Recent reflections on the age old wisdom of happiness:
We cannot hope to acquire happiness when holding grudges or dwelling on past events:
We are in a unique situation, as human beings, of being profoundly adaptable and having immense mental capacity. When I hold a grudge or obsess over a past event, I'm making a tradeoff.
Let me illustrate this with a recent event in my life. Last winter, I was arrested, my first ever account with the law. The charge was untrue but as a student soon returning to the west coast for spring semester, I physically couldn't fight the charge. For a little over a month, I obsessed over my arrest. It kept me awake at night, making me a zombie during the day. I couldn't focus in class and my grades dropped. I was angry at the bar for not speaking to me before calling the police. I was angry at the police for not asking me what happened. I was angry at myself for not knowing my own rights while this chaos ensued. I was incredibly depressed and continued to recount the events of that two hours over and over again, imagining the millions of things that could have led to a different outcome. In early February I saw the flaw in how I chose to handle my situation. I was obsessing over a two hour ordeal of the past that I could never change, and I was allowing it to change both my present and my future for the worse. I immediately decided to alter my mindset. I refused to sacrifice my personal happiness to this single event. By obsessing, I was not alleviating my situation, I was only punishing myself further. Did it suck that I was arrested? Of course! Was it a complete waste of money? Naturally. Was I going to dwell on these unchangeable events and burn not only my money but also my time? Not anymore. I chose to move forward. I would not allow myself to look back. It wasn't worth it. I had to give up a summer internship in order to complete community service but the community service is already complete and the summer isn't halfway over. The community service was actually rather nice and now I have a summer to enjoy the many rivers, forests, and small towns that my home state has to offer. I have time to enjoy my wonderful family who I rarely see, my friends who are often spread across the states, and my writing.
In stark contrast, is an event that a friend experienced around the same time. He too was arrested and treated arbitrarilty. He was given the same opportunity as I to clear his record, and he too had to pay immense fines with money he lacked and complete community service. Like me, this friend obsessed over his arrest but for much longer. For six months, he's been recounting the events in his mind. I visited him a few weeks back and he was a seething ball of anger. He spoke viciously and endlessly, of the single event that took place months ago. He hasn't worked, he does not sleep. His bitterness about the past is ruining him. He was unshowered, in disarray, and alarmingly angry. Our legal outcomes were comparable, nearly the same, but our mental outcomes could not be more different. In the case of my friend, no one is losing but he. He isn't punishing the courts, he is punishing himself. He made the tradeoff in his mental capacity for bitterness instead of growth, positivity, and creative output and as a result he is suffering with intense unhappiness.
These situations are comparable to every person. We are all faced with adversity, whether we are at fault or not and we make the decision on how to move forward (or remain stagnant). That decision dictates our future and present happiness. In dwelling on the past, we sacrifice our happiness and we stunt our progression. Move forward, don't make that sacrifice, nothing is worth sacrificing our progression and our happiness.