Living so far away from home can get tough. I am currently living independently in NYC, while the rest of my family lives in Melbourne, Australia. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but I personally find at times homesickness to be a real struggle. It is challenging not being there to celebrate with them in the happy times, and just as hard not being able to provide support in the tough times. When I speak to my family and they are frolicking on St Kilda beach whilst I am freezing in the snow, I wish I was there with them. Yet despite the difficulties involved in living on the other side of the world, focusing on the positive helps me realize how blessed and fortunate I am.
As I am working towards receiving a Masters in Special Education, one of my professors has been teaching me about Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory of Development. Bronfenbrenner believes that the systems and interrelationships surrounding a child will affect all aspects of their development. If a child grows up in a positive and nurturing environment, they will elicit increased affection and positive attention from their surroundings, which will result in feelings of happiness.
But what about children who were raised in a poverty stricken environment where their basic needs were not being met? Or children who lacked the warmth, love and attention that all children necessitate? Are they doomed for life?
It is easy to be happy, when all your needs are being taken care of and everything goes smoothly. But what happens when life throws you curve balls and bad things happen? Suddenly the pursuit of happiness becomes tougher to achieve. Those are the moments where finding and feeling happiness can become a real struggle. And thus happiness is a real choice.
Sometimes I have to fight to choose happiness. I fight against the stress of living independently and balancing college and work. I fight against missing my family who live on the other side of the world. I fight against the fear of an uncertain future. I do not always succeed, but at least I put up a fight.
It is interesting when two different people are experiencing a similar struggle. Whilst one person will put up a fight, another will succumb and assume defeat. Thus everyone will respond differently to a challenging situation. I feel fortunate to have met some very happy people in my life, and have recognized a pattern amongst them. Whilst they may not be blessed with material pleasures, they are blessed in their attitude. They may have difficult lives, but they do not view their lives as difficult. They are the people who make the best out of every situation. They have made me believe, that people are as happy as they decide to be.
The pursuit of happiness is an investment and thus one must make a conscious effort to do things that bring them joy. Whether it be going for a run on the beach, listening to your favorite song or spending time with people you love. Spoil yourself. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. And never, ever put yourself down!
I recently attended a formal Friday night Shabbat dinner where everyone was asked to share something personal that makes him or her happy. The daughter of the host stood up and shared that every night she writes a list together with her mother of ten things she is grateful for. She said writing this list has become the highlight of her day and is a constant reminder to appreciate the blessings, even if she has had a rough day. Hearing this both inspired and reminded me that refocusing our perception can immensely improve our quality of life.
Fawn Weaver wrote a wonderful quote, “Keep choosing happiness daily, and happiness will keep choosing you back.” To see the positive in every situation is no small feat. It is more like a never-ending journey. Yet I would much rather choose to live my life focusing on the things I love, than the things I do not. I would prefer to see the positive in situations, and be thankful for the blessings in my life. The struggle is real, yet the benefits tremendous.
The world can be a tough place, and everyone will encounter struggles at different points in their life. Whilst we can never control what challenges will come our way, we can control how we choose to respond to them.
Life is not always smooth sailing, and everyone has their unique set of challenges, so I bless you to never become a victim to your circumstances, even when they are out of your control.
Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.