We have an odd relationship with discomfort in our society. Admonishments to “be happy”, or “keep calm and carry on” abound, as if the journey is secondary to the destination. We would serve future generations better if we taught them what we now know to be true - the journey is the destination. Approach the unknown with joyful intention, and discomfort can be endured with grace.
In high school and college, I jumped from hoop to hoop. Expecting that a good grade here or a completed credit there, would lead to some unspecified benefit later in life.
In my relationships, I did the “right” things at what I presumed were the “right” times. Thinking that if I added up enough correct decisions, true happiness would be around the corner.
In my work, I took my performance personally. Accepting blame immediately, and rarely acknowledging success. Believing that excellence existed only for tiny moments, while failure was an indelible stain.
When I turned 30, my priorities shifted. It was strange being in my own head; witnessing certain things become less and less important. What things I did became less important compared to how I did things. Being away from close friends and family became more and more depressing. Eventually, I realized that my life is too short to do things according to anyone else’s expectations, and, far more importantly, to live without ever challenging my own expectations was no life at all.
Studying philosophy helped me identify an important maxim. To distill it down to a sentence:
It is not the what, but the how.
For much of my life, I focused on doing, accomplishing, earning. I am grateful it only took me thirty years to understand that there is more fulfillment in bringing an attitude of joy toward whatever it is that I do.
I write about mental illness and suicide, and I am not sad about it.
I am moving back into my parent’s basement, and I am excited to spend more time with them.
I am juggling dozens of balls with my last weeks of work, packing my things, getting my affairs in order, and I focus first on my attitude toward the tasks I have before me.
In this way, I cultivate happiness and joy. Feeling content with an uncomfortable process, not because I expect comfort in the future, but because I decide how I want to walk along my path.