Editor’s Note: This is a contribution by Niall Burke
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” -Dalai Lama
I’ve spent most of my life engaged in “if only” scenarios. I’ve spent hours predicting my ideal future or rehashing the past, imagining what life would be like now if only I had done X, Y, and Z when I was 15.
When not lost in imaginations of my own making I would be cursing myself, telling myself that I should have achieved certain things by now.
Of course this only led to misery and dejection. By focusing on what I didn’t have, or what I felt I should have, I was playing the victim, abdicating responsibility to external forces.
Not once did I stop and think that things weren’t happening for me because I was doing nothing to make things happen.
I was caught in a rut of working hard Monday to Friday, drinking hard Friday and Saturday, and spending Sundays wrapped in a blanket on the couch, hung over, laptop open trying to fill the void in me. I was in danger of becoming an overweight, unattractive slob.
I had all the trappings of success. I was earning very good money for someone my age. I could buy all the clothes, DVDs, and CDs that I wanted.
Holidays were no problem; at the drop of a hat I could go on a weekend to London or a week-long trip to New York.
However, like so many stories you read, I was only using material goods to fill the gap in my soul, looking for temporary joy while neglecting long-term happiness.
Things came to a head for me in autumn of 2008. I was working hard on a project for work. I knew it was slipping away from me and wouldn’t turn out as expected, yet I was too proud to ask for help and just internalised all the stress.
I began waking earlier and earlier, dreading the days ahead. Walking to work I would seriously contemplate stepping into traffic, knowing that serious injury would take me off this project! Obviously I was not thinking straight.
In Hollywood movies this would lead to a Eureka moment where suddenly you know you’ve hit rock bottom, make changes to your life and, via the use of a montage and cool song, emerge a completely new person, complete with drop dead gorgeous girlfriend and new sparkling white teeth.
As every reader knows life is not a Hollywood movie and montages never happen in real life.
Change comes from small steps, small steps that may be extremely painful at times but necessary all the same.
Change came to me gradually, brought about by self analysis. I questioned everything in my life.
I questioned my diet. What was I putting into my body on a regular basis? Were frozen pizzas and too many pints of Guinness good for me?
I began making changes, cooking wholesome dinners for myself, not buying chocolate in my weekly shopping, cooking eggs for breakfast instead of regular cereal—making small, simple steps. The results were amazing to the extent where I’m the lightest and healthiest I’ve ever been.
I questioned my lifestyle. Were longer hours for more money making me happy? Was I content to come home every evening, sit in front of the TV and count the hours to the next work day? Was I happy to waste my weekends in a haze of alcohol and the web?
I slowly made lifestyle changes.
I gave up the job making me deeply unhappy and spent six months travelling. I can’t say I found the job of my dreams afterward, but I’ve worked hard to ensure a sensible work/life balance.
I’ve taken classes in Spanish and Italian, started playing squash and soccer while also making yoga and regular runs part of my weekly routine.
I questioned myself. What kind of person did I want to be? Did I want to be a passive, play-with-the-hand-you’re-dealt type or did I want to be assertive, in control, and pushing for positive change?
This was by far the hardest step on my journey. I broke down everything I believed I was and questioned myself with frightening honesty. I saw some things I liked—my curiosity, kindness and humor.
I saw some things I didn’t like—my clinginess, my perfectionism, and my natural shyness.
I looked in the mirror and saw someone with extremely low self-esteem looking back.
Gradually I have built myself back up, working on my weaknesses and playing to my strengths. I’ve learned to become my own best friend again. I no longer feel the need to look for others for validation of who I am, but instead know that I’m doing the best I can.
I know when I fail, as long as I’ve tried my best, this can only lead to growth.
Sure I have bad days. I’ve had my first big relationship fail and this set me back. Yet while some sadness still tugs at my heart, I know I’m on a journey and my goal is to enjoy this journey as much as possible, while constantly learning about myself and expanding my horizons.
It feels egotistical to offer help to anyone when I’m only a small way along the path myself, but I feel my changes have been brought about by three core values—values I aim to practice every day:
Be honest with yourself and others. The worst thing you can do is lie to yourself. If you’re in a job, relationship, or situation where you’re not happy, be honest and admit that something has to change.
Accept where you are in your life. Realize that everyone grows at a different pace, so you are exactly where you need to be right now. Bathe in the simple delight of the here and now.
There will be setbacks, days when you feel your life sucks, days where you wonder if it’s worth it all. Persist. Remember it’s a journey, one small step at a time.
Remember that pain is temporary but growth is permanent.
Photo by zoomion