(HOST) This week VPR is sampling essays written by Vermonters for “This I Believe”, the national radio series exploring the principles and values that guide our lives.
Alexxandra Shuman is a young woman whose urgent search for happiness lead her to acquire a deep understanding of her beliefs. Here she is with her essay for “This I Believe.”
ESSAY: As a child, I was generally happy; singing and dancing to my favorite songs; smiling and laughing with my friends and family. But as far back as second grade, I noticed a “darkness,” about me. I didn’t enjoy engaging in many activities. I couldn’t relate to my peers in elementary school because they all appeared so happy. I didn’t have the ability to achieve happiness with such ease.
In middle school my condition began to worsen. I began withdrawing from everything I once enjoyed; swimming, tennis, family. I hated going to sleep knowing I had to wake up to another day. I was always tired. Everything was horrible. Finally, midway through eighth grade, I was told I had a chemical imbalance; diagnosed with clinical depression and put on medication. It took months for me to feel any improvement.
When, at last, I began to feel happy again, I realized that I had to take the responsibility for getting myself better, rather than relying on medication and therapy alone. Aristotle said, To live happily is an inward power of the soul, and this quote describes what I had to do to achieve happiness. Happiness is a journey. Everyone needs different things to be happy. But I believe, that in today’s society, people are blinded from what truly defines happiness.
Growing up, we’re encouraged to be successful in life; but how is success defined? Success and happiness are imagined, now, as having a lot of money. I discovered how untrue this idea was when I went to Costa Rica and visited the small town of El Roble. I spent a day with a nine year old girl named Marilyn. She took me to her house to meet her family. It was obvious that they were not rich; living in a small house with seven children. The house was cluttered, but full of life. Those who have decided that success and happiness come from having money and a big house would be appalled at how utterly happy this family from El Roble is. People say that seeing things like what I saw in El Roble makes you appreciate what you have, but instead, it made me envy them for being so happy without our apparent necessities.
William Blake summed up what I believe people need to realize to be truly happy in life. He said, “The essentials to happiness are something to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” People need the love of family and friends more than anything. People need work that makes them feel that they are making a difference in the world. People need to trust that more good will come in the future, so they can continue to live for “now” instead of constantly worrying about the bad that could come. And most importantly people need to know that happiness is not something that happens overnight. I believe happiness is love and hope.