"Men's happiness or misery is most part of their own making." John Locke
The most important lesson I've learned in life is that we are responsible for our own happiness. Even when I feel like the world is working against me, I can control how I react to it, and that's often what determines my happiness or misery. It took years for me to learn how to put myself first and not feel guilty about it.
I spent a lot of years as an angry young woman, and I had plenty of justifications for being so. It was exhausting. It was exhausting blaming my bad childhood on my parents' behavior. It was exhausting blaming my violently abusive college boyfriend for my low self-esteem and 80-pound weight gain. It was exhausting blaming my misery with my job on how much I hate small town life. I was all just so damn exhausting.
I could either spend the rest of my life being reactive, being a victim of circumstances that were outside my control, or I could do something about it. I can't change how people are going to feel about me or treat me, but I can change how I react to them. I can change who I allow in my life. I can choose to do what makes me happy, and stay away from what doesn't. I can take care of myself physically and mentally. It takes a lot of selfishness to put your happiness above others', and some people can't fathom being that egotistical. I can feel guilty about being selfish, or I can accept that my own happiness really is the most important goal for my life and act accordingly.
The change from being a victim in your life to being the hero is profound. And contrary to what it sounds like, all this self-centeredness actually benefits others, too. I'm a happier person because I make my happiness my number one priority. When I'm happy, that positive energy directly impacts everyone around me. It's my self-absorbption that allows me to be more empathetic and caring than I used to be, because I know my needs are met, and I'm more willing to share myself with others when I know I will not allow their misery to impact me negatively.
I'm so thankful it only took me 31 years to learn how to be happy. I know my beliefs on this won't necessarily be popular with many people, and I don't care. Because I choose to embrace my self-centeredness head-on, and it wouldn't make me happy to pretend to be a better person than what I really am.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.