I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day. We were discussing her indefinite plans for the year to come when I told her she should just do what makes her happy. She looked at me, her eyes beginning to blur behind the appearance of tears and said, "I don't know what makes me happy." As I sat there, trying to gather the right words, I couldn't help but think how lucky I was to be quite content with my life. But as I was thinking this, it hit me. I realized that while yes, I am happy, I could not pinpoint why. There was not one easy explanation I could give her, and hours later I still couldn't find a simple reason.
If you think about it, there really is no distinct meaning for what happiness is. Sure, there is a definition; but really that definition is just a bunch of synonyms for the original word. I remember during one communication class my professor asked us to describe a woman by her photo on the overhead. Of course someone said, "happy," and the professor turned to us and revealed the point of the lecture, "yes she's happy, but do you know why?"
Happiness, while by definition revolves around the same idea for everyone, has no list of ingredients and no direction for its use. But still, every day there is pressure for us to, as I had told my friend, do what makes us happy. So, now I ask, do you know what makes you happy?
I could, if I wasn't an over-thinker (which I think, while it has its repercussions, it is a good thing) state a fair amount of things that do "make" me happy. My family, my friends, my boyfriend, my upcoming move to Vail, my puppy… Then there are the smaller things: the smell of rain, a beautiful day, a great cold wheat beer, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. However, while all of these things can and almost always do make me happy, I have discovered that my happiness is not dependent on them.
All these things are, in some sort, materialistic, and in a sad but true sense, impermanent. If we depend on things or people to make us happy, then we are placing our own wellbeing outside of our control. The thing is nothing in itself can actually make us happy. The things that make us happy are actually not things or people, but rather how we choose to interpret the moments we have with them.
Oprah once said, "every choice we make either moves us forward or holds us back in life," and I can't argue with that – especially when it comes to happiness. While certain things do have the power and influence to make us happy, these things are not what create our overall wellbeing. It is the moments we spend with these things and these people. It is how we choose to live these moments, how we choose to view them, how we choose to let them influence us that makes us happy.
We all know that life is not a promise of forever, and therefore we all know that neither are the people and things that fill our lives. We also all know that every day won't turn out how we would like it to, and that things and people can't always match our expectations. But despite these depressing thoughts, all these things are still able to make us happy because we have the choice to make the most of the moments we have with them.
Happiness is a choice; we get to choose who and what we spend our time with, and we get to choose how we let every moment affect us. Things won't always go as planned, and sometimes, no matter what we actually do choose, something else results. But for the most part our happiness is up to us and is something we can only define through experience.
So, while there may be no definite answer to what makes us happy, there is a choice. We can choose to make happiness our goal. We can choose to take every moment available to us and turn it into something, anything that has the ability to make us happy. Choose happiness, wherever you can, whenever you can. Choose to find happiness in every moment and smile, because it is one choice that you will never regret.
Kelly Hagenah is a senior speech communication major. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian.