The universe has been speaking to me more and more lately.
The more trust I’ve placed within myself, the more the universe guides and provides for me. Some may call it God, but I just know it’s a force greater than all of us.
After wallowing in loneliness and anxiety for a couple of days, all of a sudden, the storm was over.
It happened in an instant.
The sun’s rays broke through the clouds and fed the hungriest corners of my soul, and a sense of peace and immense gratitude replaced the parts of me where uncertainty once resided.
In one spontaneous moment, the universe spoke to me through the innocence of a child and showed me why I was here – and it’s the same reason why we are all here on this Earth.
“Umm, are you talking about the meaning of life? Cause THAT sounds a little cray.”
Weeeeell, I wouldn’t go that far. I don’ t want y’all to think I’ve completely lost my shit. I obviously don’t have all the answers – I’m only beginning to discover my answers. But they could be yours, too.
Let me explain.
I kept letting things get to me the past few days. It all started when I arrived in Cinque Terre a day late due to the Italian train strike. And when I finally arrived and felt how life-changing this place was going to be, I wished I had another day to soak it all in. I felt cheated.
To top it off I was exhausted from country-hopping for the past two months, and the mild discomfort of living in other people’s homes was wearing on me. I felt like I was squandering away this beautiful experience by focusing on the negatives – by focusing on what I didn’t have.
I continued making my way through Cinque Terre’s five villages, and on my final day I visited Monterosso and Corniglia.
Monterosso’s beaches were sunny and gorgeous. I didn’t have a swimsuit but I didn’t think twice to strip down and sunbathe as hang gliders jumped from the cliffs and landed on the beach in front of me.
With my earbuds in and Spotify on, I observed my own personal paradise to the tune of a hip hop soundtrack.
A few tanlines later, I hopped back on the train and traveled further down the coast to Corniglia, a village perched high on the Ligurian cliffsides with no beach access.
I walked around the village and noticed it was still recovering from damage caused by the floods and mudslides of 2011. Many of the structures were still being rebuilt.
Seeing as this village was still under construction, it seemed less picturesque compared to the others.
Selfishly, I wished I had ventured to Vernazza instead, or back to Riomaggiore or Manarola which had captured my heart. Since I only had three full days in Cinque Terre, I felt pressured to make use of every moment. I didn’t want to “waste time”, which in retrospect, is a very American way of thinking.
After walking through Corniglia and snapping some photos, I stopped for dinner. I claimed a table in a rustic little courtyard in front of this dilapidated church covered in scaffolding. I sipped my wine and observed the people around me.
All of a sudden, I hear a familiar song. It’s a song I had heard in several countries during this trip, but it didn’t resonate with me until now.
“It might seem crazy what I’m bout to say…
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break..”
Pharrell’s song “Happy” flooded the courtyard, and a toddler at a nearby table lept out of his mother’s lap to dance!
Soon, the courtyard united in laughter, watching him shake his little diaper butt. I wanted to tell the boy’s family how much their son had made my day, but all I could mutter was “Bambino prezioso.”
They spoke no English, yet an American song transcended language and made us all feel the song’s message: happiness.
Then I started thinking about how I had also heard “Happy” at Placa Nova in Barcelona. A little boy wearing a Messi jersey stopped kicking his soccer ball around to dance, while his father watched and smiled. And in Brighton, England, a cover band sang it at a beachside cafe and people stopped eating to grab their friends by the hand to dance to it.
So what does it all mean?
Well, on my walk back to the Corniglia train station, I played the song on my Spotify app and listened closely to the lyrics, with the gorgeous cliffsides of Corniglia as my backdrop.
I was inspired. I can’t explain why, but it hit me so hard.
Tears started streaming down my face from behind my shades. My pent-up anxiety and loneliness began to fade, because I felt like the song had been following me on this trip, cheering me on for finally living out my “Happy”.
I was doing what I had always been scared to do. To move away from San Francisco and leave family, friends, my career, and put myself in an unknown situation where I could fail, and fail hard. Because I didn’t have a plan, but “winging it” kinda was my plan.
It was then I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be.
What I realized is…
The purpose of life isn’t to struggle and sacrifice and shut out our sense of adventure so that we can be happy someday. Life is happening around us, all the time. And most days, we miss living because we’re too busy merely existing.
… too busy commuting to a job we hate, face-down in our smartphones, surrounded with people who don’t inspire us or reciprocate our efforts, participating in obligatory activities, forcing smiles, faking enthusiasm.
And we become good at it. So good, that even we believe the lies we tell ourselves.
Day after day, doing the same thing…
Usually the safe thing…
Usually the predictable, familiar thing.
All for what?
So we can work our way up at a job to maybe get a raise that we’ll probably end up spending anyway? So we can have people around us to pass the time with so we’re not alone? So we can avoid failure by never trying?
I know this all too well. I spent my 20s working hard at things I thought would give me my Happy:
college, grad school, promotions at work, bought a house, got married…you know, typical stuff. And there’s nothing wrong with these things if you want them for the right reasons.
When I finally left my job I was raking in an enviable salary, even by San Francisco’s standards. But with every promotion, I allowed my lifestyle to become more expensive to compensate for the fact that I was missing something.
I was in a marriage where I felt like a shell of myself. I was his property and he controlled my body and mind. I spent over a decade feeling insecure and numb, living life on autopilot with a rehearsed smile.
From the outside, it looked like I had it all. But that was far from the truth.
The day I decided that starting over was less terrifying than staying on my current path is the day I began reclaiming my life.
I saw this quote just before I booked my flight to London last summer, and it resonates with me to this day:
Live your Happy today, not tomorrow or someday.
To think you can wait is presumptuous, because you may not be given the gift of tomorrow. It’s normal to procrastinate while you work up the courage to make a change, but after a while, the excuses get stale and you’re just using fear as a crutch.
If there’s something you’ve been talking about doing for years, why aren’t you actively working towards doing it? Because trust me, your friends and family are tired of hearing you talk about it already.
So shut up.
Stop talking about what you’re gonna do or what you should do and start doing it. Go chase after your Happy.
Before you go to bed tonight, do something that brings you closer to your Happy. Whether it’s browsing through job postings, taking a photography class, looking into licensing requirements for a new business, or making a long-overdue phone call to tell someone you forgive them.
Whatever it is, take a baby step towards it today.
Start by waking up every morning with gratitude for everything you love about your life, and a tenacious drive to change all that you don’t.
“Happiness is the truth”. And happiness waits for no one. Happiness chases no one. Not even you.