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The Science of happy

And some of the probable reasons why you’re not

By Isabelle Laureta

Last summer, I went on a three-day vacation in Boracay with two of my best girl friends from high school. It was the first time we were traveling that far together and so, despite the tight budget, delayed flight, and the twin-sized bed all three of us had to share, complaining was the last thing on our minds. We spent both of our nights sitting by the shore—our toes played with the white sand as we ate sticks of isaw and downed it with beer in plastic cups we bought from the convenience store. As I said, we were on a tight budget. It might not sound much, but those nights felt like the time of my life.

happyOn our second one-liter bottle of beer, I bade goodbye to sobriety, but I was also still far from drunken-land. “Are you happy?” I asked my friends with squeakiness in my voice that I believed was intensified by the alcohol. “As in truly, genuinely happy?” I don’t know why I was being existential all of a sudden, but one of my friends laughed, looked far at the dark horizon where the edge of the dark salt water met the night sky, and said, “No.” My other friend, who just came back from the washroom, heard our exchange and said the same. I wondered why, because both of them seemed like they were in a good place. Since then, I haven’t stopped thinking about that conversation. I kept finding reasons why not only both my friends, but also a lot of 20somethings in general are not happy despite living a relatively good life. So why aren’t you happy, really? Here are my thoughts.

1. Because you rely on other people for happiness.

This is the age of constant search for validity and endless disappointments if we don’t get one. We’re happy when people think we’re groovy, funny, and beautiful and are therefore worthy to get involved in a relationship with. We get sad, even depressed when the same people leave us for people who are much groovier, funnier, and even more beautiful than we are. I know it’s easier said than done, but you have to snap out of the downward-spiral kind of thinking that other people—and other people alone—hold your happiness. The kindest thing you can do to yourself is to realize on your own that you are groovy, funny, and beautiful. Because you are. And if there’s one person whom you should seek love and validity from, it’s yourself. His/her mama may not like you even though she likes everyone, but that’s not a reason for you not to love yourself. Am I right, Justin Bieber?

2. Because you associate happiness with material things.

My family almost never traveled when I was younger, not because we didn’t want to, but because we had different priorities back then and our money was just enough to fund them. We’re not a rich clan, you see. So when I finally got out of school and saved enough money, I booked us our first out-of-the-country trip to Hong Kong (well, my father booked the trip and I only paid because let’s face it—I’m not adult enough to do that.) While we were watching the fireworks display at Disneyland, tears fell down my face. “When you wish upon a star,” said the song. I was crying. Not because I was sad, but because I could not believe my hard-earned money made this possible for my family and me. I didn’t feel proud. In fact, I was humbled and overwhelmed. Was I happy because I had money for an out-of-the-country family trip? Sure. But what I felt having shared that blessing and seeing my family looking up at the lights in the sky in the happiest place on earth was beyond words. I don’t think the word “happiness” is enough to describe that feeling. And I don’t think I’d be as happy if I went alone so I could spend less. After the trip, I had much less money than before, but my heart was so full that I couldn’t afford to feel bad about it. And that’s when I knew happiness is not when you count your blessings, it’s when you share them with the people around you.


3. Because you’re burning yourself out.

So many Millennials today are so effing tired all the time. We work even during weekends, and even if we aren’t, 50 percent of the time, we’re most probably thinking about work. The thought of work keeps us awake at night because we want to be the best in every thing we do. We have the strongest desire to be successful and so we work ourselves to the ground, thinking that this is the only way to be the star that shines the brightest. Not gonna lie, I used to be like that, but only until I started respecting my weekends and stopped working late at night. And what do you know, I became more efficient at work, as I am no longer physically and mentally drained, but I also don’t hate myself anymore for overworking myself. This isn’t to discredit hard work though, but to say that the key is to put hard work in its right place. Work hard if you have to, when you have to, but reward yourself with rest when you need it. There’s no guarantee you’ll be the brightest star, but you definitely won’t be one if you let a black hole eat you alive and burn yourself out along the way.


4. Because you’re living someone else’s life.

And you get disappointed when yours turns out differently as theirs. Or,  you keep letting people take charge of what you should do with your life, and in the long run wonder why you don’t like what’s happening. I read somewhere that if life were an exam, people would keep copying each other’s answers, not knowing that they were given different questions. When happiness came upon the face of the universe, it didn’t come with a manual. Life isn’t a complicated rap song that you can search the lyrics of, it’s freestyle and anything can happen. My high school Math teacher used to tell us that there was more than one way to solve a mathematical problem. You can choose any way you want, just as long as you arrive at the correct answer. Math isn’t my strongest suit, and I almost failed Algebra in college. But what my teacher told me was more of a life lesson than a mathematical one. If life is a mathematical problem and happiness is the answer, then there sure are a lot of ways and detours to get there. And it’s all up to you how you want to solve it.


5. Because you keep looking for big gestures, when in fact happiness is in the little things.

Happiness isn’t only a well-planned weeklong road trip with your barkada; it is also the laughter you share over a stupid Internet meme. Happiness isn’t only a free family buffet dinner at a five-star restaurant; it is also when my family is complete at the dinner table at home during weekends. Happiness isn’t only a grandiose marriage proposal; it is also when my boyfriend braved the MRT rush hour despite his upset stomach so he could accompany me to wait in the rain for a bus home (not the grandest scene, I tell you.) Happiness isn’t only when your work is given prestigious recognition; it is also when you make your mom proud by doing the littlest things. Happiness is in a shared bottle of beer, a pat on the back, or a smile from a stranger. What we don’t realize is that happiness is an amalgamation of tiny incredible things that we fail to see because we are too busy waiting for huge things to happen for us to be happy. We can’t see the stars in the daytime because they’re too small and the sun is too big so its brightness overpowers theirs. But the stars never go away; we just don’t try hard enough to look for them.