Peace Corps and the Pursuit of Happiness

Recently someone asked about my experience with Peace Corps. They said they felt they had been chasing happiness for some time and might give Peace Corps a shot.

I’m at an age where half of my friends are either engaged or married and the other half are really pursuing their career and trying to figure out their next move. Some fall in both categories. And then some of my friends are in the “what the f*ck am I doing” stage, and there’s nothing wrong with that because it’s a common theme in your mid-twenties (and its where I’m at, too). But it’s so interesting, especially as I observe these life stages from halfway around the world. Who isn’t chasing happiness?

So have I found happiness in the Peace Corps? Will you?

No. Probably not.

But I should caveat that with the fact that I see happiness as a very fluid thing. I cannot sum up my last two years as “happiness”. I’ve felt so low and so defeated. I’ve felt on top of the world and accomplished.

So what makes us happy?

For me, I am so grateful I was able to do some soul searching the last two years. I’ve learned more about myself than ever before, and I’ve learned to embrace a lot (not all) of it. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to reflect on my experiences and understand where my priorities lie. In terms of friends, relationships, community, and personal development.

But has it been a positive experience through and though?

Peace Corps is not always positive. I’ve had really low lows where I felt like leaving because I felt like I was alone, or had someone comment negatively on my appearance to the point where it’s sent me spiraling, and at times I’ve experienced more harassment than I felt I could handle in a day. Looking back I will see the experience in a positive light, but it didn’t always feel that way going through the day-to-day.

Did I grow?

Yes. 100% yes. And I feel as though I’m a better person because of it. Maybe you see the same person (or maybe not) but internally I’ve felt a dramatic shift. I understand myself better and I have a new appreciation for the world and the cultures that make it such a unique place. I’ve been pushed out of my comfort one mentally, emotionally and physically, sometimes at will and other times not so much. Even when I didn’t experience happiness, I felt a sense of fulfillment.

The best thing I’ve come to realize is that, when it comes to life, we’re all just winging it and we’re all doing our best. Seriously.

Happiness is defined different for everyone but I’ve learned a bit about what it looks like for me: doing something I’ve never done before, succeeding at something I didn’t think I could do, making a difference in lives of others, connecting with people, and learning about the world around me.

The list will keep growing as I grow older. But for now I ask myself, did I find happiness over the last two years?

Despite the frustration, isolation, anxiety, and every emotion in between, I experienced a lot happiness. My service checked a lot of those boxes at one time or another. But happiness is not a box you check or something you “find”. It’s a lifetime pursuit and as I grow my concept of happiness evolves, too.

I’m still asking myself “what the f*ck are you doing?” But I’m learning and I’m growing and understanding the world more every day. For now, these are the things that make me feel happy and alive.

I encourage anyone who feels like they are constantly chasing happiness to really push yourself out of your comfort zone because that’s when you learn about the most yourself. And you can’t be happy without really understanding yourself, right?

In the end, you can’t know the high highs without experiencing the low lows, so I say just enjoy the ride.

Here’s to the pursuit of happiness.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Evan Richards says:

    Great post Zoe. I’m glad you’ve learned so much about yourself and grown so much!


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