Happiness Is An Inside Job

Now Brewing: I’m a sucker for a good golden ale. Big Wave’s my favorite. Who doesn’t love a beer that not only looks, but tastes like the beach?

Every once in a while, I read something that makes me step back and really ponder who Kathryn is. I mean really ponder who I am at my core. I know that I’m a proposal coordinator at CH2M and UWSP alum. A sushi lover, coffee addict, aspiring novelist and whole eating enthusiast—at least that’s what my Twitter bio says. I also know that I’m an avid fisherwoman, with a touch of homesickness in my heart for places I’ve yet to go, a weakness for dill pickles, and an inexplicable desire to write things of all kinds.

A couple months ago I read this quote:

“Happiness is an inside job. Don’t assign anyone else that much power over your life.”

For a few days after I read that, each time I left my thoughts wander to who I really am, I kept coming back to this thought: I’m a 23-year-old who’s spent far too much time passing the blame onto other people when I’m unhappy.

And you know what? A few months ago I was really unhappy.

First, my roommate and good friend decided to move out. I was blind-sighted and let myself get mad over the thought of unexpectedly having to cover the rental costs on my own. Although her reasons make sense—she’s closer to friends and significant other and more cost effective—I also couldn’t help but feel like it was a reflection of me, as a person and as a friend that she no longer wanted to live together. It’s hard for me to admit that but it’s how I felt, so on top of being angry, I was pretty down in the dumps about myself too. 

Shortly after, my family found out that the treatment currently being used to keep my younger brother’s chronic illness under control is no longer working. So, he’s been in and out of the hospital as they try to find a longterm solution and ultimately save his life.

Then, I had a terrible business trip experience and suddenly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend 40+ hours a week writing technical proposals for an engineering firm where I felt I’d made no progress. I remember calling one of my best friends one night and telling her I didn’t know if I wanted to stay at my company. “But Kat, you love your job,” she said back to me. And even though I knew that I did, my memories were so clouded by the recent events that I couldn’t remember why.

And through all of that—I was blaming on other people. My ex-roommate. God. Doctors. Coworkers. Everyone but Kathryn.

Then I came across that quote. And guess what? I realized that most of those experiences I have no control over—but I can always control how they make me feel. And so I chose happiness.

Instead of focusing my energy and thoughts on how my roommate chose to move out, I turned her bedroom into my home office, redid the bathroom, and started listening to music on full blast in the shower, singing loudly. After I stopped focusing on the hurt and anger I felt, I realized how awesome living alone is and that hanging out with just me can be just as fun as hanging out with friends. Although I still feel a bit of hurt, focusing on the positives of living alone instead of blaming my roommate for the extra costs or worrying that I’m not good enough, helped me become happier than I’ve ever been and taught me to forgive, forget, and laugh off the stuff I can’t control.

Instead of obsessing over how scared and anxious not knowing what’s next for my brother makes me, I’m trying to focus more on how I can make the most out of the time I get with him. I’m making more time to do the things I know he enjoys, like watching me ungracefully standup paddleboard around the lake and re-watching the extra funny episodes of The Office. Because although I still pray everyday for a miracle that will cure his condition, I think it’s a miracle to have a brother to call mine in the first place. Too often, we take the people we care about for granted and so rather than being angry at God for giving my brother this burden, I’m choosing to thank him everyday for giving me time with Mac. I say I’m trying to focus more on these things, because there’s still days when it sucks, but I’m shifting my focus to be happy most days and sad only some of the days.

Instead of replaying the negatives of my bad month at work, I took some time to evaluate where I wanted to take my career, ultimately realizing that it was just a bad proposal and that I still love going to work—at least 97 percent of the time, which in the grand scheme is pretty good. When I took a step back and thought about my goals, I was able to see in hindsight that the project I’d hated so much didn’t actually align with my goals and wasn’t something I was interested in. Doing this also made me admit that I probably should have never signed on to work on it, despite how awesome the wander-luster in me thought spending two weeks working in another state would be. Turns out, even though there are still some people on that team I’d prefer not to work with again—personal differences do exist after all—that the real reason I was so unhappy is that I wasn’t taking the time to evaluate if assignments and projects I was given the opportunity to work on were going to be helpful to my career, actually ones I wanted to work on, or teams I wanted to work with. So, I started to say no to things that didn’t align appropriately in those areas. As a result, I am more confident in the investment I’m making towards my professional goals, am connecting with likeminded people, and am excited by the work I’m doing—even when I happen to work an 80+ hour week. And, I’m travelling more than ever too!

What this has all shown me is that happiness is not dependent on what’s going on around you, but rather what’s going on inside you. It’s true that much of what we experience is beyond our control, but as psychologist William James put it,

“The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.”

So, next time you’re feeling unhappy about your situation—before you point the finger at someone else, take a moment to think about the reason behind your unhappiness. Change your perspective, adopt a new attitude, choose happy. You’ll feel better and guess what? Your life will actually be better.


More On Choosing Happiness:

10 Ways Happy People Choose Happiness

This Is Scientific Proof That Happiness Is A Choice

50 Happiness Quotes to Change the Way You Think

Happiness does not come from the outside in,

Kathryn E. Weast

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