When I moved to the Netherlands five years ago I wasn’t exactly the happiest person on earth. I had a hard time adjusting, combining studying with a physically tiring student job, and most of all I was quite lonely.
To make myself feel like I had (sort of) a plan, I used to neurotically compose lists of things in different areas of my life that I needed to change in order to be happy. It was kind of like a bucket list, except that instead of listing things to do before I die, I listed things to do before I can fully live. I never waited for New Year’s Eve. Almost every week I used to scribble those bullet points on a first page of my notebook, in my agenda, or on a glossy page ripped from a textbook.
After five years the lists are still scattered around my desk, in between the pages of my books and written on the palm of my hand. Most of the points have been rephrased over the years but they’re still there, making me stuck in the almost-there phase. I hopelessly flip through the colorful pages of all those self help magazines that promise bliss, energy and light if you manage to lead a spotless lifestyle, but they just make me nauseous instead.
There is nothing wrong with self-improvement and striving for the better. But I’m afraid it’s time to realize that becoming a happy person is not up to checking off a few tick boxes. When you complete your to-do list you won’t go puff!, and turn from a sad little frog into a princess with glowing skin, who’s so ecstatic about her life that she can’t stop singing to a bunch of birds. Contrary to what all the reading materials made out of recycled paper tell you, happiness is not a project