For me, happiness always looked a certain way - it was me, healthy, busy, in a relationship with a good man for me, married or at least engaged, with a successful career, a good income, in my own house, with a great social life, a big group of friends and a few best friends. Fairly standard really, nothing out of the ordinary and it didn't feel like I was asking for too much - I mean that's what most people have, right?
For a long time I've thought that I wouldn't or couldn't be happy until I achieved all of those things - not just a couple; but every single thing on the "happiness list". I even had a mental check-list in my head to cross things off. I wasn't doing very well with it though. Still living at home, a long way from healthy, relationship? Well that would involve me being able to actually meet anyone, plus how could I expect somebody to deal with my health limitations, hardly seemed fair. Friendships - tick; but I'm not able to see them much - especially the ones who live on the other side of the country or even the world.
The only thing I knew I'd found was my passion - you're looking at it - helping people who feel stuck, just like me, and who want more from life.
It was the only thing in my life I was really sure of and it has brought me happiness; but I thought that didn't count because there were so many other areas in my life that I wasn't happy about. Surely the negatives out-weigh the positives and then make it a negative too? The frustration has to overwhelm the joy, right?
Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't; but either way the aching lack of the things I wanted, made happiness seem impossible.
Then a few weeks ago I read a book which was saying that the happiness millionaires experience is no different to the happiness that you or I feel when we're doing something we love. There's only one type of joy and if you feel it, it's real and important. That struck such a chord with me, this sudden realisation that I could be healthy, I could be rich, I could be a million different things; but the moments when I feel the world light up around me, when I'm watching my favourite TV show, I'm eating a piece of cake, preferably chocolate, I'm playing solitaire on the computer (yes I know all these fancy new games and my favourite is still solitaire), when my favourite song comes on the radio or I'm lost in a good book - those moments of happiness are real and true. That joy couldn't get any better, in that moment I couldn't be any happier. It was such a huge realisation for me!
Of course that doesn't change the fact that there are still lots of things in my life I wish I could change; but I realised that I don't have to wait for them to be different for me to acknowledge happiness. I never really understood the saying "Happiness is a journey, not a destination". I mean theoretically I understood it; but I didn't "get" it. Now I do. Now it makes sense.
I'm not happy 100% of the time, I'm not even sure how much of the time I am truly happy; but I am starting to recognise it more and know that it is real and that I want to appreciate it. To be aware so that I can see it when it happens again and it's like I'm becoming more attuned to it, so that I know what happiness feels like for me, it even seems to be happening more, or at least I can "see" it when it does happen.
The vision of what I want my life to be like still exists in my head, it's still the place I desperately want to get to; but until it does happen (if/when) then I'm going to enjoy happiness wherever I find it.
Where do you find happiness? What makes you smile? Are you aware of it when it happens? I'd love to hear your experiences.
Claire Wade is the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition and author of The Choice. She was bed bound for six years with severe ME, trapped in a body that wouldn't do what she wanted. She now writes about women who want to break free from the constraints of their lives, a subject she's deeply familiar with.