Welcome back for day 6 of my project, which I’ve now named, “The Happy.Healthy.Whole Project” thanks to your input on yesterday’s post!
Some of you might be wondering why I am doing a happiness project.
Is it because I’m terribly unhappy with the way my life is now?
No, not at all! The truth is, I am quite a bit happier now than I was when I was younger – despite all the crazy that’s going on in the world right now.
So why take on a project like this?
I’m currently at a crossroads in my life, and it’s time to make some big decisions, and maybe even a change of direction.
Plus, my project isn’t only about seeking happiness, but overall wellbeing. This is why I wanted a new name for my project rather than keeping Gretchen Rubin’s original “Happiness Project” name.
Over the course of this project, I do hope to increase my happiness some – there is always room for improvement. But most of all, I’m looking to do a little soul searching, and find what direction might be best for me going forward.
But, before I can decide where I want to go, let’s take a look at where I’ve been and how I got to where I am now.
Table of Contents
My Happiness Journey
All my life, I have struggled with depression. I started seeing my first counselor at the age of 5.
All throughout my teen years and into early adulthood, I was on and off of all kinds of antidepressant medications, none of which seemed to work very well for me.
I was doing all the things that I was supposed to do; I had no shortage of friends, I did well in school, I played sports all the way through college – but something just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t happy in the way that other people were.
The doctors told me that depression was a disease, and as is the case with other diseases, they said that something was physically wrong with me, that my brain didn’t produce enough of this or that.
Over the years, I began to believe that it wasn’t physically possible for me to be truly happy – at least not in any long-term way.
How could I? My brain didn’t work properly. So I watched from the outside as my friends and family enjoyed things in a way I thought I would never be able to.
I went through life just going through the motions. I did what normal people do. I went to college and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in biology in 2011. Then I got a master’s degree in Exercise and Wellness in 2013, and began teaching at a vocational school for people that wanted to be personal trainers.
I made pretty good money, I liked the people I worked with, I had a decent schedule, and I even won some teaching awards and was on several committees.
I think most people would have considered me successful, but still, I felt like something was missing.
My Happiness Epiphany
It was while teaching that I joined a professional development book club at work. The first book we read was entitled, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University.
This book wasn’t about happiness at all, in fact, I don’t even think it mentioned happiness. Instead it introduced the theories of the growth and fixed mindsets.
The book was mostly directed towards teachers, parents, and coaches.
The basic premise of the book was that yes, people are born with different amounts of talents, skills, and abilities, but if the person believes that they can develop those traits through effort, then they will seek out opportunities to do so.
For example, it is widely accepted that some people are born with more natural athletic ability than others, thanks to genetics.
But Dr. Dweck argued the point that just because some people were born with less natural talent, didn’t mean they couldn’t improve through consistent effort and practice.
And that’s when it hit me.
So I was born with a genetic disadvantage when it comes to happiness… but did that mean that I couldn’t be happy?
If I applied Dr. Dweck’s idea that traits could be developed… Maybe not. Maybe it just meant that I needed to work a little harder at being happy than other people did.
This realization made me do a full 180° in my ways of thinking, and abandon the thought that I wasn’t physically capable of happiness.
Afterall, happiness wasn’t about feeling good every second of every day. People could have bad days now and again and still feel like they were happy more often than not.
From that moment on, I vowed to put happiness first and foremost in my life.
Actively Seeking Happiness
After doing some serious introspection about what made me feel genuinely happy, I identified two main factors: one was being active, and the second was being outdoors.
So I set the goal for myself to spend more time doing what made me happy – exercising outdoors. I joined the 52 Hike Challenge and I prioritized my time to put this goal first.
But, I didn’t have any friends at the time that were into that kind of thing, and for far too long I had let not having anyone to go with, hold me back from doing what I loved.
So I made what was at the time a very big decision for me. I told myself it was okay to do things by myself. It was okay to hike by myself, camp by myself, take road trips by myself, or go kayaking by myself.
So long as I told someone where I was going and when I planned on being back. Not everyone in my life at the time was happy about that. But I did it anyway.
Turns out I was onto something! A few months into the challenge, I was feeling much happier overall. Although my job still left me feeling unfulfilled, it did provide a schedule which made it easy to get outdoors. Things were looking up!
My First Crossroads
In the spring of 2017, things started changing at work – and not for the better. I recognized it as a good time to get out.
So in May of that year, I packed up my car, and drove from Arizona to Washington State, where I took a huge pay cut to become a Sea Kayak Tour Guide in the San Juan Islands.
It was one of the scariest and most fulfilling things I had ever done.
When that seasonal job ended three months later, I bought a one way ticket to Kaua’i. A place over 2,500 miles from home, which I had never visited, and where I didn’t know a single soul.
My plan was to work as a tour guide in Hawaii for the winter season, and then to return to Washington for the following summer season – but that’s not what happened.
I settled into island life quickly. I joined an outrigger canoe paddling club, made new friends, and had access to tons of new trails to hike and waterways to paddle. I even fell in love!
I got a job as a tour guide leading waterfall rappel tours, kayaking tour, and hiking tours. And before I knew it, I was promoted to Director of Operations. I couldn’t believe how well things were going!
It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, (okay, to be completely honest, there were a lot of rainbows – no unicorns though) but since quitting my teaching job and becoming a tour guide, I became happier than I had ever been before.
My Second (and Current) Crossroads
And that brings us to the year 2020.
On January 2nd, I hurt my shoulder at work after which I was unable to perform my work duties.
My doctors recommended physical therapy, but after a few months of that, it became clear that my shoulder wasn’t improving. In March I learned that I needed surgery which was then delayed for months when Covid-19 shut everything down.
I finally got my surgery on June 29th, and if everything goes as planned, I should be cleared for release back to work right around Christmas time. (Can you think of a better gift after being out of work for almost an entire year? I can’t!)
Unfortunately, here in Hawaii where I live, the tourism industry is completely shut down even now as of this writing in early October.
Everyone at the company where I worked was laid off, maybe permanently, as many tourism businesses here may not survive the pandemic.
So here I am at a second crossroads – now only weeks before my 35th birthday, with the industry I was working in collapsing, and with a shoulder that may never again be what it was.
But instead of being depressed about it as I likely would have been before my happiness epiphany, this seems like an opportunity.
An opportunity to stop and think about where I want to go from here.
An opportunity to develop new skills related to topics I feel passionate about (For example, I started my blog in March!)
An opportunity to discover my calling, and find how I can better use my skills to help others.
So, that is the true purpose of my Happy.Healthy.Whole Project.
Thanks for following along! I’ll be blogging about my project every single day until my 35th birthday on October 30th.