Somewhere between a Japanese proverb, and my father’s advice after one of the big kids on the other team completely and utterly without remorse, laid my ass out, I thought I had things figured. Fall down seven times, stand up eight. “Unless something’s broken or you’re seeing doubles, get right back up like it doesn’t phase you.” I believed the key to reaching happiness was in the ability to pick yourself up, dust your shorts off and keep going. Doesn’t matter how much it hurts. Unless something’s broken, just get up.
So I learned to take a hit.
Like when I was just getting into advertising and my internship at one of the top agencies in the city was revoked because two employees got their wires crossed. I got back up again.
And when I got laid off just seven months after moving to Montreal to join my dream agency, I got back up again. (And got rehired 4 months later. Phew…)
Even when I got my ass thrown out of the bar on a Friday night in front of my co-workers for urinating on the patio… (Hold on. In my defence, the bathroom was full, so I went out back and peed in the snow. We’ve all been there.)
You get the point.
Here’s the thing; I thought I had it all figured out, but while I was bracing myself for the next hit, I was missing the chance to determine what happiness actually meant for me. Maybe one of those times when life laid my ass out, I should have stayed down and thought about what I really wanted. Sure, hindsight is twenty-twenty, but it helps you see the future with clearer eyes.
I also didn’t realize that understanding what you want out of life isn’t easy. So I’ve assembled this totally unscientific collection of principles designed to guide us shit-eaters to Smilesville.
1. Find something worth failing for.
As Jim Carrey advised in his legendary commencement speech to the Maharishi University of Management, graduating class of 2014: “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
So forget the future for a second. I’m not saying stop recycling, all I’m saying is planning won’t protect you. It might be a relief to have one, but plans fail. Minds change. And there’s nothing worse than getting half-way through a well-executed endeavour only to find out things are not what you expected them to be. But that’s okay! We all fail. The important thing is to take the time to figure out what is truly worth failing for first.
2. Think for yourself.
Hollywood knows, Instagram and Facebook do too. Even that face cream knows exactly what you want. So why don’t you? Maybe it’s the constant barrage of aspirational fodder, forever nudging the proverbial target ever so slightly out of reach, determined to turn us into passive observers in our own pursuit of happiness? But happy is not a spectator sport. So think about your life, what you need, and what would make it amazing. For you. Set time aside to think for yourself.
3. Focus on what you want.
It’s normal to wonder how you measure up. If you’re naturally competitive it’s damn near impossible to avoid. The thing is, there’s no end to it. Somebody is always going to have more, or seem to have it more figured out than you. One day you’ll wake up in your nice house with your nice clothes and you’ll wonder where your life went. Success doesn’t equal happiness. Work towards what you want, not what you don’t have.
4. Solving the past is impossible. Be present.
Maybe you passed up a career opportunity for a failed relationship. Maybe you limited yourself to community college by failing math and then switching to “college level” in summer school because SUMMERTIME!!! Maybe decision making is something of an Achilles Heel for you. Whatever. None of that actually matters. Trying to fix past mistakes is never going to make you happy. Learn from your decisions to make better choices. Focus on what you can do today.
And there you have it. Perhaps you’re like me, still trying to figure out what your version of happiness is. Or maybe you already know, and you’re trying to figure out how to get it. Whatever the case, I wish you good fortune in the wars to come. Remember, the only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing, Jon Snow. So take comfort in your indecisive savvy.
Subtitle quote Cameron Crowe from the film Vanilla Sky.