Many of us grow up with the idea of the happiness destination. A place in time and space where we can finally be happy. A place where we can finally fulfil this constitutional human goal of happiness. With this idea in mind, we strive and aim high to buy that one-way ticket to the happy land… just to find out that only round-trip tickets are available.
But even then, these return tickets don’t guarantee a trip to life-long happiness and so it makes us wonder… does the happiness destination actually exist?
I would like to share with everyone my own endeavour to reach this happiness destination. The journey I began on to achieve this goal and how I started to realise how fruitless it was.
Thankfully, I came to this realisation in my early twenties and am so grateful to have understood this at a younger age. My goal is to spread the word about this because I know many people like my friends and family still believe in the idea of a one way ticket to happiness. Also, I feel like this personal story will resonate with many people especially those who come from migrant families and lower socio-economic background.
My Attempt to Board the Happiness Plane
Planning the Itinerary
As a young child, I was instilled with two life goals: to succeed and become rich. Why? I was desperate to succeed to make my Vietnamese migrant parents proud, to make their sacrifices worth it and I guess my ambitious personality played a part too.
What about getting rich? I guess when you live in a household where you were forced to pick up the landline and lie to debt collectors that your parents weren’t home or you had jam sandwiches everyday for lunch up to year 12, money becomes everything to you.
My naive young self believed that when I was armed with these two things, happiness would finally be at my doorstep. So I explored my options. Medical school seemed like the best choice because it suited my personality; I love talking and listening to people and helping them in anyway I can. Consequently I studied hard, aimed high and got to where I am.
Getting Lost in the Airport
At the start, it seemed like I was pretty much there, about three quarters of the way in being able to buy that ticket to happiness. But somehow over the years, that three quarters started to become a half… then it dropped to a quarter… sometimes it went back up to a half and other days, it went down as low as zero percent.
The more I chased that dream, the further away it ran. My dream of becoming a first year medical student evolved to becoming a final year student, which evolved to becoming an intern then suddenly, there was a need to get into a certain specialist training program, complete my fellowship and end the game at consultancy level. Only then, I would surely be happy! But wait, at consultancy level there’s an expectation to open up your own private practice or get a competitive public hospital job. Even then though, from my experience, some consultants didn’t seem like they were happy either, despite their successful careers and salary.
I also started to wear nicer clothes, owned expensive things, made lots of connections and even started ticking off my travel bucket list. I was literally on the quintessential path of happiness. I was living what my young self dreamt of… but why wasn’t I happy? Why did I feel like I needed to chase more things? Where was that ticket to the happiness destination?
A Bucket List Destination that Doesn’t Exist
There is no one way ticket to happiness.
Sure, some people may be able to get to the destination faster than others by buying a return ticket with a high paying job, a lottery win, inheritance or the likes, but it’s still a return ticket. That is, they do attain happiness but it’s temporary. Eventually and unknowingly, the majority leave the happy land, go back to being unhappy and start to chase the dream again.
A more realistic idea is: there is no such thing as a happiness destination. We think there is but perceiving happiness in this way makes it unreachable. The goal of happiness is a real one, yet our tendency to combine perfectionism with this goal is what makes it unrealistic.
We are not entirely to blame for this though. Since we were young, capitalism has instilled in us the need to do all of these things to guarantee our happiness.
The Happiness Destination is Here
For me, I’ve learnt that I am already living in the happiness dream. It is present right now in my life, there is no need to chase it, I just need to appreciate what I have. Happiness can be found in spending time with my partner, exploring new places with my two dogs, hanging out with my friends and family, working on my side projects and my career. Happiness can also be found within the process of us trying to achieve our goals. There is nothing wrong with wanting a bigger house, nicer car or a successful career; it’s just important to know that these things don’t define our happiness, the path to it should be happiness.
For example, I’ve always wanted to live in a nicer, modern house. I grew up in a housing trust (government provided), my family then moved to an older home in a lower socio-economic area. During university, I was able to move out to a slightly better house in the same suburb. Even though this home is functional and I’ve spent time and effort renovating it, my love for architecture and interior design has made me passionate in chasing a more modern home. I also want my dogs to be able to have a bigger open play space.
However, I do now know that happiness won’t just come when I finally set foot in my ‘dream’ house. It might for a fleeting moment, but I already have my important sources of happiness right now and right here with me.
The Determinants of Happiness
It’s also worth noting that there are many other factors that play a role in our happiness.
Check out these other happiness-related articles!