Call Me a Dreamer

Call Me a Dreamer

There are two ways to find happiness.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking lately (a dangerous past time, I know). Despite a deep desire for stability, my husband and I constantly find ourselves uprooted, buffeted by the winds of change to places we never imagined we’d go. And, to a certain extent, we embrace these changes, make light of them, take all the experience and enjoyment we can from where we are. But that doesn’t erase the periods of unhappiness in between, the times we feel we’re failing because our happy (and sometimes hard-fought-for) lives keep changing.

It’s during the dark times, the times I wonder what we’re doing wrong, that I’ve defined the two paths to happiness.

The first way to find happiness is where we are; it is born of contentment with what we have. To a certain extent, we chase this happiness on a daily basis. We need this happiness in our lives or we’d go crazy. It’s the kind of happiness you feel coming home at the end of a long work day, sitting in your favorite chair or reading your favorite website. It’s the kind of happiness you feel to sleep in your own bed at the end of an extended vacation. The kind of happiness you feel when you cook dinner for the first time after living out of an inn for a month. The joy of biting into your favorite dinner, or splurging for a night out, or bringing home that thing you’ve been eying for awhile (whatever it happens to be).

The most profound thing about the first path to happiness is that it comes from an awareness of what we have. Life is good because we have all the things we need in it. At any given time the number of things, or our access to them, can change. So can the definition of happiness. I’m happy as long as I have a house of my own can easily become I’m happy so long as I can take my important projects with me.

I’m not talking about the relief of finding something you’ve searched for a long time, or the relief of getting something back you thought you lost. I’m talking about the feeling that life is good traveling with you as sights, sounds and interactions change. Life can change rapidly, but so can our happiness, if we let it.

Some people struggle with this path to happiness; we never have. It could be because we define our needs in simple terms. We’ve never chafed at cutting things we’ve grown to consider luxuries from our lives (cable TV, for example), though there are obviously things we’re loathe to live without (Internet, for example). I think we carry this kind of happiness with us because we made a conscious decision to do so. There comes a point when dwelling on what you don’t have, or what you can’t do, simply doesn’t help you. Perhaps we’ve always been lucky; we can usually find the few things we need to define our lives as happy.

But while we are often happy, we’re not always happy. We struggle along the second path to happiness.

The second route to happiness is harder to define; it involves gaining or achieving one specific thing. That thing is different for every person. I would call it the fulfillment of a dream, and since only an individual can define their dreams, only said person will know when they’ve fulfilled their personal requirements.

The first journey to happiness allows us to remain stationary; we find it wherever we are. The second requires motion. We need to go out into the world and chase it.

And it’s hard. It’s probably the hardest thing in the world to do what you really want. It’s hard because people will tell you you’re crazy. It’s hard because it constantly seems to be just out of your reach. It’s hard because you have to keep giving up the happiness you acquired via the first path, have to keep redefining it as you travel the second path.

I think many people give up. They transmute the first kind of happiness into the second by redefining the thing they really want as something they already have. Some people really do end up happy with what they have. But some, I think, spend a lot of time regretting they gave up their dreams.

Happiness is a strange thing. It exists at levels. Today I might be happy because my apartment is clean, my new desk recently arrived and I no longer have to use the couch and a folding table as my ‘office’ space, and because I’ll soon get to experience some of the sites in London. Tomorrow I may be unhappy because I may realize I’m still far from my ultimate goals, and that having to move to England sometimes feels like a step backward instead of forward.

My husband and I struggle with happiness because we don’t want to settle at the end of the first path; we want the things at the end of the second. We’re willing to sacrifice our happiness in the short term, in hopes that we’ll be happier in the long term. We’re chasing our dreams.

People say life’s a journey; not a destination and that it isn’t the destination that matters, but the journey itself. I agree to a certain extent; you have to find joy in the journey, or it isn’t worth taking. But the journey is hard. It won’t always make you happy. And you know something? That’s okay.

It’s taken me a long time to realize we aren’t doing anything wrong. We just don’t want to settle for what’s in front of us when we know what we really want. Perhaps that makes us selfish, but I prefer to think we’re passionate.

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