Professor jennifer hurley

Guest Post by Elisa Castillo: True Happiness, The Essence of Life

I share this essay written by my wonderful student Elisa Castillo so that we can learn from her wisdom how to be happy in these trying times.

–Jennifer Hurley

We were created to be happy. The whole purpose of our life journey is to find happiness and peace within. Having control of our happiness is essential for our life. We dedicate our life to search for success and money, in order to be happy, but true happiness is beyond accomplishments or wealth; it is something we cannot touch.

True happiness is within, but most of us try to outsource it.  If we stop and ask ourselves, can we be happy regardless of our circumstances?, most of us will find this question irrelevant. We concentrate on working hard to be successful and have enough money. But being successful and having money are the rewards of our hard work, which can give us commodities and enjoyment, but it is not a true happiness. I strongly believe that we can control our happiness, but yet we struggle to be happy.

It is for sure that we are the architects of our own life, and when we were created, we were given a free will. Unconsciously we lose the free will letting someone else to run our feelings. I can say that most of our beliefs and feelings comes from our childhood, especially if we were rejected, abandoned, humiliated and treated with injustice. All cultural and moral activities we learned from our parents, siblings, teachers, friends made an impact in our lives and we started creating our own paths. Many of those paths led us to confusion and created many questions in our minds, “Is this a real happiness?”

When we experienced rejection from our classmates at early age, because we were different in the way we talked, the way we dressed, and the way we ate depending our cultural background we felt excluded. Since we wanted to be part of a community, mentally we started creating our own ideas how to be accepted. We created wrong idea about happiness. We started behaving according to what people wanted us to behave and we started imitating other people.

From the TED talk, “We do as other people do” (“You Don’t Find Happiness You Create It” by Katarina Bloom) I do agree with her statement. For the most part everyone tends to imitate what other people do; that is our learning mechanism. But we do not stop and ask, is this ok? Will I be happy? We keep imitating especially during our teenage years. At that age is very crucial for the individuals because of peer pressure. Everyone wants to look their best. And if we didn’t grow up with strong positive guidance, we become an easy target. I remember at age 13, I was in junior high and I had a boyfriend. Knowing that my parents would not agree with that relationship I kept it a secret, but everyone was doing the same thing, so I didn’t want to be rejected by my friends. Hiding and keeping secrets made me feel worried and stress. I didn’t want to get in trouble with my parents, but I wanted to be accepted by my friends. That was confusion.  

Teenage years are our most vulnerable age; we started to compare ourselves with others. We measured our intelligence, our beauty, on how much we had. In reality, we are just crying out loud. “I am not happy.” “I need to be recognized.” “I need to be accepted.” “I need to be loved.”— because we didn’t know that “happiness is within.” Happiness is a skill that we can practice every single day in order to be able to recognize it. By being thankful, grateful and at service to others. The first day of my English class, the professor told us that the brain is a muscle that you have to exercise daily in order to become a better student.”  I believe that if we practice compassion and gratitude, we will find inner peace to become happy persons too.

According to the Dalai Lama, “Happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind that by external events.” One way that I learned to work “within my happiness” it has been through a twelve-step program. (A twelve-step program was designed to help people addicted to alcohol to help them to recovered. Nowadays, a twelve-step program had being adopted for different addictions. It is a spiritual program that has saved millions of people to recuperate from their addictions.) When I discovered those groups, I was in a very deep discontent with myself. At that time, I was unable to recognize that I couldn’t control my emotions. I was scared to look inside myself, and instead I was very controlling and wanted to change everyone in my family because I thought I knew what was best for them.  It took several months to recognize that the only person I was allowed to change was myself. It was really hard to let go of my controlling issues, because I didn’t want to take care of me. Now I am very grateful I found these groups. Not only did they help me to take control of my eating bad habits, but I also learned from them how to believe in myself and feel a true happiness. The most wonderful thing I learned was how to take care of my spiritual part by meditating. Meditation for me has become part of my life. By meditating I become aware of my present and how to be grateful. This practice had thought me to be thankful for what I have and not suffer for what I don’t have. Meditation helps me to practice patience and compassion and how not to rely on external factors to reach happiness. I learned to adjust to a new way of perceiving life. I have to recognize life is a struggle and every day has its own challenges, but I would rather live struggling than miserable.

We have the wrong idea that we need external factors or people’s influences to make us happy. I think that we need each other because we live in a community and we must help each other to make life easier. For instance, I don’t know how to cut my own hair, so I need a beautician to cut my hair. I depend on the doctors to take care of my health. I depend on people who works on the farms in order to grow food, so I can eat. All these things make our life easier and enjoyable. We need each other to satisfy our needs. Another external influence is having a good education, having a successful career, having lots of money, also having a beautiful house or having the perfect husband. It is not a guarantee that this is a true happiness. All those external influences can vanish, but if we believe that happiness is within, we will have more meaningful life and our thoughts, actions and executions will be reflected in our lives.

From the TED talk “Chasing Happiness Can Make People Unhappy” by Emily Esfahani Smith), my conclusion to her message is that we get so easily confused about happiness. Of course, the meaning of happiness is very different for everyone. When I got married at age 23, I thought I had everything to be happy. I was in love, I never had to worry about money, I was marrying a handsome tall guy. Everything looked great. Soon after the wedding I started to notice that my new husband liked to drink hard liquor. At first, I thought it should pass, but he continued, and it got worse. When we were dating, he didn’t show signs of his bad habits. My world started to crumble; I couldn’t believe that the person I put all my expectations in, to make me happy, was failing. Little did I know that he was having the same expectations. We started to have arguments and I started worrying about money. The handsome tall guy started losing his charm. I started feeling unhappy. I tried to help him as much as a could. But he didn’t recognize that he had a problem and no matter how sick he got, he never asked for help or wanted to be helped. Those were very sad unpleasant times.

At that time, I was reliant on my husband to make me happy. I was blaming him for my unhappiness, and everything was his fault. At that time I was inexperienced. It was hard to comprehend that our job was to take care of our own happiness.

Taking care of our happiness takes dedication and commitment. Acceptance is the first step. We must recognize that we are in control of our own happiness. We must respect our relationships especially with our loved ones and stop blaming everyone else for not meeting our expectations. We must stop judging, comparing and competing. Those are unhealthy habits that will destroy ourselves, our relationships and in consequence our happiness.

We can’t change people or circumstances; the only person we can change is ourselves. We must stop wasting our energy outsourcing happiness. Accepting who we are is a challenging process, but is the most rewarding experience one can have. We need to work to the best of our abilities so that “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” (Dale Carnegie expression). We must learn to activate our happiness inside by being at peace with ourselves. Being productive and creative, taking positive action and changing bad behavior will shape our inner being and true happiness will come. Yes, there are external circumstances that we think can prevent us from feeling happy. Like the world pandemic, people losing loved ones, jobs, and assets; this are devastating and we can lose hope, but we can become creators too. We must have to understand that what really matters is our reaction towards that situation: Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional” (Haruki Murakami expression).

We can train our minds to be happy by living in the present. Accept ourselves the way we are and be grateful. It is very important to have peace within us, so we can have mental sanity. We must take one day at a time, and we must be proactive and respectful. We must be at service to others, which gives us a wonderful reward and contributes to our inner peace. No wealth, no assets, no travel will give us the happiness we are looking for.  As an example, we had Buddha he had everything we can imagine, and he went searching for the true meaning of happiness.  

After all our struggles to find happiness, we will be amazed when we realize that we are unique persons created to be happy. We tend to forget it with so many distractions, but it is never too late. So, let’s start believing in ourselves and practicing being present, thankful, and grateful every day. Our thoughts will start changing. Our past and future will no longer restrain us. And the sense of calm and peace will help us to find the true essence of happiness.



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