the beautiful artistic moments I had.
It really hit me then that money doesn’t buy happiness, like for real.
Eventually, while I was in Penang this last time, I was not broke anymore. I could stop at any restaurant and eat whatever I liked (within my much better budget). I could attend a paid show. I could rent a bed for 5 nights. But it doesn’t mean that I was less happy when I couldn’t do all of that.
Having limited resources forces you to work around them so you don’t lack the basic things in life. That’s the biggest lesson I learnt as a university student.
And so in the end, happiness at 22 is really the feeling that you have enough.
What does happiness mean to you at your particular age? Let me know in the comments below!
D. K. Waye.