A few years ago, I was living the typical life of a young twenty-something. I went out, I partied, I drank, I dined, I made random friends, I dated random people. I thought I was having fun — and a lot of the times I was enjoying myself — but, at the end of the day, I was just so sad, so hollow.
I figured I wasn’t doing enough. Despite all the effort to be social, perhaps I was still too introverted. I needed to be outside more, make more friends, join more parties, have more exciting relationships — I reasoned.
So I tried to do all those things while feeling more and more frustrated because I couldn’t get the outcome I wanted. Sure, all those things made me happy for a few hours, an evening, maybe even a long weekend but, afterward, without fail, I was left with an empty feeling that made me both anxious and depressed.
To alleviate this anxiety and depression, not knowing any better, I found those parties, those drinks, those meals, those friends, those dates again. They instantly relieved me and, before long, I depended on them to feel okay. And the cycle repeated until the day the toxicity of these temporary solutions became too much and I broke down.
A year later, after a good amount of therapy and forceful abstinence, I finally realised that I got happiness all wrong.
As it turned out, I had no idea how to make myself happy.
By trying to make myself feel good, I wasn’t actually making myself happy.
What I did was outsource my happiness to things outside of myself, many of which I had no control over.
Practically, I turned myself into an addict. I messed up my dopamine system completely. I went into painful withdrawal time and time again without realising it, and it led me to do things I normally wouldn’t do and hold onto people whom I rationally knew I had no business being with.
To the world, I appeared fun and cheerful and full of life but, inside, I was feeling helpless and deeply miserable.
I thought, “What have I done to myself?”
The Happiness Supplies
I called the things I depended on to make myself feel good the “happiness supplies.”
Here are the top 6 “happiness supplies” that I’ve observed from myself and others (in no particular order):
Romance — Using dating apps, going on new dates, getting into new relationships, having sex with someone new, texting someone new, chasing someone superficially exciting, etc.
Substances — Alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, etc.
Extreme hobbies — Any activity that gives you a rush of adrenaline or requires a high level of investment, etc.
Possessions — Fast fashion, designer items, jewelleries, watches, shoes, etc.
Food — Fast food, fine dining, desserts, snacks, etc.
People’s praises and approvals — Compliments, recognitions, awards, promotions, social media likes and follows and comments, etc.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing inherently or absolutely bad about the things on this list.
The trouble occurs when you overuse and depend on them to make yourself feel good. You look outside of yourself to fill up the inside.
So when do these otherwise normal activities become toxic “happiness supplies”?
You do them without a beneficial long-term goal in mind.
Take romance as an example — you use dating apps and go on new dates not because you’re set on finding a healthy relationship but because you want instant gratification and external validation.
They make you feel superficially good for a limited time and then there’s a comedown that drives you to seek them again.
The higher their presence lifts you, the lower their absence pushes you.
You do them to escape yourself and your life.
You want to immerse yourself into whatever it is you do to mute the thoughts in your head. You want to feel like someone else even just for a night.
When you’re not doing them, you feel like something is missing.
You feel anxious, fidgeting, worried.
After the initial thrill, you often feel worse about yourself.
They might make you feel good but not good about yourself. They’re only temporary entertainment but not a long-term investment in yourself or your life. They amount to nothing. Once they’re done, they’re done. There’s nothing there for you to keep.
A Mindset Shift
For a long time, I thought happiness was something I had to do to attain. And I did do a lot of things to try to make myself happy.
In the process, I hooked myself on various “happiness supplies” around me — things that were costly, things that weren’t mine, didn’t want to be mine, or blatantly hurt me.
Eventually, when the pain got too intense and the then-trajectory of my life looked too doomed, I knew it was time to change.
I had to stop choosing the easy options. I had to do differently and the first thing I did was quitting cold turkey. Everything.
Guess what comes next?
Anxiety and anxiety and anxiety. Oh, and also panic attacks.
It was hell. But I persisted.
I didn’t allow myself to find any temporary fixes. I just sat there — either in therapy or alone with myself. I let the negative feelings wash over me. And, after a while, to my amazement, I felt okay again.
It was life-changing to me.
I didn’t need another text, another drink, another friend request, another party invite, another purchase. None. I didn’t need anything other than myself to feel okay and good about myself.
I didn’t need to outsource my happiness to anyone or anything because it was right there with me all along.
Lifestyle Changes and A Positive Outcome
As I shifted my thinking, I also made changes to my routines and habits.
I said goodbye to emotional rollercoasters and gradually introduced stability into my life.
I had a schedule that was more or less the same every week. I hung out with the same groups of people and started building closer relationships with them. I set goals and had long-term plans. I looked inward and sat still often.
At this point, from outside looking in, my life seemed pretty boring. I had no exciting romance, no crazy nights, no blurry weekends.
But, strangely, I found joy and satisfaction in little things that I hadn’t realised could be so fun before. I could laugh myself to tears just while doing mundane things with my friends and family. The time spent with myself went from being daunting to being deeply enjoyable — for example, learning something new, taking a walk, reading a book, or thinking about my future.
Importantly, I grew confident that I could meet my own needs and make myself happy anytime right where I was.
Over time, a foundation was built and, instead of having toxic “happiness supplies”, I now have an unlimited stock of joy inside and around me. My energy level is positively stable, which enables me to focus on what matters to me and prospers me.
Interestingly, the types of things that I find fun have also changed — no more immature pull towards instant gratifications, cheap thrills, or flashy stuff. Instead, I’ve learned to take pleasure from wholesome sources that add on-going value to my life.
If you find yourself on the same journey as mine, I hope that my sharing has given you the necessary insights and motivation to make the right changes for you.
In summary, here are the steps to take:
Determine whether you’re outsourcing your happiness (by checking the signs mentioned above)
If yes, shift your mindset — Happiness isn’t something you do to attain; it’s within you.
Quit everything that you have been depending on to make yourself feel superficially good.
Learn to sit with your negative feelings.
Learn to meet your own needs.
Create healthy routines and habits to support your new mindset.
Be patient and grateful.