backpacking the Grand Canyon

My Epiphany: How I Completely Changed My View Of Happiness

Welcome back for day 6 of my project, which I’ve now named, “The Happy.Healthy.Whole Project” thanks to your input on yesterday’s post!

Some of you might be wondering why I am doing a happiness project. 

Is it because I’m terribly unhappy with the way my life is now?

No, not at all! The truth is, I am quite a bit happier now than I was when I was younger – despite all the crazy that’s going on in the world right now.

So why take on a project like this?

I’m currently at a crossroads in my life, and it’s time to make some big decisions, and maybe even a change of direction.

Plus, my project isn’t only about seeking happiness, but overall wellbeing. This is why I wanted a new name for my project rather than keeping Gretchen Rubin’s original “Happiness Project” name.

Over the course of this project, I do hope to increase my happiness some – there is always room for improvement. But most of all, I’m looking to do a little soul searching, and find what direction might be best for me going forward.

But, before I can decide where I want to go, let’s take a look at where I’ve been and how I got to where I am now.

My happiness epiphany: how I completely changed my view of happiness.
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My Happiness Journey

All my life, I have struggled with depression. I started seeing my first counselor at the age of 5. 

All throughout my teen years and into early adulthood, I was on and off of all kinds of antidepressant medications, none of which seemed to work very well for me.

I was doing all the things that I was supposed to do; I had no shortage of friends, I did well in school, I played sports all the way through college – but something just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t happy in the way that other people were. 

The doctors told me that depression was a disease, and as is the case with other diseases, they said that something was physically wrong with me, that my brain didn’t produce enough of this or that.

Over the years, I began to believe that it wasn’t physically possible for me to be truly happy – at least not in any long-term way. 

How could I? My brain didn’t work properly. So I watched from the outside as my friends and family enjoyed things in a way I thought I would never be able to.

I went through life just going through the motions. I did what normal people do. I went to college and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in biology in 2011. Then I got a master’s degree in Exercise and Wellness in 2013, and began teaching at a vocational school for people that wanted to be personal trainers. 

I made pretty good money, I liked the people I worked with, I had a decent schedule, and I even won some teaching awards and was on several committees. 

I think most people would have considered me successful, but still, I felt like something was missing.

My Happiness Epiphany

It was while teaching that I joined a professional development book club at work. The first book we read was entitled, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University.

This book wasn’t about happiness at all, in fact, I don’t even think it mentioned happiness. Instead it introduced the theories of the growth and fixed mindsets

The book was mostly directed towards teachers, parents, and coaches. 

The basic premise of the book was that yes, people are born with different amounts of talents, skills, and abilities, but if the person believes that they can develop those traits through effort, then they will seek out opportunities to do so.

For example, it is widely accepted that some people are born with more natural athletic ability than others, thanks to genetics. 

But Dr. Dweck argued the point that just because some people were born with less natural talent, didn’t mean they couldn’t improve through consistent effort and practice. 

And that’s when it hit me.

So I was born with a genetic disadvantage when it comes to happiness… but did that mean that I couldn’t be happy? 

If I applied Dr. Dweck’s idea that traits could be developed… Maybe not. Maybe it just meant that I needed to work a little harder at being happy than other people did.

This realization made me do a full 180° in my ways of thinking, and abandon the thought that I wasn’t physically capable of happiness.

Afterall, happiness wasn’t about feeling good every second of every day. People could have bad days now and again and still feel like they were happy more often than not.

From that moment on, I vowed to put happiness first and foremost in my life. 

Actively Seeking Happiness

After doing some serious introspection about what made me feel genuinely happy, I identified two main factors: one was being active, and the second was being outdoors.

So I set the goal for myself to spend more time doing what made me happy – exercising outdoors. I joined the 52 Hike Challenge and I prioritized my time to put this goal first.

Clarissa hiking in Tucson Arizona.

But, I didn’t have any friends at the time that were into that kind of thing, and for far too long I had let not having anyone to go with, hold me back from doing what I loved.

So I made what was at the time a very big decision for me. I told myself it was okay to do things by myself. It was okay to hike by myself, camp by myself, take road trips by myself, or go kayaking by myself. 

So long as I told someone where I was going and when I planned on being back. Not everyone in my life at the time was happy about that. But I did it anyway.

Turns out I was onto something! A few months into the challenge, I was feeling much happier overall. Although my job still left me feeling unfulfilled, it did provide a schedule which made it easy to get outdoors. Things were looking up!

Clarissa at Havasupai Falls In The Grand Canyon.
Clarissa at Havasupai Falls In The Grand Canyon.

My First Crossroads

In the spring of 2017, things started changing at work – and not for the better. I recognized it as a good time to get out. 

So in May of that year, I packed up my car, and drove from Arizona to Washington State, where I took a huge pay cut to become a Sea Kayak Tour Guide in the San Juan Islands.

It was one of the scariest and most fulfilling things I had ever done.

Clarissa looking happy skydiving.
Clarissa quite literally, taking a leap of faith.

When that seasonal job ended three months later, I bought a one way ticket to Kaua’i. A place over 2,500 miles from home, which I had never visited, and where I didn’t know a single soul. 

My plan was to work as a tour guide in Hawaii for the winter season, and then to return to Washington for the following summer season – but that’s not what happened.

I settled into island life quickly. I joined an outrigger canoe paddling club, made new friends, and had access to tons of new trails to hike and waterways to paddle. I even fell in love! 

I got a job as a tour guide leading waterfall rappel tours, kayaking tour, and hiking tours. And before I knew it, I was promoted to Director of Operations. I couldn’t believe how well things were going!

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, (okay, to be completely honest, there were a lot of rainbows – no unicorns though) but since quitting my teaching job and becoming a tour guide, I became happier than I had ever been before.

Clarissa rappelling waterfalls in Hawai'i.
Clarissa rappelling waterfalls in Hawai’i.

My Second (and Current) Crossroads

And that brings us to the year 2020.

On January 2nd, I hurt my shoulder at work after which I was unable to perform my work duties.

My doctors recommended physical therapy, but after a few months of that, it became clear that my shoulder wasn’t improving. In March I learned that I needed surgery which was then delayed for months when Covid-19 shut everything down. 

I finally got my surgery on June 29th, and if everything goes as planned, I should be cleared for release back to work right around Christmas time. (Can you think of a better gift after being out of work for almost an entire year? I can’t!)

Unfortunately, here in Hawaii where I live, the tourism industry is completely shut down even now as of this writing in early October. 

Everyone at the company where I worked was laid off, maybe permanently, as many tourism businesses here may not survive the pandemic.

So here I am at a second crossroads – now only weeks before my 35th birthday, with the industry I was working in collapsing, and with a shoulder that may never again be what it was.

But instead of being depressed about it as I likely would have been before my happiness epiphany, this seems like an opportunity. 

  • An opportunity to stop and think about where I want to go from here. 
  • An opportunity to develop new skills related to topics I feel passionate about (For example, I started my blog in March!)
  • An opportunity to discover my calling, and find how I can better use my skills to help others.

So, that is the true purpose of my Happy.Healthy.Whole Project.

Thanks for following along! I’ll be blogging about my project every single day until my 35th birthday on October 30th.

Until tomorrow,

~Clarissa

My Happiness Epiphany: How I made the leap and prioritized my happiness.
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Author: clarissa.cabbage

Clarissa is a teacher, a coach, and an avid adventurer! Armed with a master's degree in Exercise and Wellness, she is on a mission to teach people how to build healthier habits that support the adventurous lifestyle of their dreams. There is nothing Clarissa is more passionate about than helping people get active and live their lives to the fullest!

16 Replies to “My Epiphany: How I Completely Changed My View Of Happiness

  1. This is such a great post for everyone to read. Often happiness is viewed as something that you either have or you don’t, it just comes to you or it doesn’t. However, as you’ve shared, that couldn’t be further from the truth! Sure, it comes easier to some people than others BUT anyone can seek out happiness if they are willing to put in the effort. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it! Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your experiences.

    1. Wow, I am amazed by how you’re living life on the edge! I admire you for that. I am going through something similar. In january I woke up and could not walk (scary, I know) after months and so many tests and theories turns out I have fibromyalgia. I had such severe stress that it literally kept my body from doing what it was made to do. I am currently going through a breakthrough in my life. And while that Carrie’s some sadness because a few things have to come to an end, Its brought a different kind of happiness that I cannot explain. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

      1. I can’t even imagine how scary that would be Mz. Tee! I hope that finally getting an answer after all those months gave you a little relief. I know for me, not knowing seems to be the worst thing. As you said, at least in knowing you can start to come to terms with things and decide on a direction from there. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. ❤️

    2. Thank you Britt for taking the time to read it! It’s been a long journey, and one that is far from over I’m sure. But it’s been really empowering for me to be able to find my happiness, and I hope that maybe my story can help others have a similar epiphany. It definitely doesn’t happen over night, but consistent effort can make a big difference! Thanks for following along with my project!

  2. Such an amazing post! I’ve never read an article about happiness and choosing to be actively happy. It’s really not that simply when you sit and think about it. But once you look deep down as you mentioned you will be able to find something (s) that truly brings about happiness. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for reading Rebekah! I am glad I was able to write something that offered a new perspective! I agree that happiness does seem pretty simple on the surface, but when we look a little closer can be a lot more complex than we thought. Thanks for following along with my journey!

  3. Loved reading this Clarissa, thanks for sharing your story with us! And I’m so excited to see which path you do end up taking at these crossroads in your life.

  4. Loved this post, Clarissa! It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there. You’ve dealt with all your life’s cards so bravely, and wow! I am so amazed that you decided to move all the way across the country to follow your soul calling. I am in awe, seriously! Thank you for sharing your journey. And I hope your shoulder heals soon. 🙂

    1. Awwww thanks Shirsha! It definitely is tough to put myself out there, but, I’ve gotten better at it over time. I am hopeful that by putting myself out there, that I can help others as well.

      Thanks for the well wishes on the shoulder! It’s coming along, slowly but surely.thanks for following along!

  5. Amazing story!

    You are a bona fide adventurer who faces challenges head-on. Thanks so much for sharing your story thus far. Keep doing what you’re doing. More opportunities will present themselves, and your life will get better and better. 😀

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