A Chronic Optimist’s Perspective on Happiness and Shaking Off Adversity

Photographed by Mahmoud Istanbouli

The road to happiness is the sloppiest piece of shit road I have ever been on, and that’s saying a lot. I’m from Manitoba, where they invest more money into Slurpee’s than into the roads you drive as you stare off into the prairie skies of nothingness. People have told me that I am “the biggest optimist” that they know. If you know me, you probably have been very annoyed by me on more than one occasion. At 5’6” and 110 lbs, I have enough energy to propel the Axemen Football team to a winning record (just kidding guys), but I haven’t always been like this. In fact, I once was quite the opposite. Like many of my peers here at Acadia, I am in a constant battle with mental illness. This doesn’t always make the whole “be happy” thing any easier.

When I first arrived at Acadia I was not in the greatest mental state. I tried making friends, but constantly found myself going back to my room Friday evenings, depressed and alone. Then one day something special happened: I did the one thing that I recommend everyone should do in order to be happy… I took a chance. I was feeling really down while studying one night so I decided to head down to a hockey game. At the game I ran into a hilarious guy from a class, met a few wonderful women, danced to “Shake It Off,” made a fool of myself, and in the process made some of the best friends I have ever had. It all came down to one simple decision. I got up from my chair, went for a walk, and took a chance. Since that day, I have been a chronic optimist.

That day and those people gave me hope for that night, and that night turned into a weekend, a semester, and now a life time. My challenge to you is to get up, and take a chance. Take a chance on yourself. You never know what kind of masterpiece you may discover in the process. I am not saying it will be easy. I beat my depression, but I still struggle with anxiety every day. I like to think that being an optimist is as easy as waking up with a smile on your face, but in reality, this is not always the case. It is hard when expectations and situations limit you, but sometimes you need to accept circumstances as they are. By accepting reality, you provide yourself with the tools to learn from it and build upon it.

Sometimes accepting reality means accepting help. It is okay to have a bad day. I am stubborn as an old mule, but the most important thing I have learned this year is that if you want to do your best and be there for other people, you need to first take care of yourself. The way I have done this is to reach out and take advantage of the many resources on campus. Self-care is key to self-happiness. You need to be okay in order for you to be better. Take time for you. Read a book, colour, write, workout. Do whatever you can that you enjoy to help you relax and live a little. There is an old saying that goes “life begins when you stop taking it so seriously.” So be crazy. Be spontaneous. Make mistakes. No matter what you do though, do it for you and love it. Do not regret a moment of it. Every moment is a learning experience that moulds and shapes us. We may start out as a pathetic lump of clay, but we have the potential to become a beautiful sculpture. It starts with accepting who you are, and putting yourself out there. University is all about learning, and the most important learning and growing you will do is as a person.

In chemistry they taught us that electrons flow from negative to positive. What they did not teach us is that focusing on the positive will give us the spark to succeed. As far as growing as a person, I believe the most important thing you can do is be yourself. You do not need to fit into the box of ideals that society labels us with. Be uniquely you. I know that this is easier said than done. We all have our own stories filled with triumphs and hardships. This being said, I truly believe that shifting your focus to the positives is integral to being happy. Optimism alone has propelled me to grow tremendously throughout my time at Acadia.

Happiness is all about your mindset. Everyone is subject to circumstance, and everyone is subject to their state of mind. Happiness is not easy. It comes through a lot of hard work. You have to be motivated and have the attitude of wanting to be happy every day. Dave Willis once said “choosing to smile even when you’re having a bad day doesn’t make you fake. It means you are choosing to focus on all the reasons you have to be thankful.” Those of you who know me probably have rolled your eyes when you heard me say “every day is a good day.” I accept that this is not realistic, but I do believe that there are good things in every day. If you look around, we are blessed to go to a great school, have decent food (*cough cough* meal hall), and shelter over our heads. As cliché as it sounds, the tiniest things can make the biggest difference. Jane McGonial offers the following advice: “if you experience three positive emotions for every negative emotion… you drastically improve your health and your ability to successfully tackle any problem you’re facing.” So while all this advice may be sappy… I challenge you to get out there and say “every day is a good day.”

Happiness is a journey, not a destination. Similarly, when you find yourself driving on Manitoba roads, you must slow down in order to enjoy the sunset and the crazy adventure that is happiness. If you learn to shake off adversity, you too can appreciate the fact that every day is a good day.

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