I used to think that happiness is the end goal.
When I was seven years old, Happy Meals were the real deal. No, my parents didn’t bring me to that fast food chain to buy me meals with those red boxes, but I saw children all around me tugging at the shirts of their moms and dads, begging their parents to bring them to McDonald’s to buy them one. We were not well-off back then, so I had to be content playing with my cheap toys–some of them were even hand-me-downs from the children of my parents’ cousins. Back then, my idea of happiness was to open a red box with a big M on it. My parents taught me to be satisfied with whatever’s given to me, but as a kid, I have always dreamed of collecting toys from those red boxes. As a kid, I have always wanted a Happy Meal.
When I was ten, my grandmother was one of the teachers in our school. As her granddaughter, I had to maintain my high grades. Even though she didn’t say it out loud and we never talked about it, I knew that I needed to graduate with flying colors. She made me study day and night. During the exam seasons, she made me wake up before the roosters crowed in the early morning and stay at her classroom until sundown to review my notes. I was never the studious one. It was hard work, yes, but I studied hard because I wanted to make her happy and exceed her expectations. When I marched on the day of my graduation, I saw that proud look on her face because I graduated with honors. That was me back in grade school–my idea of happiness was to get high grades to make my grandma proud when all I wanted to do was to play after school.
When I was thirteen, I began to fall in love with the idea of love. I saw my friends go gaga over their crushes while I sat in the corner of the room, trying my best to absorb the words coming out of my teacher’s mouth. It went on like this for a while until people around me started to get into relationships. The inevitable happened–like normal teenagers, I was curious. I wanted to know what it’s like to have someone whom I could call my boyfriend. I met this guy, and for a while, everything was hearts and flowers. Little did I know, I was only in love with the idea of our relationship. When he left for college, I was left in fragments, not because I loved him so much and I couldn’t live without him–it wasn’t real love, but because I realized I was wrong all along–I held on to the belief that getting into a relationship would make me happy.
When I was fifteen, I was told to live life to the fullest. I was in college–I was a scholar, but I did not study for exams. I did not attend classes in school. Instead, I chose to spend my days in parks or libraries to read good books and drink the night away with my party buddies. And then I dropped two subjects–Trigonometry and World Literature. I almost didn’t make it to graduation–I almost lost my chance to march with my batch mates with a diploma in hand. I regretted the days when I skipped classes and wished that I could turn back time to do the right thing.
When I was eighteen, somebody told me that if I’m not happy, leave. So I left this guy. The relationship was toxic–we loved each other but both of us wanted to enjoy what college had in store for us. We waited and waited for the other to raise the flag. When I got tired of the waiting game, I pushed the button. We weren’t happy, so I did the most practical thing to do: I ended it. Five months later, we found our way back to each other, not because we couldn’t live without the other, but because we chose to be together.
When I was nineteen, I had a dream where my favorite authors whispered these words to me: pursue your passion. So I became a writer. I wanted to believe that I was happy with my profession because I kept telling myself that this was what I really wanted. At nineteen, my idea of happiness was having a satisfying nine-to-five job and not caring about the amount of pay I was receiving. Still, I wasn’t happy.
Now that I am twenty-one, I’m slowly learning to accept that happiness is not the end goal.
Looking back, I dreaded the fact that we were poor. When I was seven, my family couldn’t afford a Happy Meal–I always had to work hard to be able to get what I want. Now that I am already working, I still couldn’t buy the things that I need because I still have responsibilities as a breadwinner, but then I met people who had it the easy way. Their only responsibilities are their cars, their phones. They may not have to deal with toxic people in a squatter’s area, they may not need to persevere to reach the top, they may not feel a level of emptiness that comes from knowing that you have nothing, but they don’t know how to survive typhoons in life without breaking down, and for that, I am grateful.
Back in college, what most of my classmates wanted was to graduate on time and with high grades to land a steady, high-paying job. College changed my perception of life. I began to see more of life and depression hit me hard. Since then, all I wanted was to be happy. I’ve met so many people along the way–some of them I’m still friends with today, some I’ve made good memories with but remained as that: memories. My grades were not something that my grandma would be proud of, but I was young, I was free, and most importantly, I was happy. I realized that the one thing that kept me from enjoying my childhood when I was in grade school was the very thing that set me free in college, and for that, I am grateful.
I’ve lost count on how many times I tried to call it off with the person I love most because there are things about him that I want to change. Society told me that love should be unconditional, that you have to accept and love the person for who he is; otherwise, it’s not love. Society told me that if I’m not happy, I should leave. But as I’ve seen more of life, I realized that true love is always challenging. I realized that I shouldn’t believe what society tells me, that I should follow my heart always. So I stayed with the love of my life even if our differences always get in the way, and for that, I am grateful.
When I was a student, I never paid much attention to my career path. When I started working, I figured I wanted to be a writer for the rest of my life. I tried to convince myself that I was satisfied with my profession although I wasn’t earning much. Almost two years later, I realized that I was not happy. It dawned on me that I can still pursue my passion even if my nine-to-five job isn’t in line with it. Now, I would rather have a high-paying job, no matter how boring or unsatisfying it is and then do what I love after office hours than to push through with a serious writing career and don’t earn as much. For that, I am grateful.
Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a long time: will I ever be genuinely happy? One of the biggest lies I’ve ever heard is that if you aren’t happy with what you’re doing, leave, stop. Truth is, you don’t leave a person you love just because you aren’t happy. You don’t stop pursuing your dreams just because you aren’t happy. You don’t put an end to your life just because you’re sick and tired of dealing with bullshit. If I followed what society told me, I would have been dead by now.
I’m slowly learning to accept that happiness is not the end goal. You can be satisfied but not happy, and that’s okay. Perhaps if we just focus on finding the meaning of life, we might have a shot at living a fulfilling one.