Sometimes joy is found, not in what you receive, but in what you finally let go.
I can pinpoint “the happiest moment of my life” almost to the second. I was on a plane taxiing down a runway en-route to visit my parents in Chicago. The airline attendant began the all too familiar announcement: “Should oxygen be required, a mask will drop down from a compartment above your seat … if you’re traveling with an infant or someone in your care, make sure to secure your own mask first.”
The depth of those words suddenly hit me. Secure your own mask first. Being a mother now, I can hardly imagine the idea of putting myself before my child. Yet, at that moment, I understood this profound truth: You must love yourself and make yourself happy before you can extend that love and happiness to others.
My whole life, I put the happiness of others ahead of my own. I thought that was the path to happiness. I wanted to make my wonderful, courageous parents happy; they emigrated from India to give their kids a chance at a better life. I always felt this better life required me to follow a certain roadmap for success: Do well in school, get a good job, find a suitable boy, get married and live happily ever after. So I followed this roadmap pretty closely, particularly when it came to relationships.
At the ripe age of 23, I met an Indian doctor named Kal. Kal was a really nice guy from a really nice family. We didn’t have that “spark” I’d heard so much about, but he treated me well and everyone else thought we were great together. After a short stint dating, we decided to make it official — our families were over the moon about the marriage announcement.
For a while, I floated on the happiness of those around me.
Unfortunately, this feeling was fleeting. Our marriage was more like a corporate merger than a passionate union. It functioned, but neither of us flourished. At the end of the day, we both deserved more. Everyone deserves more. So little over a year later while sitting on that flight getting ready for take-off, I turned to Kal and said, “I want more for both of us. I want a divorce.”
Wait, I realize all of this sounds horrible. How could this possibly be my happiest moment? Well, when I was in that relationship, I knew exactly what the rest of my life would be like: Passionless, routine and eventually trapped in a pit of complacency. So, yes, my happiest moment came when I rejected that life. I dug deep and mustered the courage to pursue a more authentic life.
The last 15 plus years since have been an amazing journey. It took me some time to heal — not just from the breakup, but from the break in my self-perception. I was a “divorcee.” Not something most people aspire to be while growing up. But it was a stepping stone.
To heal myself, I tried many different therapies (e.g., yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy, and many more.) Amidst this pursuit, I stumbled upon the science of positive psychology. I began reading about research-based interventions to lead a happier, more meaningful life. I practiced gratitude, I savored the good stuff, and I became more curious about the world around me. And this was cathartic. I started to go far beyond surviving into a life where I thrived.
This experience prompted me to leave the corporate world; it was my calling to spread the word to others. Over the last decade or so, I’ve worked with both adults, parents, and children as a life coach; I teach others how they, too, can walk their authentic path and lead a more purposeful life. And I envision spending the rest of my life spreading the word: Please secure your own love and happiness before extending it to others.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: I Found True Happiness Listening To Airplane Safety Instructions.