The Power to Achieve Happiness

December 3, 2008
By Allison Gruneich, Park City, UT

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” Though the author of this saying is unknown, its meaning is strong and everlasting. It signifies that even the tiniest seedling of an idea can develop into your future. As long as one has the desire to be competent, a wish to succeed, and a dedication to work to achieve their goals, the individual can accomplish great things in their lifetime. You can shape your own life.
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes illustrates the concept of how one can shape their own life. An IQ of 68 just isn’t enough for Keyes’s vivid main character, Charlie Gordon. The reader can’t help but feel compassion for Charlie, whose greatest desire is to be smart. He has a strong drive to succeed, and works to better himself. He attends night school classes, without an incentive, in an effort to improve his reading and writing abilities. An opportunity arises that promises Charlie intelligence beyond his imagination, but he does not realize he is a simply an experiment to increase human knowledge on the topic of artificial intelligence. He makes a controversial decision that will affect his life forever. When the doctors who are conducting the surgery that will supposedly triple Charlie’s intelligence are discussing whether to “use” him in the experiment, one argues in Charlie’s favor: “Look how well he’s learned to read and write for his low mental age. It’s as great an achievement as you or I learning Einstein’s theory of relativity without help. That shows intense motivation.” (Keyes, 207) This insight is crucial in understanding Charlie’s personality. He was passionately driven towards his desire to be smart, which he believed would make himself a happy person. In retrospect, Charlie Gordon was shaping his life one day at a time. He was taking control of the course of his life.
The remarkable concept of determining the course of your life is present in S.E. Hinton’s novella, The Outsiders. Ponyboy Curtis is a “greaser,” part of a social divide between them and the “Socs.” Ponyboy’s friend Johnny kills a Soc named Bob in self-defense, initiating a whirlwind-like chain of events. A memorable moment is when Ponyboy, Johnny, and another greaser, Dally, rescue children from a burning church. Later, Ponyboy is conversing with Bob’s best friend Randy, who feels immense guilt because he doesn’t believe he possesses the courage to jump into a burning building if he were in that situation. Ponyboy comforts him, crashing the divide between Soc and greaser. “Greaser didn’t have anything to do with it. Maybe you would’ve done the same thing, maybe one of your friends wouldn’t have. It’s the individual.” (Hinton, 102) Here he is expressing that a person’s character can influence their life-altering decisions. He thinks that this varies from person to person, no matter your perceived social status. Everyone makes their own decisions individually, thus shaping their life.
The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy is a well-known illustration of discovering identity and making choices that stay with you forever. Elizabeth Swann, the daughter of a wealthy governor has fallen in love with Will Turner, an underprivileged blacksmith with a family history of piracy. In an effort to make things right, Elizabeth leaves Will. When he questions her whereabouts, the notorious pirate Jack Sparrow responds, “She's safe, just like I promised. She's all set to marry Norrington, just like she promised. And you get to die for her, just like you promised. So we're all men of our word really... except for, of course, Elizabeth, who is in fact, a woman.” (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003) Though this quote is meant to be somewhat humorous and ironic, there are subtle undertones of sadness. Elizabeth made the judgment to live up to her family name. Although this is a film and is not a realistic circumstance, imagine if this temporary decision had been set in stone throughout the series of movies. There would have been unhappy characters that were disappointed with their lives. The result would have been poignant. This is further evidence that the decisions we make can influence our lives for the better or worse.
A recent event pertaining to the topic of shaping your life is the United States presidential election. As American citizens, we have the constitutional right to choose our leader. Many make the effort to vote. This, in turn, can sway your near future, depending on the elected candidate’s views and how they handle major issues. It may seem like any person’s one vote wouldn’t make a difference, but envision the consequence if every American had that attitude. There would be minimal votes, and the new president may not be the person most appropriate for the job. Hypothetically, the nation could become corrupt; or anarchy could ensue. Fortunately this circumstance is unrealistic today because enough citizens care about the country’s political affairs. These are the people who are leaders, though mostly lacking a governmental position, who are taking control of America’s future, providing ensured political safety for posterity. The outcome of this presidential election will determine many factors of American life. Making the choice to vote is a decision that may affect all Americans, shaping all of our lives by choosing a leader for our nation.
Not only do I see people shaping themselves in literature, movies, and the news, but it also occurs on a daily basis in my own life, as well as the lives of my peers. Everyday I find myself making decisions, both significant and trivial. Even those seemingly trivial matters can add up to a major aspect of my life. For example, I choose what I eat for lunch everyday. This may seem like a minor decision, and it is, if you are only focusing on that one particular day. But if you think of a series of days as a whole, say a year, what I eat for lunch could affect my overall health. A relevant situation of this type for me personally is that I make the choice to make an effort in school and try to be all that I can be, much like Charlie Gordon. This is a tremendous defining factor in my life. I may have an off day and don’t perform to my top abilities, but as I a whole I try immensely to succeed. Perhaps if I only had bad days though, or simply didn’t try, my academic standard would be much lower. My everyday choice to make an effort adds up. There are also decisions that could define your life single-handedly. You could take an opportunity that would greatly influence the remainder of your life. And I am ready to take an opportunity when such arises, if I believe this choice would be superior for both my present and my future. I am ready to shape my life.
To sum things up, you are in control of your destiny. Many have heard this notion before, not quite understanding the massive power of the words. It is the power to be yourself, be who you are, and work to be all that you can be. It is the power to have personal values, morals, and to think for one’s self. Everyone is capable of this vast power, so long as they wish to attain and live up to a standard they have set for themselves. Just as Charlie Gordon, Elizabeth Swann, the average voter, and myself are making choices that could affect us forever, we all have the strength to shape our own lives.

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