For the longest time, and I mean for a really long time, I full-heartedly endorsed the famous quote from Jean-Paul Sartre, hell is other people.
So much so, I wrote it on a dry-erase board and hung it in my room. I scribbled it in my journal. I recited it in my head occasionally to remind myself that all my emotional anguish was caused by other people.
Inspired by the happiness industry, the idea that happiness is your own personal choice, and if you work on yourself enough you’ll find it, I embarked on the pursuit of happiness solely focused on me, myself and I.
I was fully committed.
I wanted to be happy, and popular culture told me I needed experiences and activities to be happy, so I became fully committed to the attainment of experience for fulfillment.
In March of 2019, using my F**k-Off fund, I decided to take a break from adulting and its responsibilities to embark on a journey of self-discovery.
It was time to find myself, and my happiness — Eat, Pray, Love style.
I moved back to Toronto, my dream city. I found a Night Club that opened until 7 in the morning. I went on three trips, a week in the Dominican Republic for my birthday, and two solo trips, a weekend in Chicago and a month in Vancouver. I was in the Caribana parade in Toronto for the first time ever. I also went to kickboxing class three to four times a week. I made self-care and self-love my holy grails for attaining happiness.
I searched relentlessly until the whole realization that the happiness industry might be full of crap crept up on me slowly.
I was in Vancouver, supposed to be feeling free as a bird, experiencing Beautiful British Colombia, connecting with delightful people, and doing ballsy stuff alone so far from home.
Still, I wasn’t happy. Worst, I felt exactly the same as I did when I blamed the city I lived in, my job, other people, the government, and so on and so forth, for why I wasn’t happy.
The saying, “wherever you go, there you are,” laughed at me. It said, I told you so.
I was bewildered. What now?
It pains me to admit that the things that were supposed to make me happy, that I thought would make me happy, simply didn’t make me happy.
Although those experiences were wonderful and significant to my life, they didn’t make me truly happy. There was always this nagging feeling in the background of all my great experiences, that something was missing.
As desperation set in, I went back to the World Wide Web looking for answers. I furiously ignored any article that focused on the self as a solution for happiness as it didn’t work for me after all.
Through my research, I came to the realization that happiness depends on other people. It made sense how our collective obsession with the self can be a catalyst for our collective misery.
It is only when we stop obsessing with the self, get out of our head and into the world, and connect with people that we achieve happiness that comes from belonging, satisfaction, and joy.
I thought about my home country, Ethiopia, where connection, community, and belongingness are needed for survival, and people are generally joyful.
While not the most popular idea, it is something worth considering.
If you want to be happy, get out of your own head, and busy yourself with making other people happy.
Instead of asking, why am I not happy?, ask, what can I do to make someone happy today?
Start with whoever you live with, your partner, family, roommates. Extend it to your coworkers, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
- Do household chores that need to be done if you’re not busy. Forget who’s turn it is or who made the mess.
- When your partner tells you that they were upset at the way you handled something, apologies for the way your action(s) made them feel. Make a promise to try to not do that again. Avoid the need to justify your actions before apologizing. Kill your ego.
- When you go shopping and see something that makes you go, ‘so and so would love this!’, buy the thing if you can afford it. Imagine their delight.
- If you think a stranger’s hairstyle is rockin’, tell them. It’ll make their day, and yours too.
- Always carry change on you, and give it to people who ask for some change.
- Work diligently to see the people in your life as individual beings with their own unique lives, feelings, emotions, experiences, and perspectives, and not just a support act on the sitcom called your life as your parent, sibling, kid, friend, coworker, the person cutting you in traffic, etc.
- If you see someone crying by themselves, ask if they’re okay.
- Donate to shelters.
It’s been a very slow and painful journey unlearning my deep and long-held belief about happiness, equating its cause with an obsessive focus on the self, and disregarding the importance of selfless acts towards others to bring joy and satisfaction.
I’m still an avid believer in practicing self-care and self-love. I believe in traveling, doing new things, and being a life long learner for a satisfactory life.
Of course, for some people, chasing experience might be all that they need to feel truly happy and fulfilled. Experiences are worthwhile endeavours in and of themselves. Travel, take art classes, go zip lining, etc.
Find out what happiness means to you.
Until next time… 🙂