In October 2011, I sold my first piece to a magazine. I vividly remember the day I found out: it was a sunny and warm in Melbourne, one of the first beautiful days of spring. I read the email and walked out to a stretch of park a few blocks from my office, and felt overwhelmingly happy. It validated me in all sorts of ways: not only that my writing was worth reading, but my words were worth something. It was a jolt of confidence right as I was preparing to leave a steady paycheck, the moment where I was preparing to dive into my carefully guarded savings in order to drive across Australia and purchase a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia. The paycheck also bought me a brand-new, unlocked iPhone 4s after two years of cheap flip-phones with foreign SIM cards. The glorious moment when I was introduced to Instagram!
I remember sitting with my face to the sun and telling myself: “How could you ever not be happy? Life is SO good.”
To be honest, I’ve been in a bad mood for the past few weeks. It’s been one of those funks that I just can’t quite shake, even when I know that there’s nothing to be upset about. Like a hippie in Vietnam once told me: “I’m happy as long as I’m healthy and rich as long as I don’t have any debt.” I have a job! I have an apartment! I have money in the bank! I have a family that supports me and, seriously, the best friends in the world (whether they’re right here in New York City or across the country in California or scattered across the globe).
What I want hasn’t quite lined up with what I have–the eclipse, so to speak–and it’s left me feeling frustrated. True to form, I also haven’t gone to a yoga class or had a really good workout in about a month. I haven’t sold any pieces to magazines because I haven’t written any articles or organized any pitches. I decided to cut a lease short and move in with my best friend–but that entailed telling my roommates, finding someone to take over my lease, apartment hunting in the hottest (and most expensive) neighborhood in New York City right now, emptying my savings account to pay the broker’s fee and two month’s security and first month’s rent, actually moving out of a fourth-floor walk-up and into a new borough. And then there was Fashion Week, which is a circus that made me feel incredibly unfashionable. And, of course, comparison is the thief of joy–and I’ve been envious of promotions, relationships, apartments, vacations.
One of my favorite street photographers often asks people what their happiest moment was. My first reaction to that question has always been a quote from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:
“People always think happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains–a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone–just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”
I believe that happiness is found in those little gestures, those tiny moments where what you want lines up with what you have. But for the past few weeks, I keep coming back to that moment in Australia: that day when the sun was shining and my words were worth something, when I told myself to remember that life was good.
Note: another great article to read on the whole subject of happiness is why Generation Y is unhappy.