I was a happy kid for the most part, a bit shy—which is a form of self-centeredness, but that’s a whole different story. Growing up on a farm in the Midwest, I had an ideal childhood. Great sister and loving parents, I was destined for great things.
My mother used to always tell me, “Shoot for the moon son, the worst that can happen is you miss and land amongst the stars.” She was like that, always full of encouraging words… still is. My dad was king buzz kill, although he usually had a buzz going of his own. He was a simple, hardworking, beer drinking man who passed away at the age of 65; just after retiring. Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer on June 26th 2010, he died ten days later at home in my mother’s arms. I loved him and I know he loved me. He often told me so and I him. I miss him.
By my early twenties I had my dream job, a zookeeper. Growing up on a farm, I loved animals and figured that would be the best job in the world. When I became a full-time primate keeper—after paying my dues with goats, big cats, and bears oh my—I knew I had made it. I felt so lucky to have found my life’s calling at such a young age. I was happy.
Until one day I wasn’t anymore.
I woke up one day a few years later and felt miserable with my life. There were so many other things in the world to see and do. Yet I had already achieved my childhood dream, what else could there possibly be?
Looking back, I think it was around that time a shift happened in my soul and perspective about life; that regardless of what I achieved, I would always feel unsatisfied.
Life became something to endure, not live and love.
For well over the next decade, I would sift through jobs and relationships like magazines in a waiting room; looking for something to keep me interested while life passed me by. I also indulged in a lot of not so healthy habits and lifestyles. Consequently, my inner self was being slowly torn down with unconscious remorse, regret, and guilt. Then one day, disappointed that I was still alive, I decided I couldn’t live like that anymore. That day was March 12th 2006.
I’m not a big Beatles fan, but ironically years earlier I was flipping through a book about John Lennon on a waiting room table and read, “If you want to die, do that; but if you want to live, get on with it.” I decided to live.
I threw out every pre-conceived notion about life and what it meant to be successful, happy, and fulfilled. I was done, spent, tired of my way of thinking. One thing became perfectly clear; I had no idea how to be happy.
What happened next was a journey into happiness and a life better than I could have ever imagined. I sought help from therapist, counselors, spiritual coaches, books, videos, friends, seminars, family, and anything or anyone that seemed to have something I wanted—inner-peace and happiness.
What I found about happiness was this: anytime I search for happiness outside self, its short lived at best. More simply, happiness is all about being OK with me.
Self-acceptance is certainly no ground breaking discovery to finding happiness. But here’s the rub… it’s hard and most people won’t do the necessary work to get the real lasting results.
It’s easier to buy a new TV, get a new girlfriend or job then it is to seek help and do some real soul searching and self-discovery. For me, there was a lot of crap I had done that certainly meant I was unworthy of ever being happy. Years of regret, a future full of fear, all created by my minds image of self and what life was supposed to be about. It took years to fill my head up with that crap; it wasn’t about to give up without a fight and disappear just because I made adecision to be happy. It took a lot of action and hard work on my part. From my experience, most of the hard work is over; all that is required is a little maintenance. It’s a lot easier to stay healthy than it is to get healthy.
When thinking back about what kept me going—and stuck—all those years, it was fear and hope. Fear of change and the hope for something better. This next concept may sound ridiculous, but I know some of you reading this can relate. Many times, the hope of something better is enough to keep us going even though we’re too afraid to try and achieve that for which we hope for.
I knew deep inside there was this person I wanted to be. Maybe the person everyone thought I was or my mother always said I could be. Maybe I didn’t feel worthy of that person or knew I wasn’t living up to that ideal. Whatever the case, I was living untrue to self. The fear that kept me stuck was: what if I do face and discover my true self and I’m still not happy? Then I’m really screwed!
The concept can cover all sorts of things; unhealthy living habits, regrets, fears, anything that nags at my conscience and keeps me from being free in any given moment. I had to face up to and deal with all of the crap floating around in my head. If I was to truly believe I am a good person and deserving of happiness, I had to deal with that crap. Can I do something about it? If yes, pray for or seek guidance in making things right. If not, work on self forgiveness and move on. I used all sorts of resources for this process; most importantly I sought help.
Here’s just one small practical example.
For years after initially dropping out of college I became quite financially irresponsible. Credit cards, medical bills, etc. I owed a lot of people money. Even though I could suppress it at times, it always weighed on my conscious. In some way, it was probably one reason I never committed to a relationship. Who would want a financially irresponsible man? Surely no one would marry such a hack.
Even though we may hide it well on the outside, living with things in our closet will eat us up over time. As the saying goes, “We’re as sick as our secrets.”
One of the first things I did after March 12th 2006 was ask my new therapist for help with my finances—crazy huh? She helped me create a list and start looking at options for taking care of my mess. In some cases I was even too scared to call the creditor myself so I asked a friend. I think my counselor even called a few for me. I didn’t care if people thought I was weak in asking for help; I needed to get it taken care of and that’s all that mattered. Yes, that should have also applied to calling the creditors—not caring what they thought—or maybe I just didn’t want to do it. The point is, I finally asked for help.
My willingness to do whatever it took to find inner-peace happiness was the result of desperation. I no longer feared judgment or not being accepted because it just didn’t matter anymore. I was alive and anything after that was just gravy. It was the most freeing feeling of all.
The hard truth is that if you’re not happy, you are the problem. And in this world of fluffy self-help mantras and affirmations, that may be a hard pill to swallow. But consider this; it’s also the most empowering thing you can ever accept. (And keep in mind, accepting something doesn’t mean you have to like it.) Because just as you are the problem, you are the solution!
This is empowering because once we accept the problem and realize we’re responsible, we can start concentrating on the solution. And yes, there are circumstances in life that stink and can seem unfair at times. But people overcome amazing obstacles all the time and your past (regardless of how tragic) can become you’re greatest asset. Trust me, I know.
I heard a man share in a support group once, “We need to stop worrying about how something got on us and concentrate on how to get it off.”
If you seek true inner-peace and happiness, you will find it. But you must be willing to accept what you’ll find and put in the work. Are you?
Jared Akers is a writer and tester of the impossible. He writes, inspires, and enjoys helping people learn How to Be Happy. He’s been developing a life of happiness with his wife for the better part of the last decade while sharing his journey at JaredAkers.com.