What Is Happiness?

I always wonder when I’ll be happy.

Growing up in a Chinese Malaysian family, I’ve been told studying science, landing an office job and getting married in that order is the road to a happy and fulfilling life.

Happy life? Uncertain life? Maybe both | Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story.

Happy life? Uncertain life? Maybe both | Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story.

Learning maths at university was dull. Working full time now repetitively shuffling papers and explaining procedures to clients in the fancy corporate world, I always wonder if this job could get any more boring.

For a lot of us, being happy is when we’re feeling positive. Upbeat. A sense of satisfaction. When we’re happy, we feel alright. Things are going right and where or how we want them to be.

Quite often, I think maybe I am actually happy, but just don’t see it.

Happiness is accepting ourselves, being okay with who we really are. It’s when we love what makes us us. Loving ourselves. For a long time, I felt guilty about taking media subjects at uni. I’m Asian Australian, someone who comes from a background where being artistically creative isn’t championed too much. But meeting so many other Asians at uni proudly doing the same subjects, I saw there was nothing to be ashamed of not fitting the Asian stereotype: we’re all different.

Happiness is letting go, starting a new chapter. It’s having the courage to leave the past behind as we find ourselves. Cleaning my room the other day, I chanced upon my old maths notes from school. Never had the heart to throw them out. However, that day, I put them in the rubbish bin. What a relief. I am a writer, therefore I am.

Later that night I sat alone in my room and did some writing, lost in the words in front of me on my laptop. Before I knew it, it was 2am. And so happiness is finding and doing what we love doing. Slowing down.

Happiness is not always about us. It’s also about those around us. Helping and seeing our family, kids, friends, colleagues and pets – and even random strangers – happy, chances are we’ll be happy be too. As dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling said, “By finding passion, by sharing with other people, we are able to work from the inside out and that’s how we find happiness.”

Some of us do find happiness in a career or settling down with a family. Or winning an award or buying a house. Happiness is marked by milestones. Achievements.

Yet there’s no forgetting sad and frustrating times are part of life too. Things don’t go our way all the time. So happiness comes and goes, perhaps quietly. It’s also the fleeting moments around us, or what writer Jeff Goins calls the “in-between” – the “little” moments in life in between the big “achievements”.

Being different, going against the Asian stereotype and chasing my passion for writing has been nothing but liberating. Gratifying. Then last year I realised it was impossible to financially make ends meet by writing all day in my room and not getting paid for it, and did a bit of back flip and looked for a stable job.

I’m lucky to have job, even if it’s one I’m not a fan of. Outside of work in my spare time, I am doing what I love. Writing. Blogging. Telling my stories about being Asian Australian. Seeing you comment on this blog, I feel thankful. Thank you. Maybe this is as far as I’ll go with getting and sharing my writing out there and inspiring others. Maybe this is as good as it gets. But don’t we all worry too much about the future?

Happiness, is a state of mind.

It comes from within.

And it’s always right in front of us.

What makes you happy? What does happiness mean to you?

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92 thoughts on “What Is Happiness?

    • Thanks, Matt. It’s always a matter of creativity versus reality. Sometimes we live the best of both worlds, but it comes at a cost. Like, I’m tired from both working and writing. At some point, something’s got to give but I don’t want to think to far yet.

      Always good to see you stop by, and I enjoyed your recent drawings 🙂 How are you? Time off soon?

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    • In October of 2012 I lost my job. This was after a marriage of 14 years ended, having to give up my business as a Private Investigator and not being able (yet again) to finish school to get my BA. I’ve have been without full time work since then, and have survived by doing part-time work, volunteering and padding my resume’ with experiences and self-stufy free courses with online universities. I’m also happier than i have been in years because I am choosing my own destiny, not the destiny chosen for me by my ex-wife and others. Happiness?

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      • Good on you for bravely facing rough times and coming through okay. It must be a life changing experience for you, having so many unhappy things happen at once, especially having no steady income coming in. But at the same time, you became free to do what you wanted and the world was at your feet. And you survived. I’m sure at the start of all this you wondered when you were going to see the light at the end of tunnel. Happiness elusive…but I believe it’s a feeling that grows over time and manifests itself when you don’t realise it. You’re so right – happiness IS about being able to choose our own destiny. Deep down, only we know what makes us happy.

        Nice to see you here again, Michael. Thanks for reading and stopping by 🙂

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  1. Mabel, I would love for you to visit my blog over the next month and tell me how you feel or give me your opinion on the ABCs of Happiness. I started with Letter A today – Accepting Your Reality. Happiness is definitely within!

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  2. Happiness is a rather elusive concept, and hard to define. It’s easier to quantify negative feelings, sadness and depression and so on. But what exactly is it to be happy? A fleeting moment of pleasure? Nonstop contentedness with no stress?

    There must be levels to this thing called happiness, shallow and deeper versions depending one’s life as a whole versus being happy in a specific time frame. Something like money can make you happy for a while, but research has shown that doesn’t last. While having a family seems to make people happy for longer periods of time, according to some.

    And I mean, like getting high just to prop up the chemicals in your brain doesn’t seem a sustainable way at all. But does that or doesn’t that count as “happy?”

    I think happiness is something we tell ourselves we experienced in our memories, our childhoods and lamenting about our youth, but we didn’t even know we were so happy at the time while we were just doing what we were doing. If that makes sense. The constant search for happiness distracts us from enjoying the present. This is why I am very against self-help books. If you follow.

    Here’s an article, apparently those that make the biggest deal out of seeking happiness are the least happy of all and let’s ponder what that means:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-murder-and-the-meaning-life/201211/if-you-pursue-happiness-you-may-find-loneliness

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    • Levels of happiness. That is a very good way to put it. I like it a lot and I think this was it’s obvious there different degrees of happiness, and everyone perceives happiness differently. And because of this I reckon you’re right in saying happiness is hard to define. Happiness can come from anywhere, really.

      Enjoying the moment, we are living in the moment. Kids feel happy chasing one another in the playground. Grown-ups feel happy on vacation. I feel happy eating an ice-cream. If I were to pause and think about how I were feeling at that moment eating my favourite ice-cream, I think that happy feeling would have escaped me. Some things can’t be seen or thinking through them would prove confusing. They can only be felt and maybe happiness is one of them.

      You seem like a pessimist, Ray. Maybe it’s because you come across as a deep thinker. Thanks for sharing the article. It was a great read. Bookmarked it.

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    • I think that article makes an excellent point, Ray! I came to the same conclusion about a year ago, as I prepared to move as part of conscious decision to be happier. I knew that being in a new place wasn’t going to be a panacea, but because I would be living near the mountains, I would have greater access to activities that I love, but more importantly, living somewhere where it would be easier to find people to share the moment with me.

      I also agree with the pitfalls that self-help books create. While there are some things that we can do to be happier, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your relationships. I think, as you probably do, that the world of self-help creates a more selfish society that wonders why, despite following someone’s dogmatic advice, they still aren’t really happy.

      I applaud Mabel for realizing what makes her happy and what doesn’t. Most people don’t have any real self awareness. Without knowing yourself, you can’t possibly achieve the contentment needed to be happy.

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      • Glad you brought up the phrase “self awareness”. It’s surprising how many of us are hesitant, maybe afraid, of asking ourselves what really makes us happy. Love how you took the plunge and went after what made you happy – a change of lifestyle is a big thing. It might be intimidating and scary at first, but if you stick it through, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

        Also excellent point on self-help books and selfishness. Sure, to a certain extent these books might help us discover what makes us happy, but at the end of the day there is no one tried and tested method to achieving this. I hazily remember reading a few self-help books in the past. From what I can remember, these books instructed me to get into suffocating routines to find the path of happiness. For example, make a list of things to achieve, get up early, tell yourself encouraging words without analysing the situation and so on. For me, happiness comes spontaneously.

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  3. Great post Mabel, it really does sound that you are happy ~ even when struggling, knowing where you are is so important. Happiness can be such a strangely simple thing sometimes that it is astounding how many people refuse to acknowledge this and instead dwell within the negativity of themselves.

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    • Thanks, Randall. I don’t know why a lot of us like to focus on negativity. Maybe it’s because they just want to prepare themselves for the worst outcome and cover their bases. But worrying about every little thing will never get us anywhere. Funny you say that I sound happy. I really do think I am, and it’s just that unexpected hiccups in life overshadowing my perspective of what it means to be happy.

      Hope you’re well and having a good summer. It’s winter here in Australia. Not too happy with the cold temperatures but summer’s getting closer 🙂

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  4. Keep at it. One day you may get paid for what you truly love. I have an exciting career & I did love it but things have changed so I’m studying again soon. There’s no harm in keeping options open. Never settle.

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  5. I think you’ve described happiness perfectly, especially the letting go part. I find that letting go of certain people in my life in order to move on and see more clearly is happiness. Loving, accepting and taking care of yourself. Feeling safe and ready to face the world, with a little bit of mischief thrown in. Great post!

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    • Thanks, Jody. Letting go is never easy. It’s painful, but sometimes what we are holding onto might be stopping us from being truly happy. It sounds like you had a hard time letting go some people in your life, and I hope it wasn’t on bad terms. Even if it was, there’s every chance you can patch things up in the future.

      “…with a little bit of mischief thrown in”. Now, that always makes life fun!

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  6. Hi Mabel, I too was brought up in a family that worried too much of the future and where happiness was never “now”. You’re post is just right, our lives will never be perfect but it is feeling happy with who we are and with those around us that we love. I (in a very drastic manner) left a job that I hated at the beginning of this year, and just like you threw out your maths notes, its was so liberating! I too can say I am lucky to have a job (another one) which will not be the one forever but it’s good for now 🙂 I go against the everything stereotype I think, the Asian one, the European one, the Australian one. I mean really, is there an Australian-Spanish-Indonesian stereotype? (we must be a small minority, lol) I am just me and that’s how I should be happy. You’re right, happiness is a state of mind, being able to enjoy what we have with the people we choose to surround ourselves with.

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    • “Happiness was never “now”.” That was what I was taught growing up too. My parents always pushed me to learn more at school, learn piano, get a good job, so that in the future we will have a happy cushy life. I was tempted to include the phrase “Happiness is in the “now”” in my post but somehow it didn’t make the final draft…

      Aussie-Spanish-Indo. Sounds like you’re one of a kind. Though some would say you have a lot of stereotypes to live up to 😉 I hope your current job is going well and something you enjoy more than your last. You’re so right, Sofia. Our lives are never perfect, but we can make the most of the cards that we’ve been dealt and learn to laugh at what pass us by.

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  7. When I think about my future I actually get excited about all the possibilities ahead. Sure, there are many moments I worry but always look forward to the next day, week, month or year 🙂
    I am so far once again satisfied with my life, did some repair work on my car at my parents cottage and enjoy the sun. Probably it will rain tomorrow so I will just do something else, perhaps work on my blog, edit pictures or just write. Happiness is something I can have whenever I am able to do or think about things I like

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    • So happy your trip to your parents cottage is going well. Must be nice catching up with them, and of course showing Nathan around. Bet he adds a lot to the happy atmosphere down there, and he’s 100% being a happy child. Love your positive attitude about tomorrow. We never know exactly what tomorrow will bring, but in a sense tomorrow does bring hope. With hope, there’s always a twinge of happiness.

      Don’t know if you noticed, Timo, but every time you post a comment on my blog, it disappears and goes straight to the Spam folder. I have gotten into a routine each week after work, coming home to fish it out 🙂

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      • Thank god you mentioned spam folder, just realized that I haven’t checked it for at least two months, it was filled with normal replies and I believe over the past months many were lost/ auto deleted 😦

        Anyways, Nathan has much fun here and is exhausted non stop from discovering new things and laughing 🙂

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        • Oh dear, it’s not nice at all when comments end up in the spam folder. I customise my spam moderation settings as there are words I don’t want appearing on this blog. It’s working but a lot of the time thoughtful comments like yours go there instantly – if you push “post comment” and you don’t see your comment, it means it’s gone to the spam folder 😦

          Glad to hear Nathan is enjoying himself 😦 Childhood is always a time of innocent happiness. He doesn’t sound bored. Hope your wife is doing well too 🙂

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  8. Here’s to appreciating the joy of the in between! Beautiful post. Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving such a lovely comment, and following! Have a wonderful evening. : )))

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  9. Wow I love this.. I do agree with you, and I sometimes get the feeling that we’ve always been manipulated into believing that happiness is this stock photography version of big smiles, big houses, a very successful career, a life of perfection, so if you ever compare your life to that standard its never going to match up amd you feel inadequate, its as you say, happiness comes from the inside and its in doing the things you’ve been given the ability to, because every thing you do matters.. so thank you for this post and keep going because it does a make a difference 🙂

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    • Thanks, Sabrina. Love how you say that we’ve “always been manipulated into believing” happiness is what we see in front of us – happy people, comfy lifestyles – as opposed to what we feel emotionally, what matters to us. We seem to always forget that as we rush out to buy things like the new iPhone, that cool shirt and that flashy car. I don’t think I can say anymore in response to your comment. You said it all and summed it up very nicely. You got a way with words there 🙂

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  10. Mabel I think you have looked at many angles of happiness. It’s not as elusive as it seems. It really is a choice;I think that is what you are stating here.
    Thanks for the kindness of your visit. I am following you now to see what is next in your world of blogging.
    Cheers

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    • Happiness. Is a choice. You are so right. Thanks for stating it so plainly and simply, now the whole idea of happiness makes a lot more sense. The only thing that’s stopping us from being happy is ourselves.

      I love visiting blogs and hearing what others have to say – the things I read bounce around in my head and inspire me to write. Thanks for the follow. Not too sure if I’ll have any interesting things to say next, but who knows 🙂

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    • Happiness is what we desire. That’s a very thought-provoking thought. We can desire things like fancy clothes and food, and we can also desire inner peace. At the end of the day, I think many of us will choose the latter. Good one 🙂

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  11. I think finding happiness is the easiest thing in the world and at the same time the hardest to acchieve in this world we have created.

    All of these titles, goals and acchevements we all talk about is man-made. If «success» doesnt tempt you, forget the titles, and carrers. Find a job that doesnt stress you out, and that brings enough money to give you roof over your head and food on the table. Spend the rest of your time doing what you love with people that makes you feel good about yourself and the choises you make.

    They say that other people cant make you happy, but they sure can make you unhappy. Choose the people you have in your life carefully. Do not surround yourself with people that critesises you and bring you down. Spend your time with people that are exited about your passiones and back you up in the choises you make.

    If you wonder what happiness is you are not happy. If you were happy you would not wonder.

    Do not think that the norms will bring happiness to you. The norms may not be for you. Listen to you. Not them. If you dont want children, dont have them. A study showed that childless couples were much happier that couples with children. I dont have kids and have never regretted it. I have friends that have told me that if they could do it all over again, they would choose to be childless. If you dont find Mr or Miss right, dont marry. If you do, celebrate it if you want to not because other people tell you to.

    Life is short. You cant take anything with you when you die. If you are religeous or not doesnt matter. Live as you only have one life and thats it. When your last day comes, makes sure that you have done what YOU wanted up to that day, and not what everybody else wanted you to do.

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    • Such deep and profound words, Miss Lunas. It get the feeling you’ve discovered happiness in your life and are perfectly content with yourself. It is true that people around us have an impact on how we feel. The more we surround ourselves with people who are negative and pick on our weakness, the more we distance ourselves from feeling positive, being positive and getting on with our lives. Sometimes, a bad word about us brings our morale down a lot, so hearing critical things about ourselves all the time can’t be all that good.

      So true that achievements like awards and prizes are man-made. Feelings are never man-made in the first place – they come from a place called the heart, it’s sort of mystical and magical if you think about it this way. Thanks for stopping by. Never knew you had a serious side 🙂

      By the way, your comment was eaten up by my spam folder twice. I had to fish it out!

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  12. Another thought provoking post, Mabel. Well done. I do am very happy writing, blogging, and wandering around alone with a camera in my hand. I am also happy at work and although I’ve had many very different and unusual jobs as I look back i loved each and every one of them. I think an essential element of happiness is appreciating the moment you’re in and relishing those little daily victories that make it fun and to have something to wake up for the next morning. At one point in my life I thought happiness was making very specific career goals. I realized, not too late, that the closer I got to those goals that the cost to my family wasn’t worth it. I don’t want to be laying alone on my death bed and think, “Geez, I wish I had worked more Saturday’s…”

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    • Thanks, Kongo. You must have been very open-minded to all of those jobs, going along with each one that presented itself and I guess that’s why you enjoyed those moments. Daily victories. I like that. Reminds me not to take things for granted. For instance, making and eating a homemade breakfast. Doing the laundry in one day. Cleaning the kitchen. Writing 500 words. Having the luxurious time to take a bunch of random photos. All of these activities do potentially happiness if we stop and think just how productive and meaningful they can be.

      Always good to hear from my favourite monkey 😉 Glad you’re a happy one too. I love learning from monkeys.

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        • Can’t blame traditional parents for sticking with what they believe in that will lead to happiness. Certain things we do and think of gives us comfort. Sometimes the child just has to go on their own path silently and hope it all works out.

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  13. Hi Mabel .. thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. This is a really great post and I like your attitude about happiness. You always try to see something positive in what is happening. I share your opinion that happiness is a state of mind and that it comes from within. Sometimes we feel happy just for a moment because we watch a beautiful sunrise or something else. Sometimes happiness last for a long period of time because you are newly in love with someone. As you said happiness comes and goes. But we must be able to let happiness happen. If you always focus on negativity you can’t be happy.
    As you know I had to struggle with seeking a new job. It was not easy to keep my mood upbeat all the time. But I tried to do things I like, things which makes me happy just like climbing and meeting my friends. This helped me to move on.

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    • I like how you imply that we can experience short and long moments of happiness at the same time. I think most of the time we do but we don’t realise it. We’re always rushing here and there, trying to be the best we can be that we forget to ask ourselves how we’re feeling – and so we end up not happy, but maybe sad, frustrated or anxious.

      Love how you’re being very positive…and you’re an example that positivity pays off. Congrats on the job again, I’m sure it will be great and hope it will be a job that you will come to love. Thanks for your nice words, Anja. I always like reading your meaningful comments and they make me smile 🙂

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  14. Personally, I agree with you that happiness comes from within. Nothing can make you happy – it is a feeling and a decision solely made by you. We have the option of dealing with what makes us unhappy and move on or dwell on the things that make us unhappy (if that makes sense)!

    I used to consider teaching English as a job that was not very intellectually challenging. For most of my time in Taiwan, I have taught grade one students. However, I quickly learned that they can teach me a lot as well – their thirst for knowledge, their innocence, their curiosity about the world, and their quickness to forgive and forget. I realized that I love being surrounded by young minds! It makes me happy!!

    As you probably know, I live in Taiwan. I prepared one student for the TOEFL test a couple of years ago and I found it hard connecting with her at first – she was shy and always said she didn’t know and everything was too hard. She has a passion for music so one day I asked her to bring her instrument and play for me during our next class. And she did. To listen to her play was a breath of fresh air. She stood before me with great confidence. This shy girl came out of her shell when she played music. I told her to bring the confidence she has playing music to our classes! From that day on, our classes took a turn! And today, she is studying at one of the best music schools in the States (even though her father wanted her to study business)!

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    • Of course you make a lot of sense! In life, almost everything we do is a choice. If we’re feeling down, we should ask ourselves what’s making us feel this way and when we’ve got an answer, then the path to happiness should be a lot clearer. It’s always up to us.

      That is such a creative approach you have with your class and students 🙂 You have a good way with kids and teaching. Very spontaneous of you to get that girl to play during your class. I’m sure she felt very happy when she played her instrument (I’m guessing maybe it was violin?) – and the other students caught on to this and enjoyed her performance very much. If we’re happy, then chances are others around us will be happy too. All the more reason to find happiness in the simple things in life and do what we love.

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  15. To be happy involves not only having that which makes us happy, but also minimising that which makes us unhappy. I don’t doubt that having lots of money and a successful career will provide us with happiness, but the pursuit of these things may involve actions that sap our time and force us into making morally challenging decisions. Whether the happiness that ensues justifies the unhappiness needed to acquire it is a decision for each individual, and outsiders (including parents) who try to impose a surefire path to happiness are really not very helpful to this process.

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    • So true, and deep thoughts there, Sam. Happiness can’t exist without unhappiness and both tend to be side-by-side. As the saying goes, “No pain, no gain”. That is an interesting concept you brought up there – minimising things that make us unhappy. Sometimes if we keep doing things that make us unhappy and find a positive side to them, they might not seem so bad…yet we still don’t feel happy. Rightfully. For instance, we may be working at a dull job but love working with the colleagues around us and so are inclined to stay where we are. And usually it’s because we’re “comfortable”. Maybe that’s why some of us feel more unhappy than happy in our lifetime.

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    • Thanks, Matt. Love how you say happiness is just a breath away. Makes it sound like happiness is so near, yet so far. It’s like this for some of us…but once we find what truly makes us happy, there’s no turning back.

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  16. One of the things that makes me happy, is working a job that I just tolerate for practicality while continuing to pursue my lofty dreams.

    I won’t let conformity and conservatism push me around. I use them as stepping stones.

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    • You have a good head on your shoulders there, Mofman. Not all of us will have the opportunity to have our dream jobs or make a living out of what we love. So the next best thing to this will be to settle for second best, which really isn’t all that bad. I guess in your case and in mine too, we slave away at mundane jobs by day to get money rolling in the bank, and by night, well, magic happens. And what the latter happens, anything is possible. Happiness, is possible.

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  17. Well said about Happiness. It seems to me that each life stage has its own definition of Happiness. It is easy to say to be ourselves, but that could be a long journey though. Thank you for sharing your insights of happiness.

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    • Yes, happiness can indeed be a long journey. Seems that happiness is quite elusive, not to mention complicated. As you said, each life stage has different definitions of happiness. I’m also inclined to think there are different levels of happiness within each life stage or where we are in our lives 🙂

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  18. wonderful blog on happiness, Mabel! for me happiness is being comfortable with oneself, doing and being with things that make you happy while accepting and respecting things you cannot control.

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    • Thanks so much, Lola. I really appreciate all of your kind comments. Spot on: there are things that we cannot control. The more we try to resist change and the unexpected, most of the time the more unhappy we become. Sometimes happiness comes in making the most of the cards you’re dealt 🙂

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  19. Mabel this is a wonderful piece of writing. I see that you are discovering yourself and what genuinely gives you joy. I believe happiness is something that comes with self acceptance and the ability to think positively no matter what life presents. Life presents challenges and obstacles and one can not always live in a state of euphoria. My experience has been that happiness is often about making change and choices if one is unhappy.

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    • Thanks, Sue, for the nice words. You don’t know how happy that makes me. You’re right. With change, we grow not to stick with being comfortable, being in a routine that can eventually make us unhappy if we stick with it too long. Thinking positively can be difficult sometimes, but if we try to see past the negative there’s always hope for a better tomorrow 🙂

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  20. Mabel, you are a writer. You write very well. Pursue this passion, even when you have to go through the tedium of an office job to support yourself. Do not give up on writing.

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    • Thanks, Imelda. Those are very nice words and I think this is one of the nicest comments I’ve received (not surprised…you do write very good poetry…touching poetry). It made me smile. Maybe I will keep writing. You never know 🙂

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