I’m human. I require safety and food. I desire shelter, companionship, and amusement. And I prefer to have a choice.
As a boy, I remember wanting a Dick Tracy watch, and to play flamenco guitar (though I didn’t want to have to practice). I wanted a car when I was sixteen, to win the state championship, to make my friends laugh, to get the best grades, to stay in the limits of fashion, to be the lead in the play, and to be the choice for the last second shot on the basketball team. In college, I wanted to graduate. I wanted a new big truck, the latest gadgets, a nice apartment, and money. Some I achieved and received, other not. All external desires.
Possession, attainment, attention, completion, achievement; words, so many words to describe and detach from happiness. The concept of happiness that I viewed as a child and young man was external and finite, and I struggle still too, to keep in focus what truly brings me joy.
I’ve been told, as humans we have five basic needs: safety, love and belonging, power and control, fun, and freedom. Being individuals, we are entitled to define each of these constructs as we choose. Which makes it particularly difficult to talk about contentment and happiness.
It gets muddier, as these needs are not mutually exclusive. They can work together to enrich, or destructively contradict one another. For example: being conflicted when presented with choices of multiple activities (fun, freedom to choose, fulfilling belonging if the activity is with someone, and empowering). Or, destructively: I can’t control anyone, or overpower them into truly loving me, or to have fun.
This muddy road, it gets wet and tough to trudge, because if one of these five needs are lacking in attention we become uncomfortable and discontent. Doing, sometimes unconsciously, whatever we can to fulfill the need. If we’re mindful, we are able to identify what it is; if not, we may seek comfort in a destructive way.
Now, and as I look back, I’ve found it’s the choice of, and participation that brought, and continues to bring me joy. Getting up every day and making the decision to consciously engage in my life. The experience is immeasurable and fulfilling.
Sure, I have goals, like graduate school, to hike large portions of the PCT, to own a home… Are those achievements, accomplishments, or possessions? Yes. But I’ll be happy when I’m attaining the knowledge I hope to use once I earn my degree. I’ll be happy on the trail, and the when telling stories of the sights and adventures afterwards. And it won’t be the fact that I’ve bought a home that brings me happiness, it will be the safety and security that it provides, the love and laughter that occurs within, the life that it facilitates.
What is happiness to me? It’s sitting next to my girlfriend and witness her smiling at me, because of me. It’s all the hours I spent on the track and in the weight room with my coach and friends, before I mounted the blocks. It’s learning, and given a chance to utilize that knowledge. It’s right now, writing this. An opportunity to participate in a discussion of the changing definition of masculinity. That brings me happiness. What’s your happiness?
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