For Happiness

Happiness is a choice. A conscious, intentional decision to feel good. I started this year with a clean slate. Freshly out of school, a bunch of great friendships – old and new – and a positive disposition. Something that I had not chosen to undertake throughout my years in high school. This new outlook on life was refreshing. I walked the world with motivation, purpose, and understanding. I was not drowning in unwanted thoughts and comparisons – I had decided to be unequivocally and unapologetically happy.

It was only when I neglected this conscious choice that my disposition began to deteriorate. The thing about most decisions is that they require not only effort, but consistent effort. They require continuous attention because without this, a minor setback becomes a slippery slope.

I stopped monitoring my decision. Yes, it had become second nature when life was running smoothly but when life presented me with something a little tougher, I still had to consciously make a decision to deal with it in such a way that promoted growth, learning, and optimism. And I did a pretty good job of this for the most part.

I can’t recall the exact moment I became complacent. But I walked back over the bridge to begin my journey home from uni today and I saw some young, twenty-something year old guy riding a tiny-arse skateboard, I heard two girls chatting loudly in front of me and I noticed an older man running with a massive sports jacket on and I judged the absolute crap out of all these people. And that is when I realised just how complacent I had become.

I tried to remember when I had begun opting for a grimace and upturned nose over the smile I used to walk around with. I was struck with the sudden and complete acceptance of the truth that happy people make other people happy. I had already realised that I had become overly judgemental of myself, but I hadn’t realised how this translated to the way I treated the world. I allowed my own self-criticism to translate to criticism to those around me; I allowed myself to view everyone as competition. The resounding belief that others were closer to perfection than myself had morphed into my own need to seek out their flaws.

I walked with this revelation on my mind and immediately disregarded it when I arrived at home and a good friend did something extremely characteristic of them – something I had mentioned upsets me. Something really, really small, insignificant, and in no way detrimental to their character. I was filled with bitterness and I began listing in my head all the things that this person had done that I considered selfish and inconsiderate and I had a massive cry about it. And then my revelation came back into my mind.

Why had I become so freaking sensitive to the sins of others? I had absolutely no understanding or empathy for anyone around me. I was irritable and relentless, selfish and unaccepting. I had spent all this time expecting other people to change to make me happier, when I had refused to choose happiness for myself. I had denied responsibility for my own life and therefore, had taken away my own ability to change it.

So, here’s to another step in my journey to getting back on track. To reclaiming the motivation to become the person I want to be, and not settle for what is easy. To setting intentions to spread positive energy, rather than expecting others to go above and beyond for me, with nothing in return. To letting go of carelessness towards others and lack of respect for their decisions, feelings, and the reasons behind them. To choosing happiness and taking on the effort that it requires, despite knowing I have failed before.

For Reclaiming

It is surprising just how easy it is to lose yourself. You would think that losing touch would be difficult considering you follow yourself around every single day, think yourself through every task and watch the world through your own lens. But it isn’t.

Maybe you’ve fixed yourself before and you have become complacent – your band-aid fix has finally peeled away. Growth has stagnated, and inaction has taken over. Sometimes you don’t notice yourself slipping for far too long and when you finally take a moment to truly look at yourself it seems that the damage is far too devastating.

Over the past few months I have seriously deviated from my path. Whenever I pull myself out of the feelings of anxiety and detachment a sense of disorientation encompasses me. Where am I and what the hell am I doing?

A confession or two:

I allocate too much time to focusing on minute aspects of my appearance. I attempt to find self-worth in the pursuit of perfection in every aspect of life. I allow myself to wallow in a whirlwind of self-imposed pressure, deeming myself inadequate and undeserving of love, friendship, support and praise. I am overly sensitive to the feedback of others, good and bad. The belief that nothing I do or am is ever good enough surrounds me and I allow the smallest of inadequacies to envelop my thoughts. My mind spirals out of control. I feel so uncomfortable in my own skin that I attempt to change everything and hide myself.

But, I have decided that it is time to reclaim myself. Reclaim myself from self-doubt, self-loathing and the constant feeling of never being good enough. It may not be a new year but I have made a resolution.

I am deciding that it is time to be free.

Time to free myself from obsessing over attaining perfection and the stress of applying too much pressure. I realise that yes, I have made a mess of my little world. But it is so messy that it has become art and I can find a lesson if I look hard enough.

There are so many things I need to fix in order to find my way again. But I am resolving to take steps to free myself from comparison and the idea that others are without fault. I aim to take steps to grow intellectually and emotionally through understanding and acceptance. Acceptance that I will never be perfect and shouldn’t try to be and the understanding that everyone is on their own path, separate from mine. I need to recognise and forgive myself for my faults and wrongdoings and allow myself time to re-establish self-confidence. I need to respect others and remember that every person I meet will teach me vital life lessons. I need to be patient with learning to love myself as I am, before attempting to make changes for fear I will focus on changing the wrong things.

I must make it my responsibility to go where I would like to go, be who I would like to be and feel how I would like to feel. I should not expect others to feed my self-esteem, but rather teach myself to view my own actions and abilities with critical, but kind, eyes. I must place more importance on the meaningful things in life, rather than the trivial and reclaim my mind, my soul and my life.

I am setting intentions to reclaim myself.

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For Closure

Hey girl/old best friend/sister,

I just wanted to start by saying this is normal. Drifting away from the people that shaped you as a person throughout high school – the people you thought would be with you forever – is very, very normal. In fact, every high school graduate had told us this, so I don’t know why I was under any illusion that I would be any different. I guess I figured there were just some things you live through together that solidify a friendship. Some things that just irreparably tie people together. Maybe I thought above all else, there would be mutual appreciation for each other’s roles in becoming who we are. Either way, one of the only people I saw being a permanent citizen in my world is now amongst many migrating far, far away.

But it’s okay.

I will ALWAYS appreciate and cherish our memories together. You were so, so unbelievably significant to my time at high school and I will never regret our friendship, the fun we had, or being there for you through the hardest of times. Those five years will always have a place in my heart. I will always smile when I think of how inseparable we were and how many dreams we shared.

The sad part is that those days are over. I needed some form of closure, and this is it. I wish you the absolute best in your life and I know you’ll be remarkably successful in whatever you do. I’m sure I’ll see you at group events and parties over the next few years and I’ll be able to see you reach your goals and strive for the highest. But from a distance.

If I am being honest, I really needed a friend these past few months. It’s been really, really hard. And you haven’t been there. And as much as I recognise that this is a result of leaving school and being busy and overwhelmed by the excitement of new beginnings, it’s also just a part of prioritising. I hold no anger or resentment towards the way you’ve chosen to prioritise your life or the people you’ve chosen to keep and not keep in contact with. I can never truly understand your life or what has prompted you to make the decisions that you have. But I respect them and I hope that they sit well with you.

Now this is where it becomes a story of selfishness, but also of strength.

I have learnt that I CAN live without our friendship. Something I never thought I could do, or something that I never really even considered an option. I have learnt that there are people who are there for you and people who aren’t. Everyone has their own story, motives, places to be and people to avoid. Leaving school taught me who would stick around and who was just a temporary happiness. And trust me, the people who stuck around were not all people I expected to but I am so, so grateful for the opportunity to write them into my narrative. Your absence has taught me that the most powerful strength comes from within myself and that I can survive things on my own. The people that have decided to come into – or remain in – my life have taught me that even though I can survive these things on my own, I don’t have to. In the words of a very drunk and very beautiful human: “it’s okay to not be okay.” Recognising this as an absolute truth has been a saving grace. I am not okay, but I am trying so hard to be and I will grow through it whether you are there or not. It is selfish of me to think this way, but it is also my right.

Actions speak louder than words. And your actions have told me more than I think I could ever have drawn from a conversation. I don’t want the fake ‘I miss you’ messages, or the lie that it’s just being busy. Neither statements are true and that has become evident to me over the last few months.

This message is a goodbye. I was never gifted the chance to speak to you in person, a decision you made for us both. Again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being an essential part of my development and growth as a person. I will forever be grateful for that and I cannot wait to see you become the brilliant woman I always knew you would be.

Much love, good luck and goodbye.

  • M

An Alternative Look at the Labelling Theory

From the beginning of modern society, people have sought to understand crime. What exactly is crime? Who determines what is and is not a crime? Are crime rates increasing or decreasing? One of the most prominent questions however, is what causes crime? Criminologists have proposed many individual and social explanations of crime in an attempt to alleviate crime through understanding causation. One social theory that I learnt about in my Introduction to Criminology and Policing unit, is Labelling Theory. It provoked not only a sense of injustice in the criminal justice system, but also an idea to use this theory in other areas of life, for a more positive effect.

Frank Tannenbaum and Howard Becker are the two most significant theorists in the development of the Labelling Theory. They suggested that deviance is created by social reaction, rather than the criminal act itself. The theory proposed that there were two parts of deviance: primary and secondary. Primary deviance was an initial, unstable pattern of offending that goes undetected. Due to the lack of detection, secondary deviance occurs and presents itself in a more stable pattern of offending, leading to detection by the criminal justice system. It elicits an official reaction such as an arrest and/or incarceration of the individual.

The theory comes into play when considering the series of interactions the offender has with the criminal justice system. Legal authorities apply labels such as the arrestee, offender, defendant and criminal to the individual. Stigmatisation and self-fulfilling prophecies are the result of these labels and deviance is amplified the more the label is applied. The internalisation of the ascribed labels causes the identity of criminal to be taken on by the individual.

 “The person becomes the thing he is described as being.” – Tannenbaum

This theory criticises the current criminal justice system, stating that the system itself is at fault, rather than the people perpetrating the crimes. Repeat offending is a result of individuals living up to their label, rather than possessing an active desire to commit crime. Criminologists with this theory as their basis of their understanding believe that a more rehabilitative approach to punishment of crime should be taken rather than merely concluding that a criminal will always be a criminal.

I tend to agree with this theory. Much like my view on psychology perspectives, I believe that many different social and individual theories of crime interact to provide a correct answer to the cause of crime. However, this theory – like other social explanations of crime – allow for control. We can alter this aspect of our criminal justice system and we can alter this aspect within every individual’s life.

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( http://livebyquotes.com/2012/stereotypes-develop-and-persist-stuart-oskamp/ )

Essentially, the theory is based on the effect of stereotypes and although they are useful for decision-making and some aspects of everyday life, it is important to remember they can be, and often are, inaccurate. Stereotypes do, and always will, exist. But it is vital that we look past them and walk through them. In regard to how we treat others, and how we treat ourselves. Through school, we are constantly taught about the negative effects of stereotyping others, but the role of self-stereotyping or self-labelling is rarely touched on.

The idea of eliminating stereotyping is unrealistic and unwise. However, I believe there is a way to harvest the usefulness of labelling whilst simultaneously alleviating the detrimental effects. Too often we fail to strive for goals that we perceive as unreachable for ourselves. We have categorised ourselves a certain way leaving our options for growth seriously limited. As I mentioned in ‘For Growth and Self-Actualisation’, growth is fundamental to our individual happiness. If we can learn to label ourselves kindly, and with the promise of moving onward and upward, we can begin to expand ourselves and be free from self-doubt.

Stereotyping and labelling are only as negative as we allow them to be. If we can internalise labels associated with self-betterment and our good qualities, we can learn to treat ourselves with respect. If we can subvert dominant, negative paradigms we may be able to significantly reduce inequality, hate, fear, self-loathing and maybe, even crime.

Just an idea.

Enjoying the Journey

One of the most important changes I made to my life in order to become more optimistic, was to learn to enjoy the journey. I have always been an extremely goal-orientated individual, with my eyes always on the destination. Although this quality is one of the better components of my personality, it doesn’t allow for taking in each and every day. I struggle to live in the moment; I am always too worried about the future or too excited that I forget to be truly present in my everyday life.

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( https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/515099276113845879/ )

It took me until the last month of school to recognise this and attempt to change my perspective. When I thought about my primary school and middle school years I had so many fun and hardworking memories to reflect on. These years presented the foundations for me to become who I am today. However, when I looked at my senior school years, all I could recall was thinking about graduation and life after school. And as much as it is great to be excited about the future, it did detract from the enjoyment of this vital step in my education journey.

So, with this realisation in mind, I set out to make the last few weeks of school about being at school – not about reaching the end. This was the first time I actively employed the skill reframing in my everyday life. I didn’t realise just how pessimistically I viewed even the tiniest aspects of my life until I attempted to change my thought process. Simple things like complaining about the number of staircases I had to climb to get to most of my classes and waiting in a seemingly ridiculously long line to the bathroom at the end of lunchtime, seemed to dominate my mind for most of the day. But why? As soon as I began looking at it from an alternative perspective, these issues seemed so unbelievably miniscule. Climbing the staircases not only improved my physical health, but the fact that I even had a multi-story school building equipped with the necessary facilities and teachers willing to share their knowledge, never even crossed my mind. I realised I rarely took the opportunity to appreciate what I actually have. Especially when you consider those less fortunate, my lack of gratitude was simply put, completely out of line.

Once I continued with my reframing, my disposition changed for the better. I was so much happier and even a mediocre day seemed like one of the best days of my life. I allowed myself a few moments to regret the last few years I had wasted being unsatisfied, and then moved on. This time around, I had learnt my lesson too late. But the journey wasn’t over. There was university, a career (whatever that may be), starting a family, and so many more to look forward to and enjoy. And with that notion in mind, I set on my tertiary studies with determination and an aim to get as much out of it as possible. I didn’t want to settle for scraping through, when I knew that with effort, I could do much better. I made the conscious decision to enjoy the journey and not just get through on the bare minimum in order to attain my qualifications at the end.

I am only a semester in at this point, but my love for university and my commitment to my resolution remains strong. I attend all my lectures and rarely procrastinate, even though this has required me to reduce my hours of paid-work. By fully immersing myself in what I am learning, I have grown so much and become increasingly inspired. I have found that studying is much easier as I crave the knowledge, not just the success of a good grade. I was lucky in that I was able to choose exactly what I wanted to do at university, and what I chose was something I was tremendously passionate about. It makes my 8am lectures that much easier to get out of bed for.

I take the time to focus my energy on enjoying the small aspects of the journey. As I walk across the bridge over the Brisbane River from the train station every day, I push myself to appreciate the sun on the water and the boats that line Kangaroo Point. I indulge in a coffee from the stand on the bridge, and although this expense could be considered unnecessary, it gives me an opportunity to stop before my day begins and centre myself. Without realising it, I have conditioned myself to feel overwhelmingly excited when I see the big university sign as I draw closer each morning.

It has become a part of my nature to enjoy the little things and to want to strive for my best, because I want to live in an atmosphere of growth. And through growth – happiness. I want to look back on the four years of my degree and think, I got so much more out of this than a piece of paper. Because ultimately, the journey is more important than the destination and the skills, mates, and morals you develop along the way will stick with you forever.

The-Journey_Dan-Millman

( http://evolution360d.com/creating-happiness-journey/ )

For Growth and Self-Actualisation

The attempt to understand human thought and behaviour is a rather new discipline and over the last 100 years or so, there has been a massive debate over which perspective to take. My first Psychology lecture provided a brief overview of the different perspectives and I must say it left me rather inspired. For a long time, I have pondered whether we have control over how we act – is it nature or nurture? Can we control and improve ourselves, or are we merely a symptom of our environment? The different perspectives in psychology shed light on these questions and learning about them helped me to come to my own conclusions. A brief overview of the main perspectives is shown below. Hopefully, they will help you too.

PSYCHODYNAMIC PERSPECTIVE

This perspective suggests that behaviour is the result of an interplay between thoughts, feelings and wishes and that conscious and unconscious forces interact to control our thoughts and behaviours. Some mental events are unconscious and when mental processes are in conflict, we experience anxiety.

BEHAVIOURIST PERSPECTIVE

This theory focuses on behaviour as a result of environmental stimuli and learning. It disregards the role of internal states, such as feelings, in understanding the behaviours of humans and animals. The general principle is that stimuli becomes associated through conditioning: positive and negative reinforcement teach us how to behave.

COGNITIVE PERSPECTIVE

Behaviour cannot be understood without understanding our development. Theorists in this area seek to understand how we acquire, store and process information throughout our lifespan. Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) introduced the first Cognitive Theory, and a lot of our current understanding of development stems from his findings. His suggestion was that children actively construct new understandings of the world based on their experiences and that this is the basis of human behaviour.

EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE

Behaviour as a result of evolution: our behaviours evolved because they helped our ancestors survive and reproduce. This perspective focuses on the behaviours that are biologically determined such as the impulse to eat and sexual desire.

HUMANISTIC PERSPECTIVE

This perspective emphasises the uniqueness of the individual and supports the idea that people are motivated by growth and reaching their full potential. Theorist, Abraham Maslow, believed that people are innately good and will strive to realise their goals and ambitions.

There is no right perspective to take when it comes to psychology. When explored, they all have value and offer evidence-based answers to all my questions. However, I strongly believe that no one perspective can fully answer any question and that an interplay of all the theories is the only way we can formulate an understanding of the complexity of the human race.

With this in mind, the Humanistic Perspective is the one that caught my attention. It seemed to me like this was the only one that actually allowed for control. It established the very principle that I have sought to instil in my own life: happiness. Abraham Maslow and other humanist theorists took an optimistic view of human nature. They recognised the role of personal growth in the happiness of individuals – they recognised the role of self-actualisation.

Self-actualisation is fulfilling your individual potential. It is a drive that is present in every individual and it revolves around making your best self a reality. Abraham Maslow described it as the requirement of becoming what we ‘can’ be. He stated, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” I found that the humanistic theory offered me some hope. It offered me the opportunity for self-improvement and for some power over where my life is going and the way in which I wanted my life to play out. It corresponded with a book I had been reading at the time, ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin, which taught me an abundance of ways I could enhance my life and appreciate what I already had.

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

Robert Browning

‘The Happiness Project,’ literally changed my perspective on life, and I don’t say this lightly. I am sure the messages in that book will come up in more and more of my blog posts due to just how much it touched me. One key message I found was the significance of expanding your self-definition. You need to constantly challenge yourself and acquire new skills. You need to put more eggs in your basket, so when one is cracked you have others to rely on. This really hit home for me when I reflected on tearing my ACL. I had always considered touch football my primary talent, the one thing I had going for me. So, once it was taken away I felt lost. The main component of identity had vanished. This was not the case, however it took me too long to realise this. It is now, in hindsight, that I can say I am so glad it happened. It allowed me to explore other aspects of my personality and other interests and expand myself. It helped me to begin my journey of self-growth and actualisation.

We are happy when we are growing.

William Butler Yeats

The significance of growth to individual happiness is often overlooked and I feel like this is a major downfall amongst our global community. Humans have this desire to constantly be moving onward and upward. We tend to be goal driven and unhappy with stagnancy or mediocrity. Yet, we consistently settle for stagnation despite it being pivotal to our unhappiness. Why is this?

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 (http://name-fame.com/quotes/electrifying-quotes-inspire-personal-growth/)

This quote illustrates my stance on the issue. People can’t be what they can’t see. This can be found in many social issues such as representation in media and family success and support, however I think self-esteem is a tremendous factor in determining our level of growth. If we are unable to see ourselves being successful or reaching our goals, why would we strive for them? It all comes back to my worldview: you are your everything. We have so much agency over our lives and often, this goes unnoticed. We can control our perceptions and our emotions. We can lead a happy life in the midst of adversity. Of course, I have lived an extremely privileged life, and the fact that I was settling for unhappiness despite this, alarmed me. And so, I begin this journey: the journey to self-actualisation. The journey to appreciation, happiness, acceptance and being the best I can be.

For Perspective

The Journey from Pessimism to Overwhelming Optimism

Throughout high school I liked to think I had a very positive way of looking at being pessimistic. I believed that by always thinking of the worst possible outcomes of any given situation, I became either unable to be disappointed or pleasantly surprised. Now what I didn’t know was that this logic only got me so far – I shielded myself from letting hope cause me to be vulnerable, but I also lost a great deal of happiness. I was hardened to the world and for no good reason. I was lucky enough to be born into a loving family that – although separated – never made me feel like my life was lacking. I have always had a roof over my head and food in my belly and although like everyone, I have experienced tough times, I have not led a rough life. The issue resided in my cynicism. The issue resided in my perspective.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde

I remember coming across this quote well into my fourteenth year. It resonated with me, but I did not truly understand why for a few more years. I was able to identify the key components of the message: suffering is as prevalent as breathing and your happiness depends on your perspective. But what I didn’t understand was how I could cultivate this message in my life.

On a side note, I have found that I tend to be a philosophical drunk. At many post-night-out breakfasts, dressed half in pyjamas and half in the outfit from the night before, I have been informed that I would point at the sky and cry about our utter insignificance.  I have always been conflicted by my understanding of the concept and it clearly troubles me in any state I find myself in. On one hand I find insignificance comforting – the mistakes you make will never really leave a substantial impact on the world. In fact I learnt in the second week of my psychology degree that our parent’s actions only have a 30% impact on how we turn out (*parents everywhere let out a sigh of relief*). My understanding of our insignificance basically gave me a pass to mess up and that was reassuring. However, although it eliminated the worst emotions, it only reinforced the mediocre dullness of a pessimistic life. I didn’t feel sad so to speak, but I certainly was not actively feeling happy. I was in the gutter, and I was looking further down the gutter; I was stagnant and hopeless. And if there is one thing I have learnt in the last two months of my life, it is that stagnancy is the enemy of growth, and without growth we cannot be happy. Pearl S. Buck, American writer and novelist, commented on this when she stated, “Growth itself contains the germ of happiness.” This concept of happiness through self-improvement is not new. People have been speaking about it for centuries, yet the feeling of stagnation and lack of generativity throughout life is still the most common regret amongst members of our global community.

In many ways I believe I wasted many years not looking for beauty in the little things. Towards the end of my senior year of high school, we were asked to describe ourselves in one word and honest to God, the word I used was grumpy. And that was essentially it. I spent an abundance of my time at school being irritable and not enjoying the NOW. Too often we forget to live in the moment and just sit around waiting for the happiness coming in the future. This is all well and good, until you look back on this wonderful life you’ve led, and your only wish is that you had realised it sooner.

So, it was time to change. My life was slipping through my fingers. Everyday felt like work – merely getting out of bed felt tiring. I either slept too much or too little. I either ate too much or too little. I needed balance, I needed growth. I began to realise that YOU are your everything. I felt very selfish when I first came to this realisation, my entire worldview was changing to revolve around me. But this is life. The world you see is the world you CHOOSE to see, the life you live is the life you choose to live. You cannot control your circumstances but you can control the way you perceive them and the way they shape you. Bad things happen, yes. But good things happen to, when you are looking for them. They are hidden in the quiet moments of life. They are easy to miss but worth looking for.

The day before I tore my ACL in 2016, taking me away from what I believed to be the most fundamental part of myself and my life, I witnessed one of these quiet moments. One of the in-betweens of somebody’s day and like I mentioned earlier, I lost it in my Notes for over a year.

“To the guy on the train with that cute smile. I have no idea who you are, but I was just taking a train to touch football after a seriously shitty week at school and I saw you. Some random, late-teen twenty-something-year-old guy. You were standing, listening to music, and smiling. This seriously cute, little smile and two little dimples marked your cheeks. You were texting someone. It would have been your boyfriend, girlfriend or crush or something. It was that kind of smile. And at this point, ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz comes on my playlist and it was just so extraordinarily cute. And you made my day so much better. I looked around the carriage and no one else had noticed. Everyone was so absorbed in their tiredness – they missed this moment. Also, at this point I started feeling a bit stalker-ish, just staring at you. But anyway, for the rest of the afternoon and night I could not stop smiling. So, whoever you are – the guy on the train with the cute smile – I ship you and whoever you were talking to so hard. I hope whoever it is keeps making you that happy.”