How should we measure success in our lives? When I picture a successful life I automatically picture myself laughing. That is just the image I have in my head when I picture my future self and the idea that I have achieved ‘success’. This isn’t an image I have worked on or sculpted, and I’m sure everyone has a different idea of what that word symbolises but for me it’s just the first vision that comes to my mind. I’m standing somewhere warm and sunny, I’m wearing sunglasses, my hair is really blonde and I’m tanned and in an athletic shape from being active and busy, I’ve people around me and I’m laughing. It’s a genuine, giddy laughter that you get when you’re stupidly happy and content and you’re surrounded by the people you love. I’m near the beach, there’s fresh fruit and vegetables and plenty of books. I don’t know how this image came to be in my mind; I think it was partly formed from snapshots of previous memories of when I was perhaps chilling at the beach on Koh Tao with my brother or when I was drinking fresh coconut water in a hammock in Cambodia… and partly that of my understanding that happiness is the only true success in life.
When I am unhappy or ‘fidgety’ I spend a lot of time dreaming about being a successful writer and writing something that will make an impact or influence people’s lives. I get anxious that I’m not working hard enough to achieve that dream or doing enough to make it happen, that I’m not achieving enough. My stress starts to spiral and I begin to wonder whether I am wasting time, whether all my desires about writing are just one big unachievable goal and that I’m never going to actually do anything of value during my time here on earth. However, as soon as the sun starts shining, the weather is warm and I am on the beach barefoot, listening to music and hanging out with my friends or family I am hit with a huge wave of contentment, of reassurance that I am really living my best life. When I’m having a picnic with my muma, giggling and playing silly games or when I’m walking with my dad and talking about life, I honestly couldn’t feel happier. When there’s a good song on and it’s turned up loud and everyone’s singing and dancing, when everyone’s having a laugh in the smoking area of a cosy bar. When I’m eating dinner with my flatmate and we’re chatting about useless crap and quoting movies, when I’m sitting in comfortable silence with someone I love. I know that all sounds a bit silly but that really is all it takes, all my stresses and concerns just slip away and that in itself tells me something about the key to happiness.
When I walk around the streets of London I see and feel a huge divide. I see the majority of people in pristine work clothes, speed walking and crashing into people with a serious look on their faces. People having rushed conversations on their phones, tapping away ferociously on their laptops and constantly glancing at their watches. Then I see a lot of sadness and failure. Troubled souls wondering the streets, dirty, distressed and lost and I wonder how many of these people started off as the suit wearers, the ambition-filled go-getters. Their dreams so close they could taste them as they struggled to stay afloat in the strong tides of competition, secretly enjoying the mad rush of every commute and the sickening thrill of never being quite enough. I wonder what it was that finally tripped them up, whether the pressure became too much and what started off as not having the time to tidy the flat turned into not having time to eat properly, to exercise, to smile and to just stop and breath. Whether their bodies started shutting down, their minds crumbling into ruins from overworking and not having the means to take time out and recuperate. Or whether it was the heartbreaking realisation that that way of living just wasn’t going to give them the happiness they so desperately craved but they’d given everything to get here and now they had nothing left. A scary place to find yourself in, I bet. Like walking through the forest and taking a wrong turn, everything around you looks the same and you know the right turning must be around here somewhere but you just can’t seem to find it.
I work for a few events companies in London and occasionally when I get a nice crowd of people one of them will ask me about my life (a rarity, given that most of them don’t even acknowledge you). I’ll tell them about my travels and my plans to continue seeing the world and I’ll tell them with a big ol’ smile on my face because nothing makes me happier. And no matter how rich, how prestigious and how ‘successful’ these people are the response is always the same; ‘How wonderful’ they’ll say, ‘I’d like to have done that’ or ‘I wish I’d seen more of the world’. These people who may or not be very well known, who have thousands or even millions in the bank, huge companies, massive houses- they all show small signs even if just for a split second of a desire to have done or be doing something different. I’m not saying that they would choose to pack it all in and live life as a beach bum of course, but the idea of a simple, peaceful and stress-free life is universally installed in all of us and it just depends on whether we can see past the pressing desire of our ego’s long enough to embrace it.
I know that being a writer would be great, that having people read my work and find joy in my words would be a feeling like no other. However if I manage to wake up each morning with the sun on my face, with an excitement for the day ahead and with a sense of peace and belonging then I will consider myself successful for to me nothing defines happiness and success more than the freedom to see the world, to breath in the fresh air and to have the ability to love and be loved.
Remember that no matter what everyone else around you is doing if you happen to stumble across happiness, big or small, hold onto it with everything you’ve got. Realise how lucky you are and never ever let it go because you’ve been given the greatest gift there is, a gift that others will spend their whole lives searching for but will never find.