The pursuit of happiness, it is what we are all after, is it not? While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the quest to experience joy and jubilation, we have, as a culture, twisted this into something sinister; happiness is, by its very nature, a fleeting emotion as transient as a break in the clouds on a rainy day in April. Yet we, the Millennials, grew up with this notion – courtesy of our Baby Boom parents and the never-ending deluge of American commercialism fed daily to us through our television sets – that our purpose in life was to achieve a sustained state of happiness. Yet this is a task doomed for failure; indeed, there is an ocean of difference between the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of undying happiness, and while the former is a process the latter is a state, and while the former is achievable the latter is a fool’s errand. It is akin to hoping that if you leap into the air enough times, sooner or later, you will fly. Yet we know that we cannot fight the pull of gravity, just as we cannot fight the pull of our other emotions. Because that is what happiness is: a grain of sand on a beach, a drop of water in a lake, a single breath in our lifetime, and just as it is impossible to hold our breath forever, we cannot hold on to happiness just the same. We can, however, hold on to the pursuit of it, and that is what I want us all to do.
We live in a time, when people struggle to be alone. I certainly did. I cannot count the number of times I found myself alone with my thoughts, with my emotions, with my shame, and my guilt, and my sadness, and the infinite emotional hues of the human condition. I cannot count the number of times, that in those moments of pure existentialism, I panicked; I did so because in those moments, I had to confront the essence of who I was. I had to confront an unenviable truth: I did not like who I was. So many of us, as we grow – from the undetected life force in our mothers’ wombs to the angsty teenagers who act as if they know all there is to know – allow the world and its many opinions to define who we are. We allow our parents to define who we are. We allow that boy in our middle school class to define who we are. We allow the pressures of our immediate surroundings to define who we are. We allow everyone and everything except ourselves to define who the fuck we are. Simultaneously, we find ourselves grasping at a goal that is so impossible that I laugh to myself as I write this sentence. Happiness? Really? This is what we are told we are looking for, and we believe it? It seems so fucking logical that we do not even stop to ask: is this a realistic goal? Take a second. Let that question really sink in.
Yeah, that’s how I feel too. That is how I felt when I left medical school, against all of the pleadings of the world around me: “Don’t leave! What will you do? You would make such an incredible physician. Don’t waste such an amazing opportunity. People would kill to be in your shoes.” These were the words that fell upon me, a hailstorm of opinions and prescriptions, that – in the context of my mother’s death – seemed meaningless. I had lost the one person who, I felt, really understood me. I had lost the person who called me every evening to ask, “How are you doing?” and genuinely mean it. I had lost the person who gave her life so that I could live mine. I had lost the person who held my hand when I was sick. I had lost my mother, and she was everything to me. And I was, decidedly, not fucking happy about it in the slightest. My mom told me, hours before her heart stopped, “I just want you do what makes you happy,” but there I was, in medical school, resisting my gender identity, dragging everyone and everything into the maelstrom of pain and suffering that defined every minute of my day. Even my dreams were not free anymore; they too were riddled with the cries of my damaged soul.
So, I set out to do what my mother said she wanted me to do, and in doing so, I made one decision after another that led me to where I am today. I set out to pursue happiness, not find it, and it was in that journey that I came to realize that what I was seeking, so desperately, was right there in front of me, like a thirsty wanderer in the desert unable to see the oasis before them – and believe me when I say that I was seriously fucking parched. We are all seriously fucking parched. So, please, stop looking for the oasis that never dries up. New flash, they all dry up. Life, however, is filled with one after the next, after the next, after the next, until you die – not from the heat of the Sun or the lack of hydration, but from a full and meaningful life spent searching for that next unseen fountain. It is that love of the journey that will produce moments of happiness. It will produce moments of fear, and doubt, and sadness, and pain, but you cannot escape those, and that well that you are clinging to – whether it is your family, your job, your spouse, or your new fucking car – it too will dry up, and when it does, it will be that way forever. You will die there if you do not do what you have to; you have to pick your thirsty ass up and move. One day at a time, you have to move, and you have to search, and you have not stop, because that too will kill you. And if you die, how can you help those whom you love? If you die, how can you help yourself?
If you are still afraid, then let me help you. Let me be that beacon of hope, for this is my calling in life: to overcome tragedy and identity, and share how I did it; to stand in this desert of life, fearless, guiding lost wanderers to that next oasis, because we all deserve to drink, and it is possible to be happy, but is even more possible to be content. Only after we acknowledge who we are – what drives us, what we want, what we love, what we hate, and loath, and despise, and worship, and desire – that we are able to do so. So, take my hand, and let us walk in this desert, together, in search of our next oasis.