This week's blog post comes from a member of the Redbank Valley High School SPARK Club in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. SPARK stands for Strengthening Positivity and Reinforcing Kindness and these groups act as Happiness crusaders (okay, and ambassadors), supporting The Smile Project and promoting random acts of kindness in their communities.
Happiness always seemed to be such a difficult topic to discuss or to even think about. I had embedded the idea into my mind that no one wanted to hear about how unhappy I was. After all, I thought no one truly cared. That one thought had the power to tighten my throat with a rawness that made me feel as though I'd never be able to talk again. Tears were always on the verge of tumbling down my cheeks for the simple reason that I thought I would never be happy. If by chance I was happy at some point, I was sure to find a way to ruin it.
People would always ask me if I was happy and I'd freeze because I never knew the answer. I would fumble and eventually I learned to stealthily avoid the question all together because the answer I desperately wanted to give was so different from what I felt was the truth. Teachers would pass me in the halls and say, “Hi, how are you?”and I would answer with the automated response of, “Good. How are you doing?” just to spare them the thoughts rampaging through my mind. My brain was screaming. Screaming with thoughts like “I’m not good! I'm not happy! How can you not see that from the frown that permanently resides on my face?” The lack of happiness that I thought I suffered from ate away at my mind at all possible hours. It seeped into any free time I had at school, at work, at practices and at home. I was always signing myself up for as many clubs and sports as possible, while at the same time I was working two jobs, overwhelmed with schoolwork. All of these pointless distractions, just so I never had the time to think about how unhappy I considered myself. It all became so unbearable to the point where I was physically sick from exhaustion. I had somehow been under the illusion that the busier I was, the happier I would be. I was wrong.
I always told myself that I wasn't good enough; that nothing I did was going to make me happy because I thought I didn't deserve it. I was so set on the idea of having to be perfect to be happy, but I couldn't have been farther from the truth. Happiness is not a synonym for perfection. The definition of happiness is never set in stone and can vary day by day. Some days it’s getting together with a small group of friends, watching movies, eating popcorn, and the next thing you know you're all sleeping on the living room floor with the sound of The Breakfast Club’s credits as your personal lullaby. Other days it’s being alone in your room with a good book and a fuzzy blanket, being captivated by the words on the brittle pages. Happiness is being yourself with no limitations, like dancing in the rain while your mascara is running down your face in the greatest way. It's the manner in which your face scrunches up when you smile in a way that only your face can, the tears that stain your cheeks, the dull yet throbbing stomach ache you get from laughing for what seems like forever at some joke you've heard twenty-four times already. It's the inside jokes that you and your closest friends have, that somehow never fail to make you laugh.
Happiness is someone telling you that you are worth it, and deserve to be happy while being your authentic self.
Over the past month, I've spent time contemplating my most vulnerable thoughts and emotions, having only recently discovered how to open up, not only to others but to myself as well. That not-so-simple journey started on June 11th. I carpooled with a friend, Grace, to Westminster College for a week long leadership camp called RYLA. Listening to good music and singing along; neither of us knowing what to expect going into the week. I truly believed it was going to be a waste of the time that I could have spent working instead of being surrounded by so many strangers that all seemed better than me. I quickly discovered the kids at the camp with me were all so incredibly smart and had such beautiful souls. It was awe-inspiring. During the week, there were many speakers, heart wrenching stories, and activities that made me realize I wasn't unhappy, I was just simply confused as to what happiness truly entailed. RYLA changed my perspective in a way that is unexplainable. The counselors there cared for you even if they had only spoken a few words to you. After all, there were over a hundred kids there. I discovered that my fellow campers, who I had thought seemed so put-together, experienced many of the same problems I was struggling with. That's what shaped my new perspective on life; the connections I felt with these strangers that soon became my best friends. I quickly realized what had changed.
For the first time, in what seemed like an eternity, I hadn't felt alone.
My updated definition was much different than what I had originally thought. I am not perfect, but I am happy. Now when people ask me that previously dreaded question of “How are you,” I can answer truthfully without fumbling, “I couldn’t be happier.”
Enjoy the search for your own definition of happiness.