There was a moment about a month ago when I was walking home from work and realized that I’m really happy. Just genuinely, truly and whole heartedly happy. I tried to figure out why… what happened in my life to bring me to this point? I don’t have money, I’m single, I don’t particularly enjoy working, I’ve suffered a lot of loss at a young age and I live a thousand miles away from my closest relative… but I’m still happy. Why? Because at some point, I chose happiness.
I wasn’t always like this. It’s been a long road to happiness. I was pretty full of angst as a teen, which only grew worse when my dad passed away, and as a young adult I went through a really rough period.
My turning point was an alternative spring break trip that I went on with other members of Greek life at DePaul. We went to Give Kids the World Village (GKTW), which is a resort where kids who are going through the “wish process” (Make-A-Wish, Kids Wish Network) stay if their wish is to go to Disney World. The resort basically looks like a little town created in a fairytale – apartments shaped like castles, a giant wheelchair accessible merry-go-round, a bunny mayor and Christmas once a week. To prepare for the trip, we read “The Gift of Life” which was the autobiography of GKTW founder Henri Landwirth. Henri is a Holocaust survivor who survived so much hardship in life and felt the need to give back, thus creating GKTW. The entire read was the dose of self-help I needed to regain happiness in my life; however, one particular quote stuck with me and continues to inspire me each and every day. Henri quotes, “No matter how cruel the past has been to you, today can be a happy time. Just for today, let yourself enjoy life”.
That’s when I realized that happiness was a choice. What choices had I made up to this point? I refused to see a psychologist. I blamed all of my recently destroyed friendships on the other person, without looking at things from their perspective. I put concrete walls up and wouldn’t let anyone in. I chose to feel bad for myself. I let myself live in an apartment with a roommate who was horrible to me. I refused to admit that I needed help. I chose to be a victim. I woke up in the morning and thought of everything that was wrong in my life instead of realizing how blessed I am. My biggest offense? I blamed myself for everything that was wrong in my life and wouldn’t forgive the person in the mirror.
GKTW was a humbling experience, to say the least. Every single day I met children who sacrificed their childhood to overcome unimaginable obstacles, parents who had to give up expectations & live in the moment and siblings who, at such a young age, learned to be selfless. Even through all of this sadness, they were happy. They made the conscious choice to live the life they were given to the fullest. Who was I to be so selfish in life? What I had been through was nothing compared to the daily obstacles these families faced. That trip was my turning point and I haven’t looked back.
It didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of time, hard work and humility to repair myself. I started with a simple task – each morning I tweeted something that I was grateful for. It forced me to look at positive aspects of my life daily. From there, I opened up to my friends and admitted that I had a problem and needed help. Eventually, I made more and more conscious decisions – I saw a psychologist, moved out of my apartment, apologized to people in my life that I wronged, forgave everyone who wronged me and started to talk openly with my family about my feelings.
The last step was the hardest – I had to forgive myself. I had so many regrets in life and I had to just let them go. I knew I couldn’t be happy in life if I wasn’t happy with myself. It took a lot of time but I eventually started to let the past go. Who I was and the decisions I made weren’t a reflection of who I could be.
When I say happiness is a choice, I don’t mean that you can just wake up one day and think, “Today I’m happy!” It takes hard work; however, you can either choose to be happy or choose to live a life of regrets. Realize that you are the only person who has the power to make this decision – others can help, but ultimately you have to be open to changing. Each day you have to choose to take a step, however small, towards happiness. It can be terrifying, humbling, painful and humiliating to make these repairs, but I promise that it is all worth it to be happy.
These days, as a genuinely happy person, I can take whatever life throws at me. Has my life been perfect since I chose to be happy? Hell no. Bad things still happened, people I cared about still got hurt and my life isn’t everything I planned for it to be. However, I can deal with it. I can let myself have a rough day then wake up the next morning and realize all the good in my life counteracts the bad. I am more aware of the daily blessings life hands me. I appreciate all the good people that surround me.
Take it day by day. Let Henri’s words ring through your head when you’re up against a wall.
“No matter how cruel the past has been to you, today can be a happy time. Just for today, let yourself enjoy life.”