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As I was doing some spring cleaning today, I came across a letter from my ex-wife that she handed me just before boarding the plane on my way back to the States.  In so many words it stated her love for me, included an encouraging paragraph that helped motivate me to build a life for our future family, and was sealed with a promise of an endless future together. I kept this letter folded up in my wallet at all times and when I would feel lonely, burnt out from work, or depressed, I would find a quiet corner and read a few lines. It was a complete high for me, like a shot of adrenaline coursing through my body.  In an instant it would put me back on track, keep me focused, and remind me that I was fighting for something much greater than myself- love, happiness, and family.

Of course, this was all shattered when she met someone else, fell pregnant with his kid, and demanded a divorce.  Since then I’ve been on a personal crash course that has resulted in heavy drinking, lack of motivation, and the eternal search for something or someone that would once again fill that empty hole in my life.  What have I learned?

I’m not happy. I have been blessed with ample money to support myself, have had the liberty of purchasing gadgets and other things for myself, and pretty much go out whenever I like. Yet, it’s no surprise that these little pleasures don’t equate to happiness in my life.  I need to redefine the term “happiness”, realize it’s different for everyone, and figure out how to apply it to my own life.

When I thought back over the past thirty years to the moment when I was most happy, I was reminded of when I first moved to Gainesville, Georgia from Pittsburgh.  I was a trained chef but couldn’t find a job and was quickly running out of money, so I accepted a pizza delivery job with a small family owned pizza shop. The job was sufficient enough, but the people I worked with were great. I was able to pay my bills, but really didn’t have much to spend afterwards.  When I think back, it didn’t matter.  Yes, I had to monitor my spending closely, but the job wasn’t demanding and I had a lot of time for other things in my life.  It was a great work/life balance. It was at this point that I had met my future wife. Neither one of us had any money, but we had blast doing anything we could.  After roughly a year, I landed an executive chef position closer to Atlanta.  The job brought in much larger paychecks, I moved in with my then fiancee, and we were able to live comfortably on my pay alone. However, I was working twelve to sixteen hour days, and we saw each other much less.  I remember her making the comment that we were much happier when we had nothing. She couldn’t have been more right.

Fast forward to the past two years. I had a good job making good money. I worked my way up, increasing my salary and my responsibility, until I found myself once again putting in twelve to sixteen hour days to keep it all afloat.  It only took seven months for this all to unravel.  This proves to me that this work/life balance is one of the most important aspects of my life.  I quit my job and spent the next month unemployed.  It didn’t take long for me to be miserable with boredom, with the added stress now of managing my money closely with unstoppable bills and absolutely no income.  At this point it was also evident that I had pushed so many people out of my life because I didn’t have time for them, I only had time for work.  This was a very lonely process.

That being said, I feel this defines a good foundation for my personal happiness:

1) I need a strong work/life balance.

2) I need enough money to pay bills, but not so much in excess.

3) I need to make a better effort to include my friends and family in my life.

4) Not mentioned in this blog, but I find it very self-gratifying to help others.  This could mean family, friends, those less fortunate, animals, or church.  I should start volunteering somewhere.  An animal no-kill shelter comes to mind first because I am a sucker for animals.

Making a plan:  I have recently landed a job at a bank. I feel this will be a good balance in hours seeing that it’s based off of a forty hour work week. It is also closer in proximity to my family and friends, so it will aid in setting me in the right position to be present in their lives.  Financially I’ll be able to pay my bills, but I won’t have a lot of excess spending cash, so I’ll be forced to live simply- cutting out the complexities will be beneficial.

Happiness is such a tightrope that I’ve only had the opportunity to walk briefly in my life.  Instead of always looking to be bigger, better, and wealthier, maybe I should settle in with the simple things that make me who I am. It’s time to get my ass in gear.  I need to turn from “dreamer” to “do-er”.

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