For a lot of teenagers, there’s nothing they want more than a shiny new car for their 16th birthday. Or at least, a shiny new piece of plastic that allows them to legally drive. Me on the other hand? I wanted absolutely nothing to do with driving—I loved the company of my parents as chauffeurs, and I never felt embarrassed by their presence. Most of all, I feared the power and responsibility of maneuvering a very expensive toy on the roads (especially with all the inattentive drivers who spend more time looking at their phones than their rearview mirrors). One of the first times I drove with my mom on a permit to obtain the required hours, my left leg twitched uncontrollably—and a lot. It felt numb by the time I made it to my destination! That’s how scared I felt.
Flash forward to February of senior year. After two years of [not] driving on a permit, receiving endless grief from classmates and family, and asking for countless rides, I finally got my license. I’ll never forget the first time I drove all by myself. I went for a drive on a Thursday night, with no destination in mind, just for the sole purpose of driving. The skies, though filled with light grey rainclouds, revealed a break as the setting sun shone brilliant rays across the horizon. I drove—with no music, only my own thoughts, and wearing one of my favorite sweaters and the best smelling perfume. In that moment, I felt completely on top of the world. I felt pure joy.
I think it’s a safe assumption to say most people use the words happiness and joy synonymously. I never much considered the difference between them myself until a wise person told me his interpretation of the words: happiness relates to a long-term state of contentment, whereas joy signifies little moments of glee—the short-term. I quickly adapted this clarification as my own. For some reason, the impermanence connoted by the term joy seems comforting. Happiness carries such weight to it; everyone strives to find happiness, and therefore tremendous pressure is put on the word and ourselves to discover it. Joy, on the other hand, provides an escape from that pressure. It makes the idea of long-term happiness a little less scary, a little less out of reach.
Perhaps complete happiness is impossible—you surely can’t always feel happy when faced with the pains of grief, heartache, and tragedy. Joy, on the other hand? Why not spend your days seeking little moments of joy, rather than the intimidating and unimaginable thought of lifelong happiness?
The trick lies in discovery: discovering yourself and what brings you joy. As I drove for the first time, parallel to a grey and sun-beamed sky, I realized something that brought me joy. Obviously, it wasn’t driving itself, otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted two years procrastinating with my license and getting teased by everyone. Rather, it was the act of overcoming one of my fears—that indescribable feeling of accomplishing something that seemed so far away and difficult.
Since then, I have ascertained a few other things that elicit this same sense of bliss, such as making costumes, accomplishing long-term goals, or finally crossing an item off my bucket list.
Did you notice a theme between my four joy-givers? All four items pertain to me and me alone, and they are something I can control. Yes, family and significant others are wonderful (when they’re not teasing you about driving), but joy, and even happiness—if you believe in it—can’t be dependent upon other people or something out of your hands. Happiness is a choice you have to make for yourself. There will always exist people who disappoint you, who make you angry, who try to lead you down a different path than you wish to take for yourself. You can’t let the haters strip you of your joy and happiness (or of your self-worth)—that is a choice of attitude only you should make.
So whenever I feel down, or somehow hurt by the people in my life, I know there are a few things I can do to cheer me up. Go out and find something I fear, like jumping off that [safe] rock into the river or riding that one amusement park ride I always avoided, and conquer it. Find a goal or an item on my bucket list and finally accomplish it. I can actively decide to feel cheerful because the activities that bring me joy are those which I can control and achieve myself. I don’t have to wait for the universe to make things fall into place for me, and I certainly don’t have to rely on someone else to dictate my emotion.
I can’t tell you if happiness is achievable. What I can tell you is that joy most certainly is. If you spend your life chasing after those little moments of contentment, that unexpected and exciting wink of glee, then happiness won’t be such a far off dream.
Have a wonderful Thursday! Today, find something that brings you joy. 😊
Miles of smiles,