The realisation crept up on me recently that my frameworks around what defines a ‘good’ day have changed quite dramatically.

Going through my early teens, I recall that as I lay in bed at the end of the day, the question I would ask myself was ‘was I happy today?’ That was how I framed whether or not it had been a successful day. Of course when you’re a teen, simply attaining happiness is no easy feat – your hormones are going crazy and of course, no one understands you…especially not your parents. It’s not like they were ever teenagers.

As I matured and progressed through my mid-teens towards adolescence, this schema changed once again. I learned that one of the most fundamental forces behind my feeling good was the richness and variety of experience. It wasn’t just happiness I was after, but the whole spectrum of different emotions. Whether or not I attained that variety of emotion was determined by novelty and depth of experiences – new places, people, conversations, learnings, challenges, activities. I wouldn’t say that happiness and richness of experience were necessarily distinct, there was a great deal of overlap, but the scales certainly began to weigh more heavily on the latter.

My framing was completely shaken up when I went through depression at 18/19. The questions I asked myself were things like ‘was today better than yesterday?’ or ‘am I getting closer to feeling ok again?’ and at its lowest points, ‘was there one good thing about today?’ or ‘did I feel something positive today?’ It took some time – years – before I started asking myself again whether it had richness of experience.

But I remember that around 17/18 I began to notice another motive creeping in, one that grew stronger and stronger over time. The question was ‘have I helped someone today?’ or ‘have I had done some good today?’ I recall that I spent more time wanting to listen to how people were, understand them and try to support them. And then after – and even during – my experience of depression as I tried to make sense of it, tried to see something positive out of what felt really shit at the time, this motive gathered momentum. It told me that if I used my painful experiences in some kind of positive way, then that would help me feel better again. And it did. Enormously so.

As more and more of time went to volunteering, and particularly volunteering based around youth mental health, this motive of ‘doing good’ shaped up as the main driving force in my life. Richness of experience, happiness were still there, but this started to weigh heavier than either of them.

Now unquestionably this is how I define my days. It’s not about whether I’ve had a ‘good time’, but by ‘what good I’ve done’. And it’s all inexorably linked, the more of a positive impact I feel I’m having, the greater emotional richness I get to experience and I guess, the more happiness I feel. It’s a neat cycle.

But it’s only since I arrived in Sydney, and looked at the almost completely blank slate of my new life in front of me, that the considerable impact of this drive to do good became obvious. Some of the more ‘fun’ activities I used to take part in – drinking, watching films, playing sport, travel – no longer appealed to me anywhere near as strongly as they used to. This core drive is so fundamental to who we are and how we spend our time, that it shapes every little activity and decision we make, even when we don’t realise it. I find myself now more drawn to networking, learning, personal development and trying to further the good I do. Indeed, I understand very well that in order to help others, we have to first look after ourselves. So I even look at the time invested in taking care of myself as again something that facilitates my having a positive impact in the world. It’s a gradual shift, but the effect is enormous.

And even now as I appreciate the value of long-term thinking more and more, I notice the question shifting from not just ‘what good have I done today?’ but also including ‘has today enabled me to do more good in the future?’ I have little idea how it’s going to develop next, and I’m actually pretty excited by that.

What drives you?

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