When someone asks what happiness means I ask them if they have time for coffee, because it’s going to take a minute for me to explain.
Many people think that happiness is about having a lot of money, the perfect car, house, and other possessions. My journey through codependency, death, and addiction taught me something different: Happiness is not about what we have, but about what we give.
I see this in the life of the person I admire and look up to most in the world: the man I call Dad. He has struggled with cancer and addiction, and yet still continues to take care of his mother and kids. If there is ever a family argument, he is the one who brings us back together. He is the glue for everybody’s lives and he doesn’t let much of anything get him down if he can help it.
For the most part from his actions, attitude, and heart you would never guess that he has struggled in the way he has, especially when he is out with any of us nine kids. He has the energy and joy of a kid himself. My dad shows me that happiness is about the simple things, like quality time with those we love and doing things to help others—and that it’s possible to be happy even amidst serious struggles, like life-threatening cancer.
From my own life and from watching my dad, I’ve learned that struggles can be worth it if you use them to help someone else. I’ve been through so much, and it’s taken a toll and continues to take a toll on me. But at the same time I have two options: I can choose to let my struggles lead me to either death or a jail cell, or I can choose to let them motivate me to help others and keep others from going through what I’ve gone through. That second option leads to happiness, because happiness is less about having a “perfect” life and more about what we do with the life we are given.
I choose the second option. I want to use my imperfect past life as a way of helping others. It’s why I write for I Believe In Love: Knowing that I am reaching and helping others keeps me going. It’s also why I recently started a degree program in Psychology and Addiction Studies. It took me several years to get to this point, because I was held back by heroin addiction, a lack of routine, codependent relationships, and the loss of many close family members and friends. But ultimately I decided to pursue my degree because of those experiences and because I want to help others who have struggled with the same demons in life.
When I do face roadblocks to happiness, I try to remember the passion I have to help others and to use my passion to push me and keep me going in hard times. One thing that helps, is to visualize a dream I have of having a safe haven on one hundred plus acres of land, with rescued animals and people who need help and are trying to help themselves. I’m an animal lover and a people lover, so I figure, put the two together. It’d be a place for those who have nowhere to go, and a rehabilitation center for those who’ve suffered from addiction, abuse, and any kind of trauma. They would heal in part by taking care of the animals that are rescued, which could help them to build their trust back up and to put themselves back together piece by piece.
My dreams won’t happen overnight; life is a process and that’s okay. But through the process, hurting people could find happiness. Because as I’ve learned from my own life and my dad’s example, happiness does not come from the stuff we have or how easy our lives have been. True happiness comes from what we give to others. I want to live my life like that is true, and to help others find that happiness along the way.