Happily Ever After
Written by: Charneise Alston, M.Ed
The Walt Disney company coined the phrase “happily ever after” to insinuate a happy ending. As a woman, I grew up hearing the social messaging that my “happily ever after” would result from meeting my Prince Charming. Consequently, I held an ingrained belief that the state of happiness could not fully be experienced on my own. As I acquired countless achievements and enjoyed many fleeting moments of happiness, I began to wonder, crave, and ultimately seek out happiness as a state of being, a lifestyle.
Throughout my twenties, I distinctly remember discarding the idea that “happily ever after” was only the finale to my life story. I stopped romanticizing the concept of happiness and actively began to cultivate happiness for myself. This wasn’t easy because it forced me to be present, live in my reality, appreciate what I accomplished thus far, confront what needed to change, challenge my way of thinking, and strive to become my best self. Sounds simple, hunh? Well this life lesson was difficult for me to learn because after being in pursuit of happiness for so long, I did not know how to shift into a space of acceptance.
In order to fully embrace happiness, I had to identify what essentially influenced and triggered my pleasant emotions. Let me be explicitly clear when I say that happiness is completely subjective so what makes me happy may or may not trigger your own happiness. With that said, here are the five factors to my happiness: being spiritually aligned, freedom, accepting life circumstances, achievements, and social relationships.
What is spiritual alignment? Well, it is as simple as it sounds. When you are in alignment, you move with the flow of life rather than being resistant forcing friction against life. Since I believe that faith is the vehicle used to travel life’s journey, I had to shed my former controlling ways. No longer would I try to plan every part of my life but instead participate with life. I had to rid myself of expectations that painted the perfect picture. This milestone in my journey taught me how to surrender. The minute I began surrendering to what was predestined for my life, I instantly discovered another dimension of happiness.
In my surrendering, I unlocked freedom. Freedom is important to my happiness in various ways. Who wants to be bound by limitations? During my twenties, my financial freedom allowed for my basic needs to be met, a growing savings account, and frequent travel along the Caribbean. I was free in both my time and responsibilities. While the love of money will never bring full happiness, the function of money provided me with a carefree attitude and access to acquire material things. Having the freedom of not depending on anyone and making a life off of my own earnings gave me an independence that was truly fulfilling. Also, I could afford to randomly help others in need which brought me great joy.
The third element to creating my happiness is accepting life circumstances. It is easy to be happy during the highs of life. Happy Birthday! Happy Anniversary! Happy New Year! However, there are some unfortunate life events that are painful such as death, illness, the loss of employment, social injustice, and other tragedies that can cause even the strongest person to falter. That is why I wanted happiness to be a state of being and not a fleeting, pleasant emotion because life is not always rosy. When choosing happiness, you are not exempt from hurt or pain but you can choose an attitude that doesn’t succumb or wallow in affliction.
Even in the storms, I had to find the silver lining to experience happiness. Emotional happiness is based on what is happening around you, meaningful happiness is deeper and will have you peaceful and content even in the midst of chaos. True happiness has the resilient power to temper the strongest winds of adversity. During this part of my journey, I learned that perspective can affect perception.
Additionally, I find great pleasure in setting and meeting goals, which is why achievement is correlated to my happiness. When I solve a problem or defeat a challenge, I get an intrinsic satisfaction that fuels my ambition. I want to constantly stretch myself outside of my comfort zone and take on challenges that sharpen my skills. Are you utilizing your gifts to their full potential? If not, there is so much more uncharted territory for you to explore. Setting goals and giving them deadlines keep you productive. My happiness was found in being productive, not busy.
The final facet to my happiness is having healthy social relationships. In order to have growth and bear fruit, one must prune certain connections. I thereby became very particular about who I allowed in my space. I made some necessary adjustments and preferred quality over quantity. So, I only hung around those who would either expand or elevate the conversation. Ironically, I discovered that after having all five pieces of my happiness in place, my solitude brought me as much happiness as my friendships.
In regards to social relationships, happiness is also found in service to others. Being community-minded and understanding the value in the collective human experience uncovers purpose. When you choose to add value to others, you yield happiness. Fortunately, my profession grants me the pleasure of counseling youth and families which materializes into increased happiness. It is my mission to help people recognize their purpose and equip them with the tools needed to be successful in life. Leading a purpose-driven life perpetuates happiness.
In closing, I want to propose a counter thought to society’s narrative of “happily ever after.” Happiness is near, happiness is now. You have sole control over your state of being, your mindset, your lifestyle. Please don’t limit your happiness by having it only surface during celebratory, good times or in anticipation of a future event. Happiness can also be found in the mundane, day-in and day-out, lackluster routines of our lives.
As you dig for a deeper more meaningful satisfaction in life, find peace in the range from contentment to abundant joy. When you truly embrace happiness as a state of being, happily single, happily married, and happily widowed is achievable. Unlike the many Disney stories, my “happily ever after” did not result from a man finding me and giving me a happy ending. By no means, my “happily ever after” began the day I found myself and decided to live in happiness. So when my life’s story comes to an end, although my tombstone will read Rest In Peace, be assured that I lived in happiness.
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“Most folks are as happy as they make their minds to be.”