For the People on the Floor

Mar 20, 2014 by

“I see through smiles on every face. I don’t believe it, believe it.”

Supersoaker, Kings of Leon


          One year ago tonight, three co-workers and I went Spanish dancing (which turned out to be a lot less Spanish dancing than it was makeshift, suburban clubbing). This was a big deal for me. For years, I had terrible social anxiety. I did not go out, especially not during the week, and I rarely associated with anyone other than Olivia. On the few occasions that I did interact with someone else, Olivia was always present. On March 20, 2013, I went out independently of Olivia on a Wednesday night with three chicks I had never seen outside of work. Even more out of my character, I had been the one to initiate the plans. I anxiously put it off for weeks, but eventually forced myself to ask the girl who sat behind me in the office to go Spanish dancing with her one Wednesday night, knowing she went weekly. At the time, the idea of asking people to hang out freaked me the fuck out. It was way outside of my comfort zone. Now, I initiate plans with people like it’s nothing – because it is nothing for present me. It’s the primary reason my social life is so active. On the contrary, past me had a definite fear of people. Simply saying hello to my co-workers in the morning made me nervous. However, I was on a mission to be happy, and that meant getting a life. I needed to teach myself how to be social again. So, after some procrastination, I finally asked. She said yes without hesitation, and invited two more girls (now good friends of mine) to join us. I remember being blown away by how easy it had been to make plans. All I had to do was ask, and I was suddenly out dancing without Olivia for the first time in years. I had stressed for nothing. I held on to that sense of ease to encourage myself to continuously fuel my social life throughout The Happiness Experiment.

          During my pre-drink with the girls, one of them invited me to her birthday in Niagara at the end of April, which would mark the beginning of the ongoing happiness I live today. Although depressed out of my mind at this time last year, I was evidently determined to take action to become happy. However, I did not decide to be happy and then suddenly was. I did not go to Niagara for one night last April depressed, and come home cured because I downed some alcohol and hopped on some guy – though I sometimes make it sound that way. Absolutely, that night flipped a switch within me. It reminded me that I can connect with multiple people and that happiness is possible. Those reminders propelled me to ongoing happiness. The experience elevated me to a euphoria that I made a choice to preserve. I refused for the lessons in happiness I learned that night and the elation that came from them to be short-lived. Thus, more so than Niagara, I launched my own continuity of happiness.

          I went to Niagara and absorbed it from the perspective of someone who had made a decision to change her life less than a couple months prior. I said yes to Niagara because of The Happiness Experiment. I held on to the happiness I derived from Niagara as if my life depended on it – because it did – due to The Happiness Experiment. My experiment had forced me to change my views on my life. The mindset I was developing as a result of my choice to fight depression is the reason that happiness happened. It is the reason that Niagara happened. It is the reason that the happiness I felt in Niagara did not end there. My mindset had already begun to change before that night, which is why the happiness of Niagara would not be temporary, as were any other momentary bits of happiness that I had previously felt in my lifetime. I wouldn’t let this happiness fade. I saw it differently. Unlike my past illusions of happiness, I knew this was real because it was internally generated. I knew that it wasn’t Niagara that had made me happy or the people I went with or the guy I spent the night kissing. In other words, the happiness I felt that night was not externally created. I made it happen, making me realize that I was the only tool I needed to ensure my happiness. I got myself to Niagara as a result of re-prioritizing my life in pursuit of happiness, and I took it all in through the eyes of a girl on a mission to find it.

          Experiences are subjective. They are what they are because of how we perceive them. Had that night in Niagara happened before The Happiness Experiment (pre-happiness-experiment me wouldn’t have gone to Niagara, but hypothetically), a different version of me might have perceived it all as a one-off, fun-but-meaningless night. Remember, pre-happiness-experiment me didn’t believe in happiness. As I’ve mentioned before, I thought anyone who appeared to be happy was faking it. The fact that I had maintained a facade of mental stability to everyone but Olivia for years while I was dying inside only perpetuated my belief. The Happiness Experiment version of me, however, needed to believe in happiness. It was a survival tactic. I didn’t know how much longer I could go on the way I was. By purposefully looking for it, I began to uncover it.

          The mind is a powerful thing. I didn’t believe that before The Happiness Experiment. I thought positive thinking was a bullshit route to happiness. It frustrated me that books and articles and Google searches on depression emphasized that a new mindset was the key to overcoming extreme despair. Did the fuckers who wrote that crap have any idea what it was like to be depressed? If I could just think myself happy, I would, I thought. In retrospect, that is exactly what I did. Happiness didn’t come from a busy social calendar, although I definitely think an active social life is a huge contributor to happiness. It came from how I chose to view social interactions and every other aspect of my life. Happiness is the ability to look at shitty situations and find the humour in them. It is the ability to let go of fear and act as if unafraid. Essentially, it is the ability to cope. Happiness is a product of a healthy mind, which requires maintenance. Happiness isn’t easy. We aren’t entitled to it; we need to goddamn work for it. To the beautiful people that are still chained to the floor, this is how I proceeded to think after I got up. I hope with all of my heart that you are as successful in your eventual rise as I was.

1. Low serotonin is a symptom – not a cause – of depression.

          I thought depression was going to fucking kill me. I was convinced I was on the verge of death by sadness. I was counting down the time until my life insurance policy would reach two years old, so my beneficiaries would still be paid out in case of suicide. (I can gratefully say that I’ve lost count because of The Happiness Experiment.) It was at this point that I considered antidepressants for the first time. I didn’t like the idea of them. From what I knew, they seemed to produce an illusion of happiness, and I didn’t want to become dependent on pills that faked happiness for me. I would have rather found happiness within myself, so I’d have confidence in my personal ability to attain it, thereby making it sustainable. However, I was desperate for a way to keep breathing.

          I did some research. I read that it had recently been found that low serotonin levels did not cause depression. Rather, this chemical imbalance was the result of depression. Therefore, antidepressants that boost serotonin levels don’t solve the problem; they relieve a symptom of the problem. Decision made: Antidepressants were not an option for me. I wanted a solution to the problem, and the problem was my life. I was depressed because I was unhappy with it. Solution: Get happy. The realization that depression didn’t have a simple fix in pill form motivated me to take action to change my story.

2. I am not depressed; I am unhappy.

          To make way for happiness, I had to stop focussing on depression. This by no means changed the fact that I was depressed, but it stopped me from one-dimensionally defining myself as such. Crying had been a regular occurrence for me since age 18. By my early twenties, my eyes were spewing tears more often than they were dry. At this time last year, I was desperately searching Google for ways to overcome depression. In reading, something that stuck with me was the point that telling yourself you’re depressed maintains a state of depression. You are what you believe you are. Of course, I wasn’t about to delude myself by mentally defining myself as happy. In the back of my mind, I would know that I wasn’t, which would have been defeating and counterproductive. Instead, I started phasing out the word depression. Not that I went around discussing my depression. Aside from Olivia, no one knew I was depressed. I mean that I discontinued use of the word within my own thoughts. I replaced it with sad or unhappy. Sadness and unhappiness seemed easier to overcome than depression. Using these words made me feel like I had a chance.

3. Life should be treated like a vacation.

          Vacation me lives it up! That chick was fun even in the midst of depression. Before The Happiness Experiment, the only time I ever let myself go was on vacation. While on vacation, I miraculously was able to forget about the little stressors that regularly tortured my mind: the cleanliness of my apartment, the things people thought of me, my obsessive attempts at perfection, etc, etc, etc. Vacationing gave me the freedom to live in the moment, a big contributor to my love of travel. I wished that I could always be that carefree.

          When I began The Happiness Experiment, I realized that I can. Travelling had helped me to see that moments like my first sighting of the Colosseum were what life was about. Unfortunately, before The Happiness Experiment, that awareness would always give way to the stupidly unnecessary stressors of mundane day-to-day living once I got home. With the onset of The Happiness Experiment, I decided to take on my vacation mentality in everyday life. I quickly learned that it didn’t fucking matter if I didn’t have enough time to fix my bed in the morning or if the people around me didn’t agree with my unconventional opinion on divorce or if I accidently pronounced the word calculator like call-cu-la-tor. What mattered was my happiness, and prioritizing that meant maintaining focus on its importance over the little shit that I couldn’t care less about while walking the streets of New York or Rome. Furthermore, my day-to-day did not have to be repeatedly boring. Like while on vacation, I could choose how to spend my time, even during the week. The fact that I have a job did not have to dictate my life after 5 o’clock. Things like impulsively ditching cleaning for The Killers on a Wednesday night are always in favour of happiness.

4. I have resources. It’s time to start making use of them.

          For years, I stubbornly persisted that I couldn’t make friends. I felt that creating a social life without friends to introduce me to friends (Olivia was my only friend, and she kept me separate from the few other friends she had) was hopeless outside of high school. High school connected me to the same people everyday for years, optimizing my chances of making friends. I felt that neither the university nor corporate worlds were structured for this. I now know this to be untrue. At the beginning of The Happiness Experiment, I knew a social life was vital to achieving happiness. I needed friends, and I would have to obtain them myself because I had no one to help me. What I did have, though, was a job. That job was situated in an office with people. As per above, I asked one chick to get together outside of work, which led me to being introduced to two other girls, which led to a social invite, which led to making more new friends, which led to more social invites, and so on.

          Now, I can meet new people anywhere. I realize that any place with people is an excellent resource for expanding my social life. For example, early last week, I started talking to someone in Starbucks. On Saturday, he invited me out with a bunch of his friends. I couldn’t go because I already had plans, but the point is that I got a social invite all because I asked the guy who guarded my laptop in Starbucks while I was in the bathroom for his name upon my return and struck up conversation. This goes to show that everyone is a potential friend with leads to more friends. Do not let your social life exist within a box. Talk to the people around you. Friendships can start anywhere. This time last year, I had one friend who was barely there. My social life is so active now that I sometimes have to decline social invites to avoid scheduling conflicts. I never thought that would be a reality of mine.

5. I have control over my life. I can do whatever I want with it.

          How I hadn’t engrained this one in my head from the moment I quit my job eight months before The Happiness Experiment, I do not know. That was an epic example of taking control over my life. Although it took me a while to continuously live by this mentality, the fact that I had walked out on my job and survived has served as an ongoing reminder of the benefits of living for me. I am responsible for my own happiness. The day I got off the floor, I acknowledged that my unhappiness was my problem to solve – no one else’s. I had to take ownership over my life, which meant taking the initiative to go after what I truly wanted. With that came the motivation to build a social life, start saving for Europe, and actively date.

6. Happiness outweighs everything.

          Above all, placing happiness at the top of my priority list made the biggest change to my mindset and the way I live my life. I began making choices based on what would make me most happy. I trained myself to automatically question what action would result in more happiness, which helped me set my priorities straight. Continuously identifying the means to my happiness through basic introspection has allowed me to keep sight of what is really important in every circumstance and act accordingly. Happiness has become my ultimate decision maker. I encourage you to make it yours. After all, if not striving for happiness, what the fuck is life’s point?

Happiness Tip: Think yourself happy.

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