As a young adult, I’ve struggled with the necessary arguments, conflicts, and decisions on becoming who I want to be. It’s a fine line to balance on when you’re in the process of figuring out who you are and what makes you happy. “What do I want to wear? Are others gonna like it? Hmm, maybe this isn’t popular or in fashion right now?” All of these thoughts ran through my mind as I picked my daily outfit. The decision between black or blue pants, a green hoodie or a pink one, was a big decision at that time. You both wanted to look good, fit into the group, and have girls or guys like you. But of course, this is just a small example. This is the easy stuff so to say. In the end, deciding which clothes to wear isn’t a life-changing decision. The real fun happens when you have to decide what you like to do. What makes you happy. Or who you are, and want to be. Even then your decisions on wearing a hoodie or a sweater are choices that are influenced by this. They too determine who you want to be. Only these decisions recite to the background. Decisions on which college to go to, or what dreams you have in life become way more important. These are the things that we believe determine who we are. The main conflict you’ll encounter is others, both family, friends, and strangers that will try to take control over these decisions and eventually your happiness. It’s nothing to worry about, at least not now, considering the fact that you are reading this article right now. We all go through this essential face in our youth. This is the time we wish to become independent, both physically and emotionally. We start to reject our parents and their ‘old’ ways of living. It will result in the necessary fights, arguments, and conflicts between you and yourself and the people you love. This adventure of becoming independent and making decisions for your own starts in our young adult life. This of course is the time you want to start breaking free. And this process could go on till you’re far into your life. Some might become independent at an early age, others take years to get to this point. Constantly worrying about others’ opinions. And some might choose the root of ignorance, pushing everyone away, thinking this is the way to independence.
All these paths have the same end goal. That is to take control over your own happiness. For us to live joyously without others influencing this.
Crawling over the floor
“Mehhhhh” A baby starts crying behind me. Quickly a mother starts to attend to the baby. “Sshhh, it’s alright.” She starts to comfort it, feeling ashamed and embarrassed. Almost every face turns and looks at the mother and her baby. Quickly the mother grabs a little bottle from her bag, puts it into the baby’s mouth, and silence returns. The individuals at the airport gate return their focus to whatever they were doing, thinking, or talking about. All this baby had to do was cry and its needs would be met. Either his mother, father, or caretaker would come to the rescue and help it out.
That’s how our lives start. Dependent on others to stay alive and feeling content. Our only way of communication is crying, whining, or laughing. We can’t talk, point, or make clear what we want. All we can do is cry when we want something, cry when we don’t want it until we get what we want and we stay silent or laugh. Growing up means that you become more and more independent of the people that take care of you. It starts with communicating and clearly saying to them what you want. Then having the freedom to play outside without our parents by our sides. Most of us then start to learn that we should listen to our parents. That we are dependent on them. You are allowed to play outside, but you need to be back at 6 p.m. if you don’t, both your mom and dad, get mad at you. Not caring about whether you had a good time outside or not. But this too starts way earlier in life. We learn that everything we do that makes us feel good will quickly be followed by something that hurts. Learning to walk makes us feel good, but then afterward we fall and hurt ourselves. We cry when we aren’t allowed into the carrousel on the fair, and our parents get angry with us. We have to be silent, and so the control over our happiness by others starts. Unknowingly, of course, it’s just something we do. We can’t blame anyone for it.
We grow further and now can go to school each day, all alone. Facing the first moments of life all alone. Having to make tests by yourself, making friends by yourself, and figuring out who you are and what makes you happy. But the program that joy is followed by pain, and that we are dependent on others in order to be happy, is still engraved within our precious minds. So what happens? You start to listen to others because you have always been dependent on your mom or dad. So you assume that listening to others will have the same result. You want to fit in and conform to others, you want to be liked and therefore allowed to be happy. Being happy without carrying about what others think of you isn’t cool. You are not belonging to any group and thus get rejected. Of course, you can’t be happy on your own too, so as soon as you be happy on your own you get bullied or pushed out further and further. Even your parents can do this if you are happy sitting in your room by yourself instead of spending time with others your parents start to worry. After all, it’s normal to spend time with others. Happiness comes from others, right? Or doesn’t it?
We get home from school after an amazing day at school. We are all excited, jump around, and want to share our experience. You want to tell about your day, how you played in the courtyard, or later on in life how your day at work has been. When you are happy you want to share that with others. Because sharing our happiness with others exponentially grows it. If I am happy about a new book I read, I want to share it with someone and if that other gets happy about it as well we share that and therefore our level of happiness grows. But what if it is the other way around? We get home, had an amazing day but then we notice that our spouse or parents aren’t as happy as we are. We share our happy experiences and they only listen to the thing that went wrong. Or don’t react at all. This is highly frustrating. One of the best examples is getting home with three test results. Two of them are high above average, and on one of the tests, you failed. Your parents don’t focus on the two amazing grades, but instead, pick out the one you failed at. They ask you why it happened, and all of a sudden there goes your happiness, straight out of the window. You openly and freely shared your joy with them. You opened your heart and hoped that they would share that feeling with you. But nope, they took the key they had and took your joy and replaced it with annoyance, unhappiness, or anything else. Most of the time not because they want to make you feel worse, but because they are worried about you. They want you to succeed and do the best you can. So every failure they will take as an opportunity to grow, not thinking about the fact that you had two amazing grades that go with the one failure.
This isn’t the only time others take control over our happiness. Our friends get a key too. Their opinions and judgments can be ruthless. You probably have either experienced yourself or know someone that has gone through bullying. Or maybe a lighter form, which isn’t seen as bullying but is hard to the skin. You might have bought some new clothes and you are excited to share them with the people at school. So after the weekend, you put on your new pants and hoodie, looking fresh and ready. Then at school this quickly changes, some of our friends harshly speak the truth and think we look horrible. Oef, that hurts. Terribly much. At that point, you don’t know that speaking the truth is more valuable than lying to you. Still, that doesn’t take away the fact that it is incredibly harsh to hear. After all, you were exquisitely happy with your new look. But next time you decide to follow the trends, you choose what’s fashionable, or wear what others are wearing. That’s the only way you can be happy and share your happiness without others completely shattering it.
Going against the grain might seem like the logical solution
So we quickly learn to conform and listen to others. We have never known anything else. All our lives our happiness is determined by others, and we now have three options. (1) Go with what’s normal, which is the easy road. (2) Figure out what happiness means to ourselves, which requires a lot of courage. Or (3) we decide to always choose the opposite of what others say. After all, you don’t want them to control your happiness anymore, so it seems only logical to choose the opposite then. We ignore our parents’ opinions, get stubborn and rebellious. But this too isn’t gonna benefit you. Your choice to always go against the grain also means you give others the key to your happiness. “No I don’t, I choose whatever I want!” You might answer to that, but you don’t. Your happiness is no more independent of others than before. You think you are making decisions on your own, but really what you are doing is choosing the opposite of what others say. Which isn’t making your own decisions is it?
If your parents tell you to study more for your test, your response might be: “No I won’t, they can’t decide what I will do.” And so you don’t study, only harming yourself. It means getting worse grades and that won’t make you any happier either, right? By thinking of rebelling against our parents or friends we think we are making our own decisions. In truth, this is a big illusion. It means we are still controlled by others because we always choose that which they don’t choose. There is no freedom in the choice you make because there is only really one option left. That is to go against what others see. But is this really what we are after? Do we want others to never influence our happiness? Do we want complete independence and autonomy? Even at the cost of long term happiness? Just to prove that we can be independent? Can we be happy without others?
Giving away the key to your happiness
I highly doubt it. Or better said, I think there is more joy in the world if we learn to both be independent and close to others. Receiving the best of both worlds. Both making your own choices, but at the same time listening to others. They might just have a great suggestion, you might have otherwise missed. True independent joy and happiness aren’t found in letting others determine your choices nor going completely against the grain. True happiness is right in the middle. Balance. I think we ask ourselves the wrong question. We ask ourselves how we can be joyful without others when we should ask ourselves how can I stop letting others influence the way I feel negatively? How can I take back control of my happiness, allowing it to grow when I am with others, but not letting it shrink. We don’t want others to make us sad, angry, stressed, depressed, or rejected. But what we do want is to spend time with them and feel joyous and fulfilled during, and after, spending time with them.
Others get control over our happiness or unhappiness. We give away our key, our way of making sure we feel mostly joyous. Again, this is part of the journey. We need this. We don’t even do this consciously, as I explained we are programmed in our early life. What is more important is how we get back that key and be so happy that we can, no matter how the other feels, share our love and happiness with the world.
The best teacher there is for independent happiness
“Hi, grandma!” The girl greets her grandma. She is excited to visit her grandma on her own. Normally her parents would come along, but this time she wanted to speak to her grandma one on one. “Hi child, how are you?” She hugs the girl, with a bright and loving smile on her face. “Come in!” She says, kindly pushing the girl in with her hand on the girl’s back. “I’m good, thank you for inviting me over.” The girl replied. “Of course, I love it too. We have never spent time together without your parents before, have we?” Grandma asked. “No we really haven’t, that’s why I am so excited.” A large box of cookies was placed on the round coffee table as the girl sat down on the couch. She chuckled. “I love grandma, the first thing she always does when we visit her is, treating us with cookies, candy, or lunch.” The girl thinks to herself. “Can I get you something to drink?” Her grandma asks with a genuine loving smile on her face. “Yes, please. A glass of water would do fine.” She replies. “Just water? I think I can manage that.” Her grandma says as she winks.
The room is filled with old oak wood cupboards, chairs, and tables. A large green chair is in the middle of the room. The armrests were completely worn out and lost their green color by her grandma’s hands. She hears the coffee machine rattling and the liquid pouring out. The smell of both coffee and cigarettes said enough about the colors of the walls and the way the room smelled. Her grandma entered again and placed both her coffee and the glass of water on the table. She grabbed her ashtray and put it away in one of the cabinets. When the girl visited she never smoked. She knew it wasn’t good for her health, but she didn’t care anymore. She would die anyway and already made it to a terribly old age despite it. “There you go.” Her grandma said, interrupting her thoughts. “Thank you!” The girl didn’t know what to say. She knew what she wanted to ask her grandma, but was scared of doing so. “What’s on your mind child?” As always her grandma already felt that she was worried about something. She didn’t know how her grandma did this, but she seemed to feel and understand everyone that entered the room. She could even know whether someone was angry or not by the way they put down their glass. Even when her dad was behind her back grabbing something from the cupboard and closing the door again. If he was angry or annoyed she would quickly notice and smile at him. Quickly followed by a question about how he was doing and why he was annoyed.
“Well…” the girl doubted whether to tell her grandma this story. Maybe she just wanted to do something fun with her. Like playing a board game or something. “Go on,” Her grandma said leaning forward a bit and placing her hand on the girl her knee. “Okay, well I wanted to talk to you about mom and dad.” She said, awaiting her grandma’s response. “I think you don’t want to talk about how amazing they are do you?” Her grandma said jokingly. The girl had to laugh. “No, I wanted to talk about them not wanting me to become a sculptor.” “Oh, why is that?” Her grandma interrupted whilst sipping from her steaming hot coffee. The girl noticed one of her grandmas’ paintings on the wall behind her. “How did you do it? How did you convince your parents that you were to become a painter?” She then asked. Her grandma turned around and looked at the painting too. “Oh I see now, you want to know how to do what you want to do. Isn’t it?” Her grandma smiled. “Yeah, that’s right!” The girl said excitedly. “Yesterday, as I came home from school I had this argument with dad. I had just finished an amazing class of arts. We are currently working on some sculptures made from marble. I loved it so much! The teacher even told me that I should make my profession of it. So I shared this with mom and dad during diner and all they said was that I should be realistic and that there was no way I could earn a decent income doing it. I didn’t agree and so we ended up in a fight when all I wanted to do was give it a shot. I didn’t say I never wanted to have a normal job, all I wanted was to give sculpting a shot. To try it. After all, I love it, and shouldn’t I do something I love for a living?” She asked looking down at the carpet. “You should. Always. I do understand why your father reacted this way though.” Her grandmother answered. “How? He had no reason to. He only took away my joy and made me feel shit.” The girl answered furiously. “Oh, but your dad didn’t want to make you miserable. All he wants to do is protect you in the way he knows best. That is making sure you make safe choices. ‘Realistic’ choices as he calls it.” Her grandma laughed. “Your grandfather was exactly like him. That’s why we worked out so well. He took care of the structural things, I took care of the creativity and expression. But that’s not what you wanted to know. You wanted to know how I dealt with my parents’ opinions?” Her grandma asked. “Well yes, I want to know how I can make my own choices that make me happy without letting anyone, ever, influence them or make me feel shit.” “I see, I see.” Her grandma answered. “Come here, give me a firm hug first.” She felt that her granddaughter was getting stressed and anxious about the whole situation.
“When I was young I too struggled with this. We all do really. We all want to be independent. Especially making choices that we think will make us happy. When I was young I wanted to become a painter, but that too didn’t go as easy as I wanted it to go. My mom and dad had never thought of becoming a painter, they lived through several wars and all they cared about was safety and having enough to get by. But I was raised after the war. I grew up in a world that was growing more and more wealthy. So I did have that chance. Actually, my parents gave me that opportunity because they allowed me to go to art school. But not after some infuriating fights and days without speaking. I never truly convinced them to allow me to become a painter. I just accepted the fact that long term happiness would come at the cost of some arguments and inconvenience right now. That’s the first thing I did. I understood that their opinion wasn’t mine and that they only wanted the best for me. Just like your mom and dad want to. Everyone we meet in some way or form wants to help us, everyone wants you to be happy. The only thing is, that if they aren’t happy themselves they will either push you on a path that they think will make you happy or they will bully you out of jealousy. But both of these have nothing to do with you. If I may give you some advice, I would just listen. Openly listen to them and then decide what you want to do. Do you want to follow their advice or do you want to do something else? At least consider their advice. Especially from your parents.” “But what do I do with people who get angry at me or bully me?” The girl interrupted her grandmother. “You listen to them and be kind to them. The fact that they get angry or feel the need to bully shows you that they are not happy themselves. Don’t let that determine your happiness. Instead, be kind to them, however hard that is. I have had some fights with girls in high school over minor things, so I know how hard it is to be kind to your bullies. At times they make your blood boil, but over time, I learned that it’s not even worth giving them all this energy. Just smile and be kind to them. All that matters is that you care for your own actions and choices. Not about anyone else’s.” Her grandma took another sip of her coffee.
RISE WITH THE SUN
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“But how did you stop feeling down? Uh-hmm…” the girl thought for a moment before she rephrased her question. “How can I stop others influencing the way I feel negatively?” Her grandma placed her hand on her heart. “Gratitude my dear child.” All of a sudden the girl felt intense satisfaction and a feeling of peace. “Gratitude does that for you. It instantly takes you out of the worry over others’ opinions and places you in the grace of life. I am forever grateful for whatever happens to me now. People that told me I would never make it as a painter only fuelled me with more energy and I am forever grateful for that. Everyone that reflected their inner discontent on me was faced by my eternal gratitude for them. Why? Because they made me realize how amazing my life was, and how wonderful my gifts were. It didn’t matter anymore what others thought, wrote, said, or felt about me. I loved them equally as much as any other. The biggest revelation of all is that you become happy with yourself, that takes courage. But it will be worth it. Even making decisions others won’t like will only benefit you. The ones that love you will stay, no matter your choices. The ones that don’t love you will leave, and in the end that’s a good thing too. You don’t need them in your life. But beware, child, don’t lose your compassion to them!” Her grandma said with great care. She looked the girl straight in her eyes, and the girl felt the necessity of this. “Why shouldn’t I? After all they aren’t nice people right?” The girl answered. “No, but the reason they aren’t good people is that they aren’t feeling happy inside. If we lose compassion for them, we turn our backs towards them. Yes, they might hurt us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t feel sorry for them. All they need is a little love, and what if we can give that to them? Wouldn’t we feel better as well?” Her grandma asked with a large smile on her wrinkled face. “We would.” She got up and hugged her grandma.
The three things we should know in order to take control over our joy
Why did I share this short story with you? Because I believe elder people carry the key here. Have you ever waited in line where an elder person seemed to take forever with their order? Well, that’s how I would want to live. Not like the one feeling annoyed in line, but like the elder taking their time. They are so happy and don’t care about what others think, as well as staying kind to others. (Of course, some won’t and are plain rude to you.) Still, I know more elderly people that smile at me than the ones that complain about everything. There are three parts to getting to this stage of self-sustained happiness and loving joy.
- Part one: Consciousness
The first step, with every problem we face, is becoming conscious of your own individuality. You aren’t your parents, nor your friends, or anyone else. You are you and will always be you. You are a different version within everyone’s minds. To your father, you are his daughter and in his mind, he has crafted a picture of who that is. For your mother you are her daughter, she too has crafter a picture of you in her mind. Those pictures never match who you truly are. You can never, and I repeat NEVER, be placed in some kind of box. The real you is the one that observes everything, and that can never be changed by anyone. It simply observes. Which means that you are free to become whoever you like. You’re an empty sheet that can be filled in the way you want it to be. Don’t you like something that is on the sheet? Grab an eraser and remove it. Or get rid of the entire sheet and start over. Yes, others will dislike this, because they will have to tweak their picture of you again.
So what should you do here? Become conscious of others’ opinions over you. See that your parents want you to follow a particular life path. Listen to what they imagine it to be, and take whatever you think is the right thing for you. If none of it is, you should face the discomfort that will come with that. Taking control over your own happiness isn’t a bed of roses. It involves people getting angry with you, ignoring you, disagreeing with you, or trying to push you down. That’s where the second part comes in.
- Part two: Gratitude
Yes, people will disagree with you and that will feel uncomfortable, at first. But gratitude can change that. I’ve been preaching gratitude for quite some time now, but this really is the most important thing to living a joyful life. Now how can you be grateful for others getting angry with you, or bullying you? Let me give you an example. My parents didn’t want me to pursue a writing career, we’ve had many discussions and fights over the past couple of months, but all I can now say is that I am grateful that we had. Why? Because those discussions and fights make you deliberately think about it. Without that struggle, your decisions would go all over the place. That struggle makes us really think about what we want. Because we are risking a fight or the potential of a family quarrel. That’s something we shouldn’t take lightly. Your family is special and you should be grateful for them. Even when they aren’t agreeing with you, or seem to make your life harder than it would be. Remember, they took care of you for years. It’s only logical that at first, they will object to these kinds of decisions. They will have to face the fact that life is unsure, and that you are becoming independent. This is just the way things work. Don’t worry about it. Making a decision that makes you happy is always the right choice and the people that love you will want to see you happy. If they don’t they don’t love you.
- Part three: Don’t lose compassion
This is a hard one. This comes back to the rebellious decision we might make as teenagers. That rebellion is a loss of compassion for others. It means you don’t care about them anymore and do whatever you like to do. Even when it might hurt both yourself and the other. Compassion is what makes us human, even your bullies deserve your compassion. Maybe even more than the ones that praise and love you. Why? Because your bullies don’t just bully you for no particular reason. They neither bully you because you are different. They bully you because they don’t feel happy themselves. They either have to prove themselves to others or feel jealous because of something you have that they don’t. You might be happy and if a bully has had a horrible youth where he was punished often by his parents he will most likely become jealous of you. His choice would be to bully you, your choice would be to be compassionate. You never know what pain is hiding underneath. All you have to know is that anyone who is hurting someone else is fighting with pain deep inside. Don’t make that pain worse for them by losing your compassion for them and in return hurting them. Be kind and loving to them. You’ll see that from doing this your happiness in life will increase as well.
What we are really after
What we are really after is being happy with ourselves, not being independent of others. We can have tremendous joy with others, and get vast amounts of good vibes when we spend time with people we care about. The goal is to become happy with who you are and let go of others’ opinions over that. Their opinions are theirs, not yours. If you see this, and then make a choice that makes you happy you’ll see that you take back control over your happiness. You neither let them decide what to do in life nor go against the grain. You take balanced decisions. Both listening to your inner voice and the advice of others. But in the end, your decision should make you happy.
That’s why I think we are after self-sustained joy, not independent joy. We want to be happy with ourselves, sustain our own levels of happiness. Whether that be by spending time with others or spending time on your own is your choice. Living a joyful life doesn’t involve fewer people, it involves deciding what sustains your joy. It is only then that we become truly free and life can happen as it does. It will not matter because you enjoy everything. In the end, most of our problems have something to do with others. So wouldn’t it be an amazing feeling of freedom when you could let go of that and choose to make your own choices, be grateful for others, and never lose compassion for others?
Fall in love with your joyous experience of life. If you have a dream, go and pursue it. Listen to others and take their advice to heart. If that doesn’t fit with your dream let it go, and tell them it won’t work for you. Be yourself, wear whatever you like to wear, and know that the critic and bully only tries to put you down because they themselves aren’t happy. Be kind to them, feel compassionate, and if they allow you, help them.
Be a little more like a joyous elderly taking their time in line. Not feeling any need to rush, they smile at the cashier and whistle their way out of the shop. Kindly smiling at all the strangers waiting in line. Wouldn’t that be a liberating feeling?
Oh and of course never forget to be grateful for the ones that do support you. That do push you further, that has your back, no matter what decision you make. They will always be there for you. These are the special people in our lives. Be grateful for them, you won’t meet a lot in your life.