Over the past year and a half, I’ve thought a lot about where I can find happiness. The sudden change in worldview was unbidden, but it ‘s made me reconsider my life in a way I hadn’t had to up to now. It’s caused a change in perspective in all facets of my life, for both good and ill. I’ll never again feel the same highs, certainly not in the same way. The world has lost some of its innocence and charm, the gray is a bit more pronounced, and the minute-to-minute joys of a day have all but evaporated. I struggle to reconnect with things I once loved, and results are mixed. Days go by where I feel like my old self, where I can happily write about a show I loved or my favorite games from the past. Conversely, there are days where I have to write to work through my mind. I have to try to give order to the storm, to piece back the ground after the quake.
Today is one of the latter. Writing, above many other things, has granted me clarity. I have found the important parts of the rest of my life, of course. My family will always be the most important part of my life. My focus at work has shifted to a greater passion for teaching, for culture, and for community outreach. But even my love of writing feeds into the core of what can make me happy moving forward. I don’t write in the hopes of it ever paying the bills. I don’t have any guarantee my words will ever be read by more than a handful of people, nor even that those that read them will care for them. However, they’re all written with the same purpose, the purpose that drives any passion I have left in my life. I want to make those around me happy.
It’s hard to reconcile this sometimes. I’ve written plenty of words about pain, about hatred, pouring out my feelings with little regard for how they’re read. In the rest of my life, attempts to be a better father, husband, and friend have not always succeeded, attempts to be valuable at work have sometimes seen me less useful than ever. This week, however, brought something of an epiphany for me. It started with something that should not be that exciting—a career advisory council meeting for high schoolers. If you’re wondering what this has to do with writing, bear with me. I’ll get there.
I was pulled into this meeting from a co-worker. By day, I run the internship program for a programming group in a small college town. I was hired as a software engineer, but my love of teaching led me into this position, and most days are more concerned with how to teach than writing my own code. This co-worker is on an advisory board, and knowing I had interest in reaching out to younger students to grow interest in programming, she invited me along. We spoke about job shadowing prospects, internships, talks for students—all things that I do regularly within my work.
Then something surprising happened. I got excited. This is a rarity for me of late. Most times I tell someone I’m excited, it’s more coping mechanism than genuine emotion. When you’re deep into depression, you do your best to put on a normal face and carry on, regardless of whether or not you feel anything. You keep making jokes. You keep smiling. You try to remember how humans react.
But this wasn’t my standard “brave little soldier” face. I felt my heart beating quicker, my leg started to bounce up and down, and my mind set off racing coming up with ideas. I could actually help these students, and not just in the ways suggested. I could bring engineers into student groups, informally introduce interested parties to the field. We could participate in national initiatives to teach students to code. What got me most excited was the prospect of setting up a code camp for students in the summer. To dedicate time and effort to young minds, to offer expertise and give them ideas I never had at their age would be an amazing experience.
The details, and the outcomes of those ideas, is tangential to the realization at hand. Why did this excite me more than my usual work? Why, in the following days, were deep discussions about work culture and keeping our programmers happy more exciting and engaging than my previous work getting those same people onto project teams and keeping them on interesting work?
Was it the new anti-depressants? Sure, we can give them some of the credit if you want to be a damned killjoy.
I think it was the fact that these problems have a clear goal: to make others happy. Define happy how you wish. Define it as driving people, define it as job satisfaction, define it as a lack of pain or as momentary joy. Either way, that is primarily what I’m solving in these problems. I get to see those in pain, those without direction, ease a little more and begin to smile again. Call it corny, but healing the ills of those around be starts to heal the bigger wounds I’ve been nursing myself.
It carries into my personal life. Making my daughter smile is the best feeling in the world. I will take on any number of frustrating chores to watch my pregnant wife sigh with relief at a chance to get off her feet. My heartiest, most genuine laughs are a response to when I am able to make my friends laugh. It is the one pure, untainted joy I have left.
And I learned it from my brother. His funeral was life-changing. The small funeral home overflowed with those whose lives he touched. People were listening from outside the small chapel, because too many people came forward to fit. He was loved, and it was because he gave of himself. I had decided not to speak for his funeral, but after my parents had said what they needed to, after seeing all these people come together, I went up and told them what I just told you. How amazing it was to see those he had touched. How inspiring it was to know that everyone in that room saw the best in my brother. And I offered a piece of advice: if each person in that room spent one day a month doing what my brother did every day of his life, trying to improve the lives of those around him, the world would be a far better place.
I had forgotten that until recently. I have spent over a year searching for an answer I had from the beginning—my path to happiness is paved with the happiness of those around me.
That is why I write. I don’t care if I’m writing impressions of some silly anime I’ve watched, a report on a good night with some friends, or if I’m just letting myself bleed on my keyboard a bit. I want to make those that read my words happy. Maybe it’s by making you laugh. Maybe it’s by offering you comfort, letting you know that your battles with life are shared. Maybe it’s just by sharing some piece of entertainment I really loved. I want you, whoever you are that is reading this, to be happy.
And writing is one of my best ways to do that. Maybe I’m not a great writer, but I feel pretty good about my prospects. I don’t expect to ever make a living off of it—the fact that I can give my job my all and still make time to work on writing is one of the reasons I love it so much. I don’t even expect to reach that many readers, though I hope I can. I do it in the hopes that, every once in a while, when I manage to scratch out something decent, that someone feels better afterwards. They feel affected, and that their life is ever-so-slightly better for having read it.
I’ve started applying for freelance writing jobs when I can. Not many. I apply for publications I respect, and that I feel I have something to offer to. I apply for positions that allow me to keep my day job, to keep supporting my family while allowing me to feed my soul just a little bit more. I’m going to keep trying until I make it. I don’t really care about the money, and I don’t really care about the recognition. I want to help people, in my small way, and the more people I reach the more chances I get. Right now I’m happily talking to those around me, but I’m looking for my megaphone. I need to keep working, to write better, and to make sure I have something worth saying. But I have direction. I have purpose. More importantly, I’ve found the smallest embers of excitement. I intend to feed them all that I can.