I’ve had my share of struggles. I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression since I was 14, witnessed my father battle addiction and watched my mother work two (or three) jobs tirelessly to provide a good life for me.

I dropped out of college my freshman year, only to return a few years later. I was forced to drop out once again due to the debilitating effects of my anxiety and panic disorder. Living with such a condition made it extremely difficult for me to believe that happiness was real, let alone attainable.

Since being diagnosed, I hated the hold anxiety had over my life. In my relentless pursuit of what I thought was happiness, I associated contentment with tangible items. I attached myself to everything — from money and women, to alcohol and nicotine — as a way of convincing myself that I was in control.

Unfortunately this lifestyle was soon followed by more precarious behavior, eventually spiraling into a drug dependence that nearly cost me my life. After battling a two-year addiction to anti-anxiety medication and surviving an accidental Vicodin overdose, I realized that whatever I had been chasing was contributing to my demise.

I didn’t have a road map or a travel guide to lead me to a healthier life. In fact, I was criticized by people I thought were friends, judged by people claiming to care about me, and turned away by many to whom I looked for help. Fortunately, along the way, I unlocked the secret to immeasurable fulfillment — myself.

I realized that my happiness wasn’t determined by the thoughts or opinions of others. Through moments of stillness, daily meditation and my affinity for the practice of yoga, I uncovered 5 important components to happiness, which I still remind myself of daily.

1. I have to accept problems before I can solve them.

The truth is, I still have an anxiety and panic disorder, therefore I still experience episodes of anxiety and panic. That may never change. However, the first step in my recovery and improving my self-image was accepting that I have a disorder.

My disorder does not define who I am, it’s simply a small part of the perplexity that is my life. By accepting my diagnosis, I was no longer fighting to escape my problem, I was now discovering ways to embrace it. I eventually found that I didn’t need to keep taking medication. Today I consider my diagnosis to be one of my greatest blessings, as it ultimately led me to the healthy lifestyle that I now embrace.

2. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn how to do it better next time.

Unfortunately, the word mistake is seen as a negative force in our lives, instead of being seen for what it truly is: an opportunity. Every mistake is an opportunity to provide insight for the present and the future. It’s merely a new way of discovering how to do something in a simple, more efficient manner. Only by doing something wrong, do you truly learn and appreciate how to do something right.

I made the mistake of using drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms to deal with my anxiety disorder. Conversely, it was within those mistakes that I was introduced to my healthiest addiction — juicing. By eventually embracing my mistakes, I acquired a more productive approach to managing my disorder, simply by employing healthier habits and behaviors.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, be afraid not to!

3. Failure is only real when you stop trying.

Not all failures are signs of defeat. By changing our perspective of failure, we learn to accept the lessons from it. Some failures, for example, are necessary in order to keep growing and evolving. For me, giving up drugs was my greatest and most accomplished failure.

I stopped using drugs as a means of escape. I stopped using my disease and disorder as my excuse for why my life remained stagnant. I stopped trying to live a life of medical dependence, in place of healthier practices, and the minute I did, I identified my most pleasurable failure.

4. Sometimes, deciding to walk away can be the greatest decision you’ll ever make.

I’ve walked away from people, habits, opportunities and careers. Knowing when to play your hand or throw in the cards, is often the most difficult practice in the quest for happiness.

The simplest trick I’ve learned in recognizing the difference between giving up and walking away is to take note of how this person (or experience) makes me feel. If our daily interactions are brimming with sadness or dissatisfaction, it may be time to walk away. I look at it as excluding a volatile object from my life, in an attempt to make space for a preferred one.

5. Change what you can and change your view of what you cannot.

You are the only person over whom you have control, therefore it’s not a good use of energy to try to control everything and everyone around you.

You can change your sphere of influence, your neighborhood, your career, your friends, your car, your home, etc. You cannot however, change how these things respond to you. The only thing you can do is shift your view of it and its impact on your life.

For instance, you can’t change the way the people around you treats you, but you can change whether you keep those people around you. You can’t change a negative comment or opinion about you, but you can change how it affects you.

You have the power to uncover your happiness. Use it! Keep in mind, the only way darkness can last forever is if you keep your eyes closed.

Photo courtesy of the author; credit D. Taylor

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