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.

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 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.”