With one foot in front of the other, I walk away from the academic institution where I have spent the last four years of my life. I walk away with an undergraduate degree under my belt and a huge smile on my face. The undergraduate degree is satisfying as it proves my effort and dedication to my studies for the past four years. I feel proud of myself as I think back through my university career and how I made it to this point. I think about the challenges I’ve overcome that helped to develop and shape me into the person I currently am. As I take my final steps on campus, I deserve to feel happy,  accomplished and proud of myself in this moment.

Because it wasn’t an easy journey. At 17, I moved 24 hours away from a small town in Northwestern Ontario to pursue higher education and experience life in the city. At 17, I was naive, young and bright-eyed. At 17, I entered my first class of my undergraduate degree and graduation couldn’t have felt so far away.

At 21, four years have passed in a blink of an eye and through it all, I have survived. I have survived the sleepless nights spent worrying about upcoming assignments and exams. The long days and even longer nights trying to keep up with my school workload, while maintaining a job, good mental health and a semi-social lifestyle. There have been multiple break downs and more stress than I thought I could bear. It may seem hard to understand these challenges, but when your grades dictate your financial situation and, sometimes, your personal assessment of your intelligence – it is a lot of pressure to put on the back of a 17-year-old.

Within the past four years, there have been days where I spent hours binge-watching movies in my comfiest crewneck sweater. The days where I let my mind have a break, and wander away from the stress that University provokes. These days allowed me to feel relaxed, free and happy. This does not make me lazy. I worked hard to make it to where I am now.

But today, these past four years are now a part of my past.

As I move forward, I continue to think about what I want out of life and in the future. The answer to this question has always been happiness. Wherever I may end up in the future, I want to feel genuinely happy. Today, the story of my pursuit of happiness begins.

But the path to happiness is not always straightforward. I know that my near future involves intense job-searching and taking any opportunity that I am offered in order to pay the bills. This could mean getting by on minimum wage. It could mean working every single day in order to get by. I’m not afraid to work hard to stay afloat.

However, I refuse to stop job searching until I am in a position that satisfies my career goals and fuels my passion. This may seem like a lack of job loyalty or a selfish act to you, but to me – it’s prioritizing my personal happiness. A lesson I’ve learned throughout these past four years of challenges and opportunities is that life is too short to be miserable.

For the most part, people don’t realize how short life is until something terrible happens. A loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness. The sudden death of a family member or close friend. After we experience the sorrow of loss, we get this spurt of motivation, that lasts a month or so, to make the most of life. But what if it didn’t take an unfortunate event to inspire people to live their life for happiness?

Imagine if you spent every day working towards improving your life.  My philosophy is that life is about this pursuit of happiness, and this journey to happiness varies for everyone. Each human being has a different idea on what defines their happiness and each definition is perfectly adequate. Maybe it’s spending $5 on your favourite coffee every morning to start the day off with a smile. Happiness could mean spending weekends with your family and friends exploring other cities and staying in AirBnBs. It could mean inviting your family members over for dinner every Sunday. Happiness could mean spending your Saturday night curled up in front of a fireplace with a newly released romantic comedy film and a warm mug of tea.

So take a second and think… What makes you happy?

I don’t want to just survive. I don’t want to spend the next forty years in a job that doesn’t inspire me. I want to feel passionate, motivated and full of energy to take on whatever life decides to throw my way. I want the ability to explore everything life has to offer without feeling guilty. Everyone should feel entitled to pursue their definition of genuine happiness.

So please forgive me if I offend you with the path I take to discover what makes me happy. My journey to happiness will continue until I get where I want to be. Do I know where I’ll end up? No… but that’s all part of the journey.