How I Learned to Be Happy

I don’t think I’ve ever been this open and vulnerable on such a public platform, but that’s exactly why I needed to do this. I’ve waited a while to write a personal piece, and I think that’s because I finally realized that what I’ve experienced so far this year isn’t only something that I’ve struggled with.

We all know how it is. Walking into a new school year, feeling like this is your year, but then, everything comes crashing down. Suddenly, nothing is how you expected it would be, and you’re in a land of confusion. It’s that high expectation for a class that somehow lets you down almost immediately, that relationship that quickly fell to pieces, that one grade you’re somehow still not reaching, that one friend you’re so close to losing.

It’s usually about this time of year that we all need a little bit of encouragement.

It’s easy to feel like you’re doing nothing but failing. Maybe you have incredibly high standards for yourself, maybe you’re striving to be the best in your class, the best daughter, sister, girlfriend, best friend you could be. Piling so many titles, labels, and expectations onto one single person is exhausting, not to mention stressful.

I came into my junior year of high school with high expectations. I was going to excel in my two choirs right off the bat, serve at church every weekend, go out with my boyfriend weekly, study with friends afterschool, be the president of two clubs, vice president of another, write for numerous magazine columns, be the top of my class, set the stage as the choir uniforms manager, and somehow manage to stay sane.

By the third week of the new school year, I found myself spiraling. I was getting easily upset, angry, and just downright frustrated with things not going my way. Why wasn’t everything working out just the way I wanted it to? I struggled for a few weeks before finally coming to a crashing point. It was time to make a new decision. I couldn’t struggle through my classes and beg the world to feel pity for me any longer.

When a friend told me that my mindset wasn’t working for me or for anyone around me, I realized that something needed to change.

It was hard to take a close look at myself and what I was doing wrong. It was difficult to scrub myself clean and inspect every tiny element of my life until I found the one thing remaining that just wasn’t going away. It took a lot of bravery to admit it, but my attitude was absolutely awful. I was tearing myself down by myself. It wasn’t due to the mistakes of others, or the “bad vibes” the world was sending my way, it was entirely me.

If you choose a positive attitude, you’ll be able to achieve a positive outcome. It’s as simple as that. I know it’s hard to step back and see it, but for me, I had to realize that my own attitude on life was the problem. It wasn’t that “the world was against me” or that I just wasn’t doing enough, but I was so down on myself and focused on wallowing in my own problems that I didn’t think to look up and accept the help, advice, and love of others. I’m stubborn and don’t like accepting that sometimes, I’m in the wrong. When others started pointing it out to me, I knew that it was time to change.

Once I realized that change is OK, I began to change absolutely everything I could. I realized that if I hit the ground running now, only I could determine my future. If I had a positive outlook on the world and really strived to be who I wanted to be, that’s exactly where I’d be heading.

I decided to shift into a different mindset, a different path of life. I woke up one morning and chose one word that I wanted to define me this year. I wanted to be happy. Simple, right? Definitely not. I only wanted to be happy. As a child, you’re taught that happiness is just a feeling, and that anyone can be happy all the time. As you grow older, you start to realize that being happy is more than just a feeling. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a difficult lifestyle that requires loving yourself and what you contribute into the world, even when it’s hard to find one small thing that you like.

One thing that helped me was ending my day by writing down things that did go well. Once I read through my lists, I realized there was so much more positive than negative happening every day, but since my view of life had been so centered on the negative for so long, that was all I was seeing. I wasn’t seeing the things that I did right, I only saw what I wasn’t accomplishing.

The highs can greatly outweigh the lows if you let them.

With that, I give you my advice. Waking up every morning with a smile and a happy, hopeful goal or wish for the day will take you miles. Give yourself credit where it’s due. Make this year the one you choose to grow, build stronger relationships, and find out who you are. Your mistakes or close-calls don’t define who you are, but your attitude does. How are you presenting yourself to others? Maybe today, you’ll choose to be positive. You’ll choose to be happy.

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Emma Suttell

Emma Suttell, 16, is a high school sophomore from Phoenix, Arizona. She is an executive officer of Veterans Heritage Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to recording, writing, and telling the stories of our nation's veterans. Emma is an avid volunteer in her community, actively involved in children's ministry and teaching children's musical theatre programs. An aspiring journalism major, Emma is a student blogger and writer for several online and local publications and is especially passionate about encouraging fellow high school students throughout America to become leaders of awareness and acceptance in their own communities. In her free time, she enjoys performing with her show choir, playing piano, and blogging.

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