Guide to Happiness
By Sergey Grankin
Welcome to Spokane, Washington. Population roughly 200,000. Landmarks: a crooked pointy cage, old clock tower and a river. Most people call this a city with a small town feel. Those who live outside of Washington know Spokane as “the part of Washington that isn’t Seattle”. Alternatively they assume we’re in Idaho. Despite all these appealing benefits, I used to hate it here.
Rewind back to 1997 to a young family of three with a screaming two year on on a red-eye flight across the Atlantic. That two year old was me. I hate to admit it but I was at one point the loud ass baby waking up the entire plane from lavatory to business class. Destination? Spokane, Washington. We were moving from Kyrgyzstan, a country left in ruins of the now fallen Soviet Union, to start anew in the country of opportunity. In that moment I can only imagine what excitement and fear my parents must have felt. I, on the other hand, felt only the desire to make sure my new country heard my voice loud and clear – a personality trait I proudly exhibit till this day. That is what led me to Spokane. And here is what kept me here – me.
I have always had a curiosity about other cities, different states, exotic lands and really anything that wasn’t here. 4-20 year old me always wondered why my parents had chosen to fill a vacancy in Spokane when places like California and Florida existed. It seemed so simple to just pick up and move and yet when we did, it was just a mile away. You can imagine the disappointment of finding out that my new home would still be in this dull town.
Graduating high school I knew the dream – college out of state. In the least college could have been across the state in the gleaming emerald city of Seattle. I tried all I could and even resorted to applying to a school in Bozeman Montana. Alas my desperate attempts to leave were met with a dismal failure and I stayed right where I was, going to school only 20 minutes from home. This is where it really all started.
A failed dream to escape this town catapulted me to move out of my parents and onto my own two completely jobless and inexperienced feet. After about a month of donating plasma twice a week, I realized I needed a real job or else I literally might give an arm and leg to survive. Subway was the only taker. Baseball hat and tiny apron on and I was ready to enter the workforce. Balancing school and work was a lesson I kept learning until the day I graduated, balancing the budget is a lesson I’ll keep learning till I win the jackpot. Even then, yachts were made to be bought. In the mess of it all I had but one more challenge to overcome, coming out to my parents.
Now you may know my story, you may not. I’ll refer you to my past (and potentially future) articles on the matter. They’re somewhere out there in the ether of the internet. Do a google search and I’m sure I’ll be somewhere on results page 27. Found it? Great. Now that you’re all caught up, crying over a tub of ice-cream, we can avoid the tragic tales of coming out as gay to a fanatically religious, overprotective russian family (love you mom). In summary, it was a rough 2-present years.
See it’s not really Spokane as a city that bothered me, it’s what had happened to me here. Sure, Spokane isn’t a top class destination place, nor is it a gleaming diamond of culture, but it’s no Kyrgyzstan. In many ways I was actually lucky to be here instead of the tiny village where I was born. Especially since it’s been listed on the top 10 polluted places due to a Uranium leak in 2005. Spokane has never has a Uranium mine leak, but in my personal life, a full blown atomic bomb had been set off.
To me, a young 20 year old still figuring out my shit, this little place represented all that has gone wrong in my existence. Rough days in high school? Spokane’s fault. Bad car? Spokane. Missed opportunity to study out of state? Spokane’s fault. Shitty jobs in sandwich shops? Still Spokane. Not speaking to family for months because they literally could not handle the truth? Spokane yet again. It seemed this place was cursed. This was where dreams went to die. This is where jobs sucked and the mundane settled in. This is where I was going to grow old, with my parents watching over my shoulder with a cross in hand, praying my current boyfriend away. That was all I could see and I was miserable.
There was a summer where nothing seemed right. I had a job that I only kinda sorta liked but didn’t want. There was a boyfriend who I strung along for the ride to make me feel okay with life. (Full confession, it didn’t work, I felt shittier). Parents who were kinda sorta “cool with me not living at home as long as I didn’t suck another penis or look at dirty internet videos”. I felt more stuck than ever. So like any self respecting adult who need to figure out the deeper issues in life, I quit. In retrospect I would call it more of a functional reboot, but at the time it was truly quitting.
Bye went my barista job. Bye went my income. Bye went the dependant mooch boyfriend. Still the same piece of shit car though. I felt like I was reorganizing my life. It was here, I figured it out. It was easy! I could just pretend to work with my two good friends/collegues on a business idea we had. I could show up late to work everyday, half ass a few things, look like I do work, but really sit there depressingly acknowledge all lack of direction in my life. (Sorry boys, I hope we’re way past that now). Then came the day when all my savings account had was a big cobweb and a spider flipping me off. Panic.
I think the exact amount I had to my name was $0.23. Yup. Net worth, roughly a quarter. Well, liquid value. I began to sell all the things that meant the world to me, my bike, my clothes, my body. It was balls to the wall. I became the merchant of my own grief, selling memories for Benjamins George Washingtons. I was basically a thrift store. Guess whose fault? Oh yeah, Spokane.
After about a month of selling my valuables like an idiot, I got smart enough to find another sad job. This was it. This was the cycle I was going to be stuck in forever. I’m doomed to be hopping from one part time minimum wage job to the other. 40 year old pizza delivery guy, here I come. I was yet again sad. I don’t mean like dropping your ice-cream cone sad. I mean miserably stuck with the painful truth of reality sad.
So I bet you’re ready for the part of the story where things turn around. You’re ready for the happy ending? Well I’ll get to that in a bit. The truth is, it took time and effort. Still does. I don’t know what made me awake from my sleepwalking, but one day I had an epiphany – I could be happy! To me, happiness seemed like a goal. Joy seemed like the end all destination. Once I get there, well I’ll be good to go, nothing can stop me. It was on that pivotal day/time/moment that I learned that happiness isn’t a destination. Happiness is the method by which you travel. That was it! I had to DO happy things to BE happy. I had look for happy things to have happy thoughts. If a happy life is what I wanted, I had to invest in a happy lifestyle. So I started investing.
I quit my job as soon as I found one that could make me happier. I ended the lease in a housing arrangement that just wasn’t working for me and found a place I could be happy with (sure it doubled my rent, but investing in happiness was key). I invested time in traveling and being outdoors, all things that gave me joy. I accidentally wrecked my old shitty car and insurance paid for a new one. Over all life was looking up. Spokane seemed to suck less too. I looked for all the positive I could find, instead of seeing only the negative. Life was doing better, especially on the surface. Those are after all the easier things to change.
Surface changes may seem like empty promises, but for me they’re the things that helped me dig deep and learn to LIVE happy. They’re the little things that added up and let me see that life IS enjoyable if you invest in that. I learned to see everything in a new spectrum – the spectrum of how happy something will make me. Joy, memories, connections, purpose and even passion were finally not just dreams, they were tangible realities, things I strived for. They were constantly on my mind, in the foreground of my focus. Happiness wasn’t just a goal for me anymore, not just a dream, it was the vehicle by which I moved my life forward.
That’s how I learned to appreciate where I’m at with life, whether it’s in Spokane, in Kyrgyzstan (although I sure hope not), or in California, I can learn to live happy in any moment. I may not have control over most aspects of my life, but I will take full reign of how I get to react and perceive life. Oh, and for the record, no I did not actually sell my body. Back then, it wouldn’t have even sold at the dollar store clearance aisle.