Warning: This post contains deep thoughts. Intended for mature audiences only. Reader discretion is advised.
I don't know about you, but I am always trying to define the "meaning of life." Some may call me a hippie -- others may call me crazy -- but I feel as if I am on what seems like a never-ending quest for "happiness." But what is happiness?
I have been fortunate enough to read countless texts, see many of the 50 states, a number of European countries and travel as far as Israel, live and work in big cities like New York as young as 19 years old, and continue my education at the prestigious University of Florida. It's not uncommon that my experiences in life (although I know I have so many more books to read, places to see, people to meet and memories to make) have led to more questions than answers.
Even at the ripe age of 21, I feel pressure day in and day out to meet certain expectations. Whether these expectations are set by my parents, my teachers, society or myself, I feel obligated to accomplish goals, conquer tasks, look a certain way and pretty much conform into a woman those important to me think I should be. And so I spend most days sacrificing my wants and needs in order to morph into this stranger in an effort to satisfy who I am with at any given moment. It is positively -- or should I say negatively -- exhausting.
Because this circus has me juggling doing well in school, landing my dream job, planning my move to New York City, attempting to have any shred of social life, and making a conscious effort to practice self-love and acceptance after recovering from disordered eating, it is difficult -- to say the least -- to find happiness. (I mean come on, don't you feel drained just reading that?)
Who said another person's wants and needs are more important than our own? When did being selfish become evil? Wanting happiness is not selfish, but happiness is not an entitlement. Happiness is a discovery, ergo the phrase "finding happiness."
I am grateful for the ways in which I am fortunate, but I am human and therefore am inevitably vulnerable to curiosity. Recently, I became so frazzled with questions and frustrated with certain aspects of life, and so I turned to the wisest man I know. I asked my dad a simple question expecting a simple answer.
"How do I just be happy?"
The answer I received was so much more than a simple answer, but boy was it simple.
It was in this conversation that I realized to take the first step on our happiness journey, we must accept -- as well as embrace -- the imminent truth: "We all enter the world with whatever is given to us," my dad answered. "Our lot in life."
We have no choice as to whether we are born to millionaires, into poverty, our race, gender or even sexual orientation. We are not asked if we want to be raised in a single-parent home or by two happily-married parents. There is no choice as to whether you're brought into a loving environment or one of cruelty.
"Certainly, there are expectations of all of us in a civilized world, and those too are beyond our control," my dad said. "They exist -- and that's all there is to it."
So ultimately, what choices are we able to make? What can we control? When do we get to make decisions? When is it time for our voices to be heard? When do we become responsible for our lives? How do we "find happiness"?
First, you must interpret how the garden-variety definition of happiness translates into your rendition of well-being.
"Great minds have spent eons trying to define the meaning of life, but they fail because [happiness] means something different to each one of us," my dad told me. It was then that I realized we all have different preconceived visions of how our lives should be. Of course, this means when one tries to pigeonhole bliss, one is doomed to fail.
"Questions lead to more questions more often than not when it comes to life," my father explained to me. Even with a team of experts like of Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, we cannot crack the case that is life for this mystery is unsolvable. And so, according to my dad (who thinks he is always right, and let's face it, 110 percent of the time he is), there is only one thing to do:
"Live for the moment, because the only time you're alive is in that moment. Don't worry about tomorrow, and don't dwell in the past. Grab life by the b*lls and leave your mark. Look in the mirror and love the face that looks back at you. It is all your choice. Remember: 'I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.'"
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
For more by Leila J. Milgrim, click here.
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