In my early 20’s, I found the work of Sabrina Ward Harrison and subsequently, SARK. Lovely, lovely work from both of them. One of SARK’s books in particular, Eat Mangoes Naked, captivated me. “Eat mangoes naked. Lick the juices from your arms,” I believe it said.

And I thought, “Okay, I’ll feel kind of stupid doing that. But yes! Let’s try it! It sounds like she’s pretty happy.” I wanted that kind of happy. I wanted whimsical. I wanted something divorced from my overly analytic mind. I wanted something that would have me feeling carefree and uninhibited. She had the answer!

I tried it one day. I was naked. I ate some mangoes. I didn’t feel happy or powerful. I just felt…naked. A little more “bulgy” than I’d have liked. And also? Sticky from all of that mango juice.

There was this entire period of my life where, if someone else reported that something they did made them happy, I wanted to do it as well. I listened intently to other people’s meditation plans, fitness plans, eating plans, creativity plans. I carefully plotted out schedules of how I’d orchestrate my days to integrate all of these things that I thought I needed for balanced living. I dreamed of owning a “magic cottage” just like SARK’s.

Many a decent apartment I have turned down simply because something about the place wasn’t visually inspiring enough. And many a “visually inspiring” place I have lived in, only to find that it didn’t really feel like a home. Like the amazing Victorian place with a cupola…that also had a leaking roof. Or the other amazing Victorian place with that green marble fireplace and hardwood floors…with the horrible downstairs neighbors.

The thing is, I needed to find my own path to happy. We all do. It’s great to take cues from others (certainly it was Elizabeth Gilbert who inspired my initial attraction to Italy and studying Italian, and that has panned out well for me). But in the end, I don’t need a magic cottage. And even though I like my body a hell of a lot better in my 30’s than I ever did in my 20’s, I still don’t have any desire to eat mangoes naked.

(And here’s the place where I make a point of saying that I think SARK’s ideas are lovely and I appreciate and honor her for sharing them, especially if it inspires others. I’m not knocking her, or magic cottages, or naked mango eating!)

I think we find the path to happy by trying lots of things and noticing what we gravitate towards, what we love in spite of the sacrifices it demands. I want to keep typing even when my fingers hurt, I love writing that much. I want to stay in Italy for long periods, despite the frustrations of language barriers and expense. I’m more motivated to go to Bikram yoga classes that are 100+ degrees than other styles of yoga. I don’t have those same impulses around other things that I’ve tried in my lifetime, things that I thought would bring me happiness–like starting my own creative business, having art shows, being friends with certain people.

In the end, my happiness looks like a strange hodgepodge of cultures and customs, from the sanskrit tattooed on my body, and the yoga practice, to the learning Italian, to the desire to stay inside all day with a book, to my burgeoning obsession with documentaries and the way I can get on this total foreign policy soapbox, combined with the moments where I’m covertly reading the latest issue of US Weekly in the magazine aisle at Borders, asking myself who the hell Justin Bieber is and if anyone else notices that his part is really, really crooked.

What does your version of happiness look like? And have you ever thought that something was going to be “your thing,” only to surprise yourself with the realization that, in fact, it’s not a fit?

Click to tweet: You don’t need a magic cottage to be happy.