What Hair Extensions and Ireland Taught Me About Happiness

As we came down for landing in Ireland, I saw that the grass was greener on the other side. 

In a journal used to document my trip I described the hills in Ireland as “a color green I didn’t know existed.” Imagine the nicest lawn you’ve ever seen, then imagine someone turning up the vibrance by 100%. That’s how naturally green the grass was. I’m only being slightly dramatic.

The grass wasn’t the only thing that was vibrant during my trip. 

I was in rare form from the moment I jumped off the plane. 

“I’m so happy I could die,” was something I said countless times. 

When I was bombarding locals in pubs. When I was indulging in endless bread and soup. When I was assessing the eccentric street style. When I was downing one too many Guinnesses. When I was running with sheep through the grassy green hills. I didn’t hold back.

“I’m so happy I could die.”

I would wake up early before anyone in my class. I would make time for myself to go wander around and explore. I would sit at cafes, have tea, and read European magazines. I would stroll convenience stores simply fascinated at how different they were from ours. I’d listen to the accents. I’d watch the cars and bikes. Everything blew my mind. 

“I’m so happy I could die.”

Everywhere I went and everything I did, I felt at home. I mean, how else are you supposed to feel at home if not your best self? I was smiling ear to ear, ripping jokes, talking to strangers, and falling ecstatically in love with everything. There wasn’t a second I took for granted. 

“I’m so happy I could die.”

Then suddenly, during downtime one night, it hit me. I realized I had never felt this type of joy in my life. My heart sank. Reality settled in. What would happen when I went home? Wait, what if I never felt like this again? These questions floated around in my head all night. Suddenly I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to explore. All I wanted was to sleep. I was devastated. It was the first time I admitted to myself something was wrong.

The morning after,  I snapped back to my happy-go-lucky self as my class traveled to the Hills of Tara. The place where my dreams came true in more than one way.  We ran with sheep through evergreen fields. I bought this beautiful vintage keepsake, an Irish book of poetry. I pressed a handpicked daisy in between the pages to be found years later. Then, there was this Wishing Tree. 

From far away, the massive tree looked like it had a ton of pollution stuck in it (like plastic bags or something). As we got closer, I saw the stuff in the branches wasn’t actually trash, but intentional placements. Our guide explained people tie ribbons and sentimental items to the tree to ask for blessings and prayers from the saints. 

Chills, deep down I immediately knew this tree would address my concerns from the night before. But I didn’t bring any ribbon with me (I had no heads up about this part of the trip!). Nor did I have a purse with me (which would normally have a crap load of stuff in it for this opportunity). I didn’t have anything remotely sentimental on hand. 

I’ve been a spiritual person all my life so I just chose to pray silently while we were told about the tree. As people offered up their own belongings, I prayed and pleaded. I prayed for the same wish I made on every birthday for years. I prayed to God, and this tree, and any saint that would listen. I just wanted to be happy. All I wanted was to be happy. And I didn’t even know what that fully meant until this trip. I prayed that I would feel this feeling again. God, it’s all I wanted. 

Although I knew my prayers were heard, I still had this deep regret that I wasn’t leaving anything on the tree. Then, something clicked. I immediately laughed when the thought came to my mind, but I knew I had to do it. I had this feeling I had to do something super fxcking weird.

Nonchalantly I took out a track of my clip-in extensions and secured them to the tree. And yes, it was hilarious. But, I do promise there was more meaning to my actions than to get a good laugh. When I unclipped my extensions, I was letting go of a security blanket. 

For years, I heavily invested in my physical appearance to make up for something that was emotionally lacking. While I was chasing joy in Ireland, my depression couldn’t keep up. My true self was radiating so bright that the shadows couldn’t creep in. That was a souvenir I wanted to bring home, and to make room, I was willing to leave any baggage behind. 

When I unclipped my extensions in the middle of that field in front of a group of people I barely knew, I was making some bold promises to myself. 1. I wasn’t going to go home and buy new extensions (i.e., continue in my old ways, faking it). 2. I was going to stop hiding who I am and learn to be honest with myself 3. I would love myself through the discomfort of it all. 

Something told me if I learned to do those things, being happy would come a lot more natural. It’s been years since, and although it isn’t always easy to maintain, I can finally say my grass has grown a whole lot greener.

Hanging my extensions on the Wishing Tree.
Alongside my keepsake and pressed flower from Hills of Tara.

P.S.1 I haven’t worn extensions since that trip. 

Herding sheep in my happy place.

P.S.2 A few short months after, I finally invested in therapy. 

Smiling ear to ear at Temple Bar in Dublin.

P.S.3 Brett was with me on this trip. Before he knew the backstory, he told me the moment he fell in love with me was when he watched me take out those extensions. I think there’s something very poetic about him falling for me while I was learning to love myself.

P.S. I love you, babe.

P.S.4 Did you really think I’d write about Ireland without a play on P.S. I Love You?

Extensions came out a couple times before they were left on the tree.

Ireland, my happiness is indebted to you.

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