Happiness is Knowing That We’re On The Same Team

There’s nothing quite like knowing that we are that.

Since I was young, I’ve always had this bad habit of comparing myself to other people. In fact, one of the deepest memories I have from kindergarten is feeling bad about how slowly I wore my shoes — and then crying about it to my teacher. I remember her telling me that it’s okay to be slow, and that I am not my friend and I don’t have to be, because I am me.

Even though that memory has stuck with me through the years, I don’t think the message sunk in. Through the days of crying because I got a lower grade than someone else, being behind in a race, not being as pretty, not having the same kind of money to spend, or not having the friends I wanted etc., I began to look more for the differences between us, and most of the time, placed others in a pedestal high above me.

It was quite unconscious and lethal in its own way. In hindsight, I can see how unhappy I made myself with this mindset, but it had also pushed me to make one of the biggest and best decisions of my life — leaving for the US at 15, which in turn, led me here, 5 years later, writing exactly about this.

It was in my three years in the US that I realised we are all on the same team. Every person is quite different — has a different definition of happiness, different methods to get to the same place, different standards and measurements, different circumstances and identities. But innately, I think that we are more similar than different.

In fact, most particularly, we are all here to win life. Whether it is being resilient in living through stormy days or even literal snow storms of the Northeast, when we just can’t find a reason to get out of bed and wake up, or getting the white picket fence and 2.5 kids (or more realistically, owning your own home with no debt!), finding success personally and professionally, or simply finding a reason to smile each day — the fact that we wake up every morning is a sign that we try our hand every day.

I cannot pinpoint a particular moment in my three years in high school where this epiphany hit me. Rather, there is a collage of moments that make up this revelation.

One memory is actually in winter, senior year. I had talked to a girl earlier who had applied to the same college, and she told me the results were out, and she got in. So I quickly sat in my usual spot in the sun room, and opened up my portal, only to find that I got deferred.

I’m not going to lie and say that I thought I was going to get in right off the bat, but it still stung a lot. I remember first, the blank that clouded over me; a kind of numb that felt like this moment didn’t matter that much. Like, who was this school anyway?

Then suddenly I started crying. Like a jammed faucet that couldn’t be turned off, the tears just kept spilling and running. The sobs and hiccups got a little harder to hold in, and before long, people passing by stopped. And as my jumbled speech explained clumsily what had happened, and the faces of people blurred through the teary vision, it didn’t matter. I got so many hugs, back rubs, comforting words that promised it was going to be okay, more than okay. Even people who I barely talked to stopped by to give a hug. Then there were also others who sat in the chairs next to me silently even after I had stopped crying. Or the ones who made me laugh so hard after that.

And this scene would repeat for many in my class, and perhaps is replayed with the ones that came before and after us.

Or sports games, where I remember cheering, “Let’s go,” in rain (or crazy wind?!) and shine and “Number x on the field, number 1 in my heart,” and being so touched that I was close to tears (man, I cry a lot) and gripping hands with other people in the stands because we were so nervous about what would happen next. And the “good game”s and hi-fives and smiles from one team to another after.

In fact, one of my favourite things was this ritual that happened before practice in my university lacrosse team. We would gather together in a circular formation, and put our hands in and the other hand on the shoulder of the one standing next to us, and chant a cheer with the year’s slogan. As a freshman, it was “We are One,” and somehow that always left me in a little bit of awe.

Or among other things, the compliments and congratulations and food shared and songs sang along, letters/notes written and received, the pat on the back that said, “You’re not alone.”

There’s even this funny thing where I was reading a column giving advice to people in their 20s, and even though it was written before I was born — another age, another time (before Windows 98 even!) — it is still so applicable to the people in their 20s (which is now my generation) today. Whether it is always fantasising about the better time when we were younger, or the fact that we always remind ourselves to appreciate our family and body and the present, there are these common experiences that transcend generations and technology.

More recently, when I was telling someone how unhappy I felt with not getting enough support from my family, he said to me that, “We (friends) can be your family.”

Or sitting with a friend in every kind of weather you could name, and those you didn’t even know exist. And being able to laugh together even when caught in the pouring rain.

Getting or giving free ice cream, just because.

Or simply, a smile from one stranger to another in the drizzle.

I think that is what happiness is to me. Knowing that we are in this together, that we are trying to be better together. Even though life is your own race with yourself at your own pace, knowing that there are people in the stands cheering for you, and loved ones at the finishing line (or rest stops) there with open arms — there is no other feeling just like this.