“My parents are just negative people,” she told me.
“That’s just the way it’s always been. I can’t escape it. I just think the same thing now.”
Her words fell down like surrender. Like the last breath of an argument that no one wins. And her eyes looked hollowed. I could trace the many, many roads she’d already walked with anxiety wrapping her wrists and ankles like threaded Navy knots.
“Has anyone ever told you that you deserve happiness?”
That was it. One simple question. It came out of nowhere as it pummeled past my lips. And gushed out of me and left me standing there beside her, waiting to be proven wrong.
I wanted her to say yes. I wanted her to look me in the face with wild eyes and say, “DUH! Of course I do.” I wanted to be standing in the middle of a world where that got told to people on a daily basis—no matter what they’d done or where they’d been. I wanted to still naively believe in a world where we told one another the simple things that we deserved.
But she didn’t speak. She just bit her bottom lip. And I tried not to cry because I always cry, and I want to not be the one who cries so much, but I couldn’t help it. I listened to her silence as an apology letter webbed in my soul that started with “Dear World” and ended with “Love, a girl who just always thought you were better than that.”
Turns out, the world is mighty big.
And turns out, most of us leave the house in the morning never thinking we deserve goodness. And turns out, we want to do something big and noble with our lives, but we still live with the idea that we are small and unworthy, playing like a record on repeat in the background of your daily interactions. We focus all day long on our looks and our success and our jobs and our treasures so much that we never stop to look around and see the opportunities to lean into one another. Those are the real, pulsing moments of this lifetime—the chance to lean into one another. Not when there is a tragedy. Not when there is a natural disaster. But always. Always. Always.
And so we focus, focus, focus on all the inner and outer workings of a life until we find ourselves sitting around tables with coffee in between our hands, talking about the days in which we thought we would actually change the world. That’s what we all wanted, right? And now, how many of us have given up?
Suddenly, the mission got too big. Our hands seemed too small. We didn’t know where to start. We figured it couldn’t be done. The news got too crazy. Our lives got too demanding. Life seemed to short. The light got snuffed from our eyes.
Changing the world starts with a single sentence.
Just one: You deserve happiness. You deserve happiness. You deserve happiness. You are worthy of that.
I dare you to say it so much that it wears holes in your pants and fringes your jeans. You deserve happiness. Say it. Everywhere. In every situation. No matter what the cost. And say it, only say it, because you mean it more than anything. Because if you believe that we deserve light spilling in the window and a tomorrow that ain’t so heavy and conversation to water our bones and the chance to be redeemed in the eyes of those we’ve hurt, then you believe in happiness. You believe in joy. My friend, you believe in a happiness that doesn’t get gone in the morning at the first crack of daybreak.
A simple sentence like “you deserve happiness” should be spilling out of us like zombie guts. It should be urgent. It should be shoulder-shaking urgency. We should be saying that on repeat to one another. We should be meaning it more than we mean the road rage and the celebrity gossip. We. Should. Be. Meaning. It. Because we all know how it feels to want to give up on this lifetime or want to go to sleep and never wake up. We’ve all felt the pulling of the threads that unravel, and we’ve all ached to get back to a space of simpler things.
This need for other people to know themselves worthy of love is so much deeper and real than we give it credit for. It’s not a quiet need. It’s not a timid need. It is a real, raging, unsinkable need that we learn to shove out and turn away from because it takes more effort than buying milk at the grocery. It takes more of us than a conversation on a screen. It demands more of our time, and we’re already so crazed in a day that needed three extra hours tacked onto it yesterday.
The real question isn’t: Do you think that you deserve happiness? Not at the core of it. The real question is: Do you think that other people are worth it?
Do you think that other people—whether you know them or not—are worth it? Worth your time. Worth your energy. Worth it when you’re tired. Worth it when you’re the one who feels like falling apart.
This world is a constant dance of standing close to the edge of giving up on one another. Of turning our backs. Of looking away. Of saying, whether verbally or not, “that person is not worth my precious time.” But I don’t want to give up on people, no matter how hard it gets. I don’t want to be the one to say, “that human is too messy for my liking” or “that heart is too mangled.” I don’t want life to suddenly work in a way where we turn inward, and we focus on all of our junk, and we think we need to be “fixed” and “happy” and “whole” before we can make a dent in the life of someone else. That’s a lie. The chance to validate someone, lift someone, be there for someone started yesterday. Is it worth it to look up?
I don’t know if anyone has ever thought to tell you, but you deserve happiness. You deserve to know that life means something. I would cry if you weren’t here. And the world would miss out on the purpose you brought here in your arms. You deserve happiness. You deserve happiness. You deserve happiness. I want to speak that into your bones until you believe it. And you feel it. And you get strong enough to tell someone else that they deserve the very same thing.
You deserve happiness. And you will always be worth it to me.
Hannah Brencher is a writer, speaker, and creator pinning her passion to projects that bring the human touch back into the digital age. After spending a year writing and mailing over 400 love letters to strangers across the world, Hannah launched The World Needs More Love Letters in August 2011—a global organization fueled by volunteer “letter writers,” now in fifty states and forty-seven countries. She’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Oprah, Glamour, the White House Blog, and is currently a global finalist for the TED2013 Global Talent Search (watch the TED Talk). You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.