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How a “Happy Map” Helped Me Move Cities and Change Jobs


How a "Happy Map" Helped Me Move Cities and Change Jobs | Peaceful Dumpling

About a year ago, I was asked, “Where is your happy place?” I figured this was a simple question until I had to answer it (although, if you had asked me this about 10 years ago, I would have told you, hands down, Knoebels Grove, a free amusement park with an attached campground in the middle of the Pocono Mountains.) I sheepishly answered, “Uh…I don’t know? Drinking coffee with my favorite blanket?”

I chose this (rather boring) spot because I remembered a recent surge of happiness I had felt while drinking coffee in my bed, preparing for work or class. Have you ever had those quick bursts of euphoria, where you look around, take a long inhale and realize that you’re, in fact, genuinely happy?

These happy bursts come and go in fleeting moments, and have always appeared (to me) as possibly random or inconsistent. But these are the moments I crave when I’m struggling with my self-esteem or overall happiness. In the midst of a sometimes-rocky transition to a new city and a new job, I began to really ask myself, “Where is my happy place? Where am I happy? And how can I place myself in an environment where I’m usually, if not always, happy?”

I have an analytical mind (which often conflicts with my dedication to relying on emotions); I decided to keep a record of my happiness. When I would have a burst of happiness, I would make a mental or physical note (in my phone or journal) of my surroundings: where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with. More data, less journal; I didn’t want to get too bogged down with details.

An example post:

Happy Map

For those who can’t read my “unique” handwriting — February 3: Chatting w/ yoga teacher about cross stitches//walking to the bus Feb 7: Walking to Unknown Mortal Orchestra show after work. UMO show.

Collecting and analyzing my data showed me a few things that I didn’t expect.

Happiness cannot be forced.

If it could, we’d all spend our mornings whistling down the block, greeting our neighbors Leave-It-To-Beaver style and handing out lollipops to children. (No, just me?) Even in the places where I found the most happiness (the walk to the bus from a yoga class, writing, etc.), my happiness wasn’t consistent and it wasn’t guaranteed. Rather, happiness is something worth working toward. Taking the time out of my day to focus on myself and do what I loved usually resulted in absolute bliss down the line.

Validation and happiness are things you earn for and from yourself, not others.

This was a big one. Basically, happiness comes from within. I read, write, and exercise because I want to better myself. No one is asking me to do any of these things, so my “success” isn’t measured by anyone but myself. These are activities in which I feel the most relaxed and most happy. Relying on the approval of my trainers and peers at my 9-5 job often causes tension and self-doubt, but the passion I have for my weekend job allows me to set goals and push myself because I want to benefit myself and the place I work for.

There are ways to make a living while keeping happiness a main priority.

Or, as my dad has more eloquently said, “Do what you love, and the money will come.” When I moved to Austin, I took a volunteer position in construction: I knew this was what I wanted to do, even if it meant my living stipend would tighten up my budget. Throughout the past few months, I’ve used my extra time to work a weekend retail job, sell crafts, and write. Even though I took up these hobbies and jobs to fill my time with things that I enjoy doing (I promise, guys, my retail job is really fun), they’re helping to fill my wallet beyond my expectations and pay off my student loans. I’m making the transition in a few months to make these activities my full-time job, repeating the cycle that I started when I moved to Austin. Money may be tight for a while, but my happy map has proven that I’ll enjoy an easy transition working on projects that I want to work on.

My life and day-to-day schedule are unconventional. I’m curious to see where your happy maps take you. Can happiness be plotted on the pages of a journal, or does it solely depend on the effort you put into your well-being? Let me know what you find in the comments!

Also by Megan: 10 Quotes for a Moment of Self-Love

How I Backpacked in Europe for Three Months Eating Vegan

How to Get Better when You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

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Photo: Yoori Koo via Unsplash

Megan Okonsky

Megan Okonsky

Megan Okonsky is a writer, tiny house builder, and WWOOFer. After graduating from Temple University in Philadelphia, she backpacked through Europe and moved to the only city that would satisfy her love for live music, Austin, TX. You can read about her travels on her blog, Beat, Broke, Backpacking.
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