On a recent cold, wind-snapped morning, I asked class of college-bound high school seniors a simple question.
What brings you happiness? (I know, a simple yet dicey question to ask a bunch of curiously bored 17 year olds).
Their answers were both surprisingly PG and unsurprisingly boring: Sleep, Saturday, my bed, Netflix, my dog (because all he does is sleep).
I asked if they considered themselves to be happy.
Answers were mixed. Some yes, some no, and some blank stares.
I asked if they even wanted to be happy?
Yes, more then anything.
I asked if happiness, like success, is something we need to work for?
The sky clouded over. The radiator hummed. Heads began to nod. Yes. Happiness like good grades, they said, is something we need to work for.
I leaned against my desk and held a long, contemplative teacher’s stare.
So more then anything you want to be happy?
So, are you willing to work for your happiness?
Because after 36 years, through my own trails and tribulations, I’ve learned that happiness is not given. It’s earned.
Happiness is not borrowed like Algebra homework. It’s not a signed check tucked in a graduation card. And happiness is certainty not found in such desperate acts of hoping or wishing.
Happiness is work. Muscle-straining, hand-wringing, bone-breaking work. Happiness comes from doing.
I also know happiness is not for the weak. It’s not for faint of heart.
Because real, lasting happiness requires you to do uncomfortable things. Let go. Give up. Be honest. Move on. Admit flaws. Admit mistakes. Accept judgment.
Happiness begins when your fear ends. When you find the courage to crucify yourself. When you utter the fragile first words of the conversation you’ve spent you’re whole life avoiding.
A throat cleared. A hard wind lashed at the classroom windows.
It takes a daily courage to roll up your sleeves and work through the unhappiness of your life.
It is then, and only then, when you acknowledge and accept that happiness is work, hard earned work, that you begin to feel it’s great warmth and reap its great rewards.