On Happiness and Belonging

There’s this song that I’ve been listening to on repeat for about two weeks. The song is just so true (to me and my situation at least) and upbeat and happy and real all at once. It’s a great song to conclude this long and windy semester of self-discovery, difficult decisions, disappointments, triumphs, and finally finding something that even halfway resembles happiness and belonging, which leads me to the point of this whole post: What the heck is happiness and belonging?

According to The Wind and The Wave, Happiness isn’t a place or a desitination, but rather their journey. Their song Happiness is Not a Place reminded me of this. It first resonated with me when I heard the opening line “I don’t want to be here, no, if you don’t wanna be here, no, I don’t wanna run, but I can’t stand still,” on this happy folk Spotify playlist I was listening to. I just really felt that line. I was really over all of my classes in that moment and I wanted to be anywhere but here, but I couldn’t leave at that moment, which is a feeling I’ve come to know over the years. That line made me stop and really listen.

The chorus goes: “And don’t you know happiness is not a place / It’s the road you take / And who you choose to walk it with / And the grass ain’t always greener on the other side / It’s okay / But I wish it was easy like it sounds / Just believe one day / And your walls start coming down / Trust me things are gonna be alright.” This chorus was so encouraging to me; it helped me stay resilient in some tough moments. It became an anthem of mine, really.

It took a few listens for me to really understand what this means to me. One of my main anxieties in these last few years was that I would never become happy. This song reminds me that happiness isn’t a result of where I am or what my circumstances is like. It’s about the choices that I make (“the road you take”) and the people and things that are important to me, who support me “and who you choose to walk it with”)  This song puts happiness into perspective. If I’m not happy now, I can be and I deserve to be: “Just believe one day / And your walls start coming down / Trust me things are gonna be alright.”

I guess the next thing is belonging. Belonging is such a broad term, like happiness, and it means something different to nearly every person you come across. This semester especially, I have been struggling with this idea. I came to terms with the fact that I deserved to belong somewhere and I wanted to belong somewhere, but I didn’t know where or if I would ever achieve such a thing!

To me, it means finding people who like you just the way that you are, people you don’t have to pretend around. Brene Brown in one of her latest books, “Braving The Wilderness: The Quest For True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone“, makes a really important distinction between belonging and true belonging.

Belonging isn’t easy, but it’s easier than true belonging, you find people and you feel at home with them, sometimes changing parts of yourself (whether small or big) to obtain that belonging. True belonging is different, something more, it’s about feeling this way regardless of who you are around. Personally, I like the idea of true belonging better. It’s the idea that you belong anywhere, because you are sure of yourself and happy with who you are, unwilling to change who you are in the process of trying to “find your people.”

A quote that really embodies that idea is one from Maya Angelou: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

True belonging is what I am trying to achieve, the idea of feeling at ease wherever I happen to be. It’s not something that is easy to obtain. It takes a lot of guts and the willingness to be alone sometimes. Throughout my life and especially during this last year, I really tried to conform myself and find that  one perfect place to fit, but that’s not what I was actually meant for. I now find myself able to be content anywhere, whether it be around English ed and creative writing students in Robert Bell, or my journalism buddies in the UML.

I belong in all of those places and I matter too, exactly the way I am: in my jeans, striped t-shirt, and jacket I’ve worn every single day because it’s comfortable, with my stupid laugh and curly hair and love of literature, writing, people, and making a difference in whatever way I find myself able to, whether it be through writing a research paper, poem, essay, short story or news article. That’s probably a run on sentence, but hey, sometimes I speak in run-on sentences and I never claimed to be a grammarian in any way, shape, or form.

Anyways, I think I’m finally getting where I want to be, one step after the other.

Audrey Bowers