Death, Dreams, and Happiness

There’s nothing like an impending life change, coupled with a series of long holidays and the thought of death, to make one think about one’s life priorities. In my case, I’d been grappling with some pretty big career questions for several months now, and it culminated in a Moment of Truth–right on November 1–that made me flash back to all the choices I had made up to the present, and then fast-forward to all the choices that I have yet to make in the future.

Then, last night, Josh Villanueva of Rappler began a social media conversation about bucket lists (check out the hashtag #YOLO), and I immediately started thinking of mine.

Did I want to write a book? Been there, done that–several times (But it won’t hurt to write a few more).

Did I want to travel to Europe? Ditto–although I’d love to go back with more time and pocket money.

Did I want to meet a famous person? I think I have everyone I would like to meet in my network so far.

Did I want to possess more things? I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

What I DO want is to spend more time with my loved ones, make myself and my family happy, and make my time on this earth count. Here were some of the bucket list items that I could think of, off the top of my head:

#YOLO bucket list item #1

#YOLO bucket list 2-3

#YOLO bucket list item #4

It made perfect sense to me. Beyond all the possible accomplishments and material possessions in the world, what I really want is to spend a happy life with my husband, honor and care for my family, and do something crazy for myself once in a while.

* * *

Then, this morning, I started reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness ProjectRubin was a U.S. Supreme Court clerk-turned-writer who attempted to study happiness the way she studied law, and she came up with an interesting approach for tackling (and hopefully finding/creating achieving) happiness.

Reading "The Happiness Project" with my sketchpad at my favorite spot by the bay
Reading “The Happiness Project” with my sketchpad at my favorite spot by the bay

She starts off by asking two basic questions:

“First, did I believe it was possible to make myself happier?”

“The second question: What is ‘happiness’?”

Then, she outlines her own Twelve Commandments and her Secrets of Adulthood, and she organizes her “happiness principles” into themes that could be tackled monthly. I’ll leave it to you to read the rest of the book if you wish, but my own take-away from that was that I needed to define happiness for myself so that I could make the right choices that would support that vision of happiness. After all, it doesn’t make sense to go down a path that would make you less fulfilled and less happy. (Aristotle was right; happiness is the “chief good”, the one thing that everyone aspires to be and to achieve.)

I also started experimenting on a couple of things: my Happiness Tree and a Happiness Map*. These were ideas born from my doodling and ruminating, and I’ll soon share some basic ideas to help you get started on your own. For now, I’d like to share what “version 1.0” of these tools look like for me:

My Happiness Tree (v.1.0) by NTZ
My Happiness Tree (v.1.0) by NTZ
My Happiness Map  v.1.0. What does YOURS look like? :)
My Happiness Map v.1.0. What does YOURS look like? 🙂

*While these aren’t entirely original ideas because they may exist somewhere else and may be called the same thing, I didn’t copy the names and formats of the Happiness Tree and Happiness Map from any particular source. In fact, my Happiness Tree doesn’t even look like a tree right now!

* * *

All these made me realize one important thing: I’ve let my own  happiness slide in pursuit of supposedly bigger things for far too long, and if I don’t start with my own Happiness Project now, I just might come to the end of my life without having attained my own dreams for myself. A recent trip to my family’s hometown of Cebu brought me face to face with some of my grandpa’s own unfulfilled dreams. The Twitter discussion last night reminded us, “You Only Live Once (YOLO).” And we DO only have one life to live. I don’t want to waste the rest of my life working for someone else’s dreams, or pining away for what could have been, or regretting opportunities that I did not take.

There are choices to be made–and these choices will always mean foregoing something for something else, sure–but what I will not forego is the chance to be happy.

Just knowing this makes me feel more empowered already. 🙂


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Nina, thanks for your blog – I’ve just come across it (thanks to Paulo Coelho) and it’s just what I need at the moment as I’m at a crossroads again and I’ve got some big life choices to make. I’m just finishing a five month trip across Europe, which included walking the Camino de Santiago and now it’s D day – I arrive home later today and it’s time to make those decisions. But I think your blog is going to help 🙂 Thanks again, Steve

    1. ninaterol says:

      Dear Steve,

      Your words humble me, and you cannot even begin to imagine what they mean to me right now. I have always dreamed of taking a journey like yours, so maybe YOUR blog will inspire me as well. Thank you, THANK YOU for your generosity of words and spirit. May you find light and clarity on your path… and may I someday go on a journey as long and as spiritual as I’m sure yours had been.

      *Love and light*, Niña

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