Blink once, and you’ve caught up on sleep. Blink twice, and you’ve finished your second tour. Blink three times, and your nose has been freckled, your bush legs strengthened, and your over-packed Impreza is fuelling up for the 1736km journey, homeward bound. That offers a lot of time for reflection, and this year for me, it was majorly about how to define happiness.
Stressed Out—Twenty One Police
Kenora Vermillion Bay Dryden Ignace
Life in Grey—Point Point
A year ago today, I hugged my ex one last time, and drove my weak, teary-eyed shell back to Ottawa. I struggled for weeks. Meeting new people, feeling alone, forcing myself to stay still and study. It was a really hard year at school. A lot of big changes happened at once.
When I made it to Christmas break, I sighed. I kept my head above water; I can do this, I can make it. Then my brother asked me, “when was the last time you were truly, wholeheartedly happy?” And I gave him a closed-mouth, wide-eyed stare.
And when I made it to summer break, I smiled. I’m successfully treading these waters; I can do this, I made it halfway. At this point, he told me “chase dreams for a few months, just see what happens. The Summer of Ariel.” And that’s just what I did.
Say My Name (ft. Zyra)—ODESZA
Upsala Thunder Bay Nipigon Beardmore
Mama Knows—Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds
But I needed to know, what does it mean to be ‘happy’? Everyone has good days and bad days, happy and sad moments, glorious and frustrating times; how do you know when you’re truly, wholeheartedly happy? What does it feel like? How can I measure it? And so I asked. I asked people who go to school in the winter. I asked people who live on the reserves. I asked people who have debt. Who struggled with drug-abuse. Who have five children with two different mothers, and three step-children. I asked people who partied away all their summer earnings. I asked newlyweds, best friends, and roommates. I asked: “Do you think you’re truly happy, and how do you know? When you wake up in the morning, how do you feel when you’re wholeheartedly happy?” I asked a lot of different people. And the answers were not really what I was expecting.
June, After Dark—Elliot Root
Geraldton Longlac Hearst Kapuskasing
When I asked people who seemed to live a similar life to me, who were students that drove a car to work, who had a supportive family and a place to live, they generally said they would not consider themselves wholeheartedly happy. That maybe no one is truly happy all the time. He said that between work and sleep deprivation, he was miserable. Waking up tired and stressed, with a sore jaw from grinding and a pile of debt. That she knew she could not be wholeheartedly happy because while some important pieces are in place, some are still finding their way, and others are still missing. And even if the missing ones find their way, perhaps, she thought, happiness will not be the definite end result anyways. He’ll wake up, groggy as hell… he’s no morning person. But she wakes up knowing that the stress she has is…well… manageable. He shrugs, assuming he must be happy because he’s been unhappy and it feels different.
Moonbeam Cochrane Iroquois Falls Matheson
High You Are (Branchez Remix) –What So Not
Then I asked people who I presumed to say they were genuinely unhappy. Who had, what I would consider, less than ideal living, financial, and relationship situations. In general, their answers were simple, short, and comprehensive.
I wake up feeling content.
I feel like I want to get out of bed and do something.
I feel well-rested.
I feel like I’m ready to go to work.
I feel… happy!
Despite the cards they were dealt, despite their ability to buy in, they almost all said they were happy. They were all playing the best hand they could, and they were pleased with their efforts. Despite where they lived, or their list of post-work obligations and responsibilities, they all woke up in the morning feeling content. Smiling. Ready to take on the day. It didn’t seem to matter where they lived, or who they had around them, what money or drug problems they were battling, how high above water their heads were… they still said that they generally wake up, feeling good in the morning.
Here I was. In school. In a clean apartment. A part-time job. Overall good health. No major, glaring debts. But a broken heart—and I was so unhappy. Unmotivated. When one piece of my puzzle was misaligned, its effects were tragic. Imagine if I had to no money to my name but kids to support. Imagine if I was fighting an addiction. Imagine I couldn’t trust anyone in my community. Imagine if I was truly on my own, and alone. These are all things that I think would make me unhappy; conditions I would never want to live in, nor can I imagine anyone would. But people, all over this nation, face these challenges and conditions everyday… and they are still smiling. Why is that?
Englehart Temagami Marten River North Bay
Rill Rill—Sleigh Bells
Too often we peer into a community, and gasp. We’re in awe of how people live, and at the stories they share. Too often, we think we need to change this. That we know best, and we can help. That our research, our numbers, our knowledge will so greatly change the quality of life. Implement this, or install that, and overall health will 180o. We will leave the community heroes, having slapped on smiles and straightened postures of all residents. But who are we to walk into a new place, claiming we know best? That we can fix everyone—we have the means. Who are we, when we sit at our desks, with our history and our experiences, being equally as, if not more, unhappy and discontent? Perhaps one’s ability to experience ‘wholehearted happiness’ depends on their method of definition, and therefore, an individual’s overall level of happiness is incomparable to another’s. Maybe all that matters is that we wake up in the morning, and despite the motivating factor, we choose to get out of bed, and move one foot in front of the other. That we choose to listen to each other’s anecdotes, and learn. Hug someone you love, and smile in good company. Feel the wind on your skin. Perhaps the presence of anger, jealousy, sadness, guilt, shame, struggle, or frustration, doesn’t negate your level of happiness, but rather just identifies you as a regular, functioning human-being.
Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix)—Omi
Mattawa Deux-Rivières Rolphton Deep River
Girl On the Radio –Florida Georgia Line
This time, when I made it home, I laughed. I swam through those waters. I made it, and I conquered. I kept my head above water, and I enjoyed the swim. Then my brother smiled at me and said I looked healthy. And for the first time in a long time, I was feeling, how I would describe, truly, wholeheartedly, happy.
Author Ariel Root wrote and took the photography for this series while in Kenora in her fourth season working as a forest fire fighter for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She has a BSc in Food Science & Nutrition from Carleton University in 2012, and is currently a graduate student in the Health Science, Technology and Policy program at Carleton University. She has been featured on APTN’s new hit TV show, Playing with Fire, Season 2.
Thank you Ariel for making us think!
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