In my young adult years leading up to Korea, I learned painful lessons that nonetheless provided me gratitude. Each precipitating event slowly pushed me towards the life I am living today. Now I flourish in a new land feeling more alive than I have ever been.
However, despite my hard-fought insights in pursuit of a fulfilling life, there is still much to learn. Despite reveling at my personal progress, the marathon drones on.
When I left for Korea, my most important luggage resided between my ears. To this day, I work to live by my three principles of happiness: cultivating positive interpersonal relationships, exerting effort towards a defined goal, and pursuing intrinsically motivating activities. Lately, my intellectual pursuits have shifted from linguistics to psychology. Nonetheless, the presence of passion remains strong.
I have since striven to adopt a fourth principle – self-love. Sometimes I fear that my zealous pursuit of learning and personal goals comes from a latent sense of lack. In other words, I worry that I work to feel worthy. Many researchers (Brené Brown comes to mind) warn against this toxic mindset. In return, she provides a soothing reminder.
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
There is an apparent contradiction in how I think about happiness and self-love. On one hand, I am ready to acknowledge that I feel great wellbeing when I am working hard to accomplish my goals, acquire world knowledge, and spend time with people I care about. In other words, I admit to experiences of in-the-moment happiness. However, there is a lingering voice that still treats happiness like a goal.
“Once you read 100 more books you will be intelligent enough.”
“If you work out for another year you will be fit enough.”
“If you meditate consistently for one more year you will feel at-peace enough.”
“Once you are (insert adjective) enough, then you will be happy.”
As I type those sentences, I cringe at how ridiculous they sound. Reading has never made me feel more intelligent. If anything, each book makes me more aware I don’t know. The more I exercise, the more diminishing the returns. Newbie gains are a thing of the past. And while meditation helps me develop focus and self-control, how can someone ever be “at-peace enough?” I’m probably never going to be a monk.
Most importantly, people don’t have to peg their worth on what they accomplish. They don’t have to push forward out of sheer hunger. People can feel full, whole, and complete right now and still keep goals. Being “enough” and striving to improve are not competing ideas.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life.”
Thank you, Dr. Brown. Sometimes I forget that. Too much focus on optimization crowds out the critical space required for appreciation and gratitude (proven bellwethers of happiness).
If you’re unfamiliar with her work, I highly recommend any of her books (or listen to her TED Talk).
That is my challenge today. Recognize when pushing harder is counter-productive. Give myself the space to breathe deep and appreciate progress rather than preoccupying over productivity.
In some ways, this unfinished quest is to be expected. Scholars have debated happiness for thousands of years without a definite consensus about either its definition or its causes. I will likely struggle to define it until the day I die. However, perhaps that is what I truly need to feel happy.
Maybe the greatest joy comes from the energy exerted on the journey and the travel companions I share it with rather than the true nature of the destination. As I march into 2018 and beyond, I am not a finished product. I likely never will be. However, I appreciate the path I am on and look forward to walking it for years to come.
Photo Corner (Teacher Trip Edition)
At the end of the semester, the teachers go away for an overnight “workshop.” This time we went to Buan County up north. In fact, the workshop lasted for an hour. The rest of the time was dedicated to “recreational activities.”
My food pictures have been sparse, but this seafood lunch of clam soup, grilled fish, and side dishes couldn’t be ignored.
Though a bit more evergreen, the seaside landscapes of Buan County reminded me of Bodega Bay.
The weather brought me back to the Bay Area as well.
I sat in the back of this super serious meeting just smiling, nodding, and taking pictures.
This explains the abundance of fresh seafood we enjoyed.
I love the feeling I get staring out at a foggy horizon with small islands grasping at the slightest shred of visibility.
My new goal is to learn what the stacked rocks mean. I saw them everywhere around the Buddhist temple.
This 1000-year-old tree has seen some things man…and some stuff. She wouldn’t recommend it.
I love these balloony roofs wherever I see them.
Mountain, mountains everywhere, and not a rock to throw.
In the shadows of the temple which sat in the shadows of the mountains, peace reigned supreme.
A turtle against a dragon? I’m not sure who would win. On one hand, dragons are faster. On the other, maybe a turtle can more efficiently haul the massive stone on its back.
The kaleidoscopic designs inside of the balloony roofs made my eyes smile.
You may throw the old bell in jail, but you can’t keep a good bell down.