The Question of a Lifetime: The Meaning of Happiness to Me

What does it mean to be happy? The question of a lifetime, one I often found myself trying to answer, one I was always unable too. It’s one of those things that everyone thinks about, or so I thought.

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In a personal essay, I am expected to describe a significant event that has occurred in my life, but overall my life has been easy. I have never experienced loss, heartbreak, any failure, nothing that really matters has happened in school, on a train, whilst walking down the street or in life in general. If anything, I have had a good life, school is easy for me, I achieve good grades, I have good friends. It is all of these things that have left me wondering why I feel the way I do, what is wrong with me.

For years I was fine, I knew how to control my emotions, suppress them in an attempt to keep control over everything in my life. I was able to do this with ease until recently and I found myself struggling to answer one of the most commonly asked and simple questions. ‘Are you okay’. This answer to this question was always the same, it still is, it is my natural instinct but one day I realised I wasn’t, but still I respond with ‘I’m fine’.

Small talk is a great disguise, the easiest way to pretend.

I have spent my full life keeping people at a distance, convincing them that I am okay, convincing myself that I am, suppressing all of my emotions, building a barrier. It was a way of protecting myself. I have done this for so long that people just accept it, call me shy. People assume that things don’t hurt me because I don’t let them see, it makes then think they can do it. I’ve had people ask, ‘what’s wrong with you’, they don’t see how much it affects me, how could they.

I could very easily fix this but still I dealt with everything by myself, quietly losing a battle with my own thoughts, it was nothing new. I thought the wall I had built around myself would stay like that forever No matter how much I needed help, whether it was something as simple as asking for help in class I couldn’t. I considered talking to people but at the end of the day no-one cares, besides I could never find the right words. A big part of this constant debate in my head, will they understand? I always came to the same conclusion, no. How could they, even I didn’t. I was always afraid of being seen as a bother, an inconvenience, empty thoughts would crowd my mind like a poison. I was trapped in my own mind. I would see my reflection on glass but all I would see were the things I lacked. The smudges made me feel as though I was losing my mind.

Sometimes I think that life is like boat, just flowing down a stream. Just going the twists and turns. I also feel like right now I am stuck in the rapids. The only voice near me, the voice meant to save me has thrown me overboard.

Still people ask, ‘how are you?’, always expecting the same answers. ‘I’m good.’ ‘I’m fine’. They ask with a smile as though it’s as easy as words can say. For me now, it’s like having the truth on the tip of my tongue. And every time I almost have it, every time I almost say it just slips away. I can’t say that it’s as though when I wasn’t watching, all of the colour drained from the world. Like someone muted the picture. I can see the mouths moving but I can’t hear the words. That I can’t breathe, though I still seem to be breathing. It’s automatic. It’s like I am living life with no reason. As though I am not alive, only breathing.

This is why everyone gets these same responses when I am asked this question.

For a while this changed, but all of sudden it was like the poison of my thoughts seeped back into my head, trapping me again, with no way to escape, like all that surrounded me was darkness. Still there is the faint light in the distance guiding me. The one person that as long as I am talking to them I can forget everything. Lately I have found myself back trying to suppress everything, just not quite as much.

It is usually easy for me to do this. I stand with my friends, we talk and make jokes but sometimes every now and then I will turn away from them, my smile fades and I become almost another person. A person who is broken. I become me. After a few depressing seconds, I will turn back to them smiling and joking all over again. There isn’t a way for me to stop this from happening, but there isn’t.

All of my friends would call me ‘happy’, they don’t notice when I slow down when walking, when I stay quiet, when my eyes glaze over or when I am stuck in my head. I am often ignored anyway, never really on purpose. It’s just that I don’t make much of an impact on anyways life. Sometimes I sit with my friends and I just know that I am the least important friend in the group, and all I can thin is that it would make no difference if I wasn’t there. This became more evident recently, I lost friends I never thought I would.

From a young age, all I had ever been taught, implicitly and explicitly about happiness was the fact that it was good. Sadness, however had always been shown to be a negative, something to avoid. It was something you didn’t want.

What does it mean to be happy? A question I still can’t really answer. For me now, it means having someone I can trust, someone who helps me forget, someone who loves me when I forget to love myself. 

07 July 2022

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