The happiness equation

In The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin writes, “Erasmus observed, ‘The chief happiness for a man is to be what he is.’”

I’ve always envied people who, from the get-go, are clear on who they are – and what they want to do with their life.

Just last week, I was talking to my cousin-in-law – let’s call him PS – on how we both have many different interests, and how they’ve lead to our varied career paths; and how we’re still not sure where our interests will take us.

On the other hand, PS said his younger brother always knew he wanted to be a doctor – this dream profession of a once starry-eyed 5-year-old is now a reality, and he loves it.

Imagine that. To be so sure of your purpose that you don’t experience the pain and suffering of feeling lost. Your inner compass is aligned, and you’re all set to be on your right, happy path.

If you follow wellbeing and self-development-type social media accounts, you may have seen “Be your authentic self” and “Do what you love” mantras often bandied about.

These mantras, of course, imply that this is what one must do to be happy. However, they really irk me. Because to be Lesh, I find, isn’t always easy as the statements suggest.

For one, there is too much external noise – we are constantly bombarded with what others are doing, saying, being, buying, etc. – thanks to the advent of the internet. While seeing what others do certainly offers ideas of how to go about one’s own life, it can also be mighty confounding. This, in itself, is a great source of misery. You’ve heard the phrase ‘keeping with the Joneses’, right? I need not say more.

Another reason being Lesh isn’t that straightforward is because, at times, I concern myself too much about what others think – more than I care to admit, even to myself – instead of listening to my gut for what it is that I really like, am or want.

In the end, to be myself, to do what I love and, ultimately, be happy, I have realised it’s about these three not-so-easy-to-practice-but-worth-my-while-to-do-so principles.

Take action despite the unknown

Usually, if I’m unsure about something, I get caught in limbo (and overthinking) for the fear of doing something wrong, not liking it or wasting my time. But, as I have learnt, I need to ‘waste time’ in order to learn more about myself and, therefore, do more of ‘what I love’. This takes time. No pun intended. Seriously.

So, this year, I’m using my time to explore being in an office again, albeit part-time, for the first time in seven years and going to Italian classes. And I’m trying not to pay too much attention to the outcome, but, rather, my role in the dynamic of it all, and how I ‘enjoy’ it. There’s sure to be an end-of-year recap. So watch this space.


While I’m ‘taking action despite not knowing the outcome’, it is self-awareness – of my thoughts, feelings and motivations – that will give me self-knowledge.

For example, I love yoga, but I’ve realised, over time, that I love it in small doses, such as going to a class. And, now, I understand my resistance to booking into full blown yoga retreat. And, I’ve finally accepted this fact about myself, as I have my desire for solitude over a raucous party any time (even if I come across as ‘boring’).

I know these realisations may sound trivial, but it goes much deeper – they’re about an inner shift from ‘romanticising’ about who you think you want to be and how you wish to be seen, to purposefully seeking self-knowledge and, importantly,  practicing self-acceptance.


I feel this is a biggie for happiness. For example, sometimes I wish I were artier, more creative, more right-brained. I admire anyone who is, and would like to be in that clique. But I’m not. It’s best I take a leaf out of my husband’s book: he makes no apologies or cares if he is judged for his desire for certain material things or his love for commercial TV. In other words, he knows who he is, and, most importantly, he doesn’t question his nature and accepts himself. Denying one’s own nature is one big fat highway to unhappiness.

Do you know who you are? If so, are you happy with who you are? Why/Why not?

9 thoughts on “The happiness equation”

  1. and here i was, just the other day, wishing i understood science stuff, admiring people who can think in a logical, cool-headed way… 🙂

    for me, i knew, like PS’s younger brother, what i wanted from a very young age – i knew my skills were all art-based, knew it made my heart feel light and engaged all of me. i knew that – assuredly, focused-ly – until i got halfway through my art degree when something jarred. basically, i got distracted by other things (read other people who told me what i should do, comparing myself to others). i no longer knew who i was in my 20’s.

    taken me an age and a round-about way to find my way back there, to accept that i like quiet times at home, like a handful of truly wonderful, genuine friends, and need to make art for my sanity if nothing else. sanity is good!

    i like this post so much, lesh. there’s a blueprint for how to make some of those trite, overly-simplistic phrases become something that you can actually achieve, actually become.

    i always learn something when i come here, and that, lesh, that is something you should be chest-swellingly proud of! x

    1. My dear Lucy, you are way too kind, and I’m chest-swellingly proud to call you my friend! I’m so happy you’ve discovered yourself through your art again. Love you xx

  2. Ah Lesh, what a wonderful post, and so true. We spend a lot of our time wondering if we should be doing something else and not happy in our own skins.

    Finally, in my advancing dotage, I can honestly say that I really know myself and accept my flaws and shortcomings. The opinion of others is heard, digested and then worthwhile comments retained and the others ejected! Life really is too short to try and be that “perfect, high-achiever” unless that is your driving force. Thank goodness it isn’t mine.

    (and your amaranth/buckwheat pancakes are still the best breakfast ever!).

    1. Wow, Erica, thanks. I just hope I can get to the point where I can, like you, 100% “honestly say that I really know myself and accept my flaws and shortcomings.” And those pancakes! They’re an oldie but a goodie!

  3. As always, Lesh, your writing has hit home. I have never known who I was or what I wanted to do, but jumped at some opportunities and have ended up being happy with my life. Trying something when you don’t know how it will turn out can be well worth it. My husband and I decided to become volunteer tour guides at our local state park. It involves skills in climbing on rocks (I’m uncoordinated and not athletic). Even though I started that very late (age 67) it has turned out to be very fulfilling. One thing I’ve learned is that if I try new things that stretch myself, they can be very fulfilling. You never know unless you are willing to try. Trying new things helps you to become the self you were intended to be. In my case this was largely in line with my interests, but sometimes new things that you don’t know you are interested in are what help you find yourself.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with these three bite-size tips, especially self-acceptance. And the nice domino effect is that once we accept who we are we are more likely to be more gentle and forgiving of ourselves, a necessary state of being for finding clarity and direction in our life.

  5. I love this and need to be reminded of it regularly. I think we are similar personalities as I too prefer a quiet night in, really need to stop comparing myself to others and start owning who I am rather than try to be what I think I should be, and need to stop caring about what others think of me.
    Your writing really resonates with me and I love your pearls of wisdom when they arrive in my inbox!

  6. […] So, whenever you feel the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, stop romanticising and water your own grass. But make sure to do it your own way. […]

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