“How can I have a normal life and be happy?”
That was a question that was posted on Quora.com; this was my response:
The problem with asking for a life that is both “normal” and “happy” is that you tie your happiness to constant comparisons of what you think is “normal.”
First of all, the idea that there is some sort of ideal, concrete “normal” life is a lie. “Normal” just refers to a statistically common feature. When talking about our lives, this commonality is strongly influenced by culture, shared values, economic circumstances, religious beliefs, advertising pressure, geography, family traditions, etc. In addition, what we see as “normal” in people around us may just be a façade. We have no idea what they are actually feeling or experiencing such that the appearance of “normal” may just be a bunch of people faking what they think everyone else thinks they should be doing!
Secondly, any time you make your happiness dependent on something outside yourself — more money, a romantic relationship, being “normal” — you are giving up your power. Television ads and billboards tell us that, if we buy more stuff, we’ll be happy. Songs on the radio tell us that, unless we have that One True Love who is absolutely devoted to us, our lives are miserable.
These, too, are lies.
This isn’t to say that being able to buy what you want or have someone special to share your life with doesn’t feel good. It does! But Life is uncertain. The cold, hard truth is that everything can be taken from us at a moment’s notice. It is up to us to decide to notice the beauty that surrounds us, every day of our lives, regardless of situational circumstances.
Therefore, rather than seek happiness in a “normal” life, may I respectfully suggest you aim to create a fulfilling one?
The way to create a deeply satisfying, fulfilling, and happy life is to listen to your heart. It may be hard, especially if you’re surrounded by people who keep telling you how you should live your life and, even harder, who you should be. Try to find a way to support this nurturing of your connection with your heart: a friend who believes in you, online communities, even books can help feed your soul.
But maybe that’s not exactly what you’re asking. Maybe you feel like you’re already stuck in a “normal” life and you’re miserable but don’t see a way out of your obligations. In that case, I give the same advice: listen to your heart. It probably won’t be easy, and I’m not suggesting that you up and leave (unless that’s really what your heart is telling you to do!) I’m saying consider being open to possibilities. The reason that so many people stay in jobs they hate or relationships with people they don’t want to be with is because they can’t imagine there being an alternative.
There are always alternatives.
Heck, someone made a fortune inventing pool noodles! But it may take time to get used to the idea that you’re not stuck where you are. The first step is to imagine what you might want to do. Do you like art? Writing? Nature? Music? Moving your body? Are you curious about how the world works? Do you like figuring out how things fit together? Do you love being with people? Being alone?
Whatever calls to you, find some way to fit it into your life right now. To quote Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
I highly recommend looking up Viktor Frankl. He was a prisoner in a German concentration camp in WWII who wrote a wonderful book called Man’s Search for Meaning that shows how, regardless of what the world throws at us, we can choose to control our experience of our lives.
In closing, here’s another quote, this one from Albert Camus:
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