Wisdom//

What 6 Powerful People Can Teach Us About Finding Happiness on Our Own Terms

Jennifer Aniston, Tracee Ellis Ross, Charlize Theron and more on their unconventional paths to happiness and success.

Kevin Winter / Staff / Getty Images / Steve Granitz / Contributor / Getty Images / Stefanie Keenan / Contributor / Getty Images
Kevin Winter / Staff / Getty Images / Steve Granitz / Contributor / Getty Images / Stefanie Keenan / Contributor / Getty Images

For years, Jennifer Aniston has been shutting down the tabloid storyline that she’s unhappy and unfulfilled, despite her huge success. In a new interview with Elle magazine, the Dumplin’ actress fully shuts down the notion that she needs the conventional trappings of marriage and kids to feel complete. “I don’t feel a void, I really don’t,” she said. “My marriages, they’ve been very successful, in [my] personal opinion. And when they came to an end, it was a choice that was made because we chose to be happy, and sometimes happiness didn’t exist within that arrangement anymore.”

Aniston had some choice words for our cultural expectations of women: “We live in a society that messages women: By this age, you should be married; by this age, you should have children. That’s a fairy tale. That’s the mold we’re slowly trying to break out of.”

It’s maddening that in 2018, Aniston still has to justify her choices and point out that there are different — yet equally rewarding — paths to happiness and success. But we’re glad she did. The iconic Friends actress offered a comforting idea for all of us: “Why do we want a happy ending?” she said. “How about just a happy existence? A happy process? We’re all in process constantly. What quantifies happiness in someone’s life isn’t the ideal that was created in the fifties. It’s not like you hear that narrative about any men.”

Aniston isn’t the only powerful person who has rejected these cultural expectations and found ways to thrive on their own terms. Here’s what five other celebrities can teach us about the value of forging your own path in life.

Ava DuVernay found career success on her own time

The director of Middle of Nowhere (who won the Best Director Prize at the 2012 Sundance film festival, making her the first African-American woman to receive the award), told Refinery29 about her unconventional career path, sharing that she started directing at age 32 and didn’t have a formal film education.  

“For me to pick up a camera as a Black woman who did not go to film school — this is a testament to whatever path you’re on right now is not necessarily the path you have to stay on,” the If you’re on a path that’s not the one that you want to be on, you can also pivot, and you can also move, and age doesn’t make a difference, race, gender. It’s about putting one step in front of another, about forward movement to where you wanna be.”

DuVernay’s story illustrates that no matter where you are in life, you can change paths to pursue your happiness.

Charlize Theron built the family she always envisioned

The actress opened up to Elle earlier this year about adopting two children on her own, saying, “When I first filed [for adoption], my mom showed me a letter I’d written when I was little; I asked if we could go to the orphanage. In South Africa, orphanages were everywhere, and I wanted a brother or sister. I was always aware that there are so many children in this world who don’t have families. Adoption is a very personal thing — I know people whom I love dearly who don’t feel that they could raise another child as their own. I respect that,” she said. “But for me — and I can’t be the only person out there — I never saw a difference in raising an adopted child versus my own biological child. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on something. This was always my first choice, even when I was in a relationship. I was very honest with my partners that I was open to having my own biological kids but that adoption had to be a part of my life. I felt that strongly about it.”

Theron underscores that there’s no one way to start a family that’s more legitimate than another.

Tracee Ellis Ross got real about not being married or having kids

The actress spoke about her life choices during Glamour’s 2017 Women of the Year Summit, saying, “It’s really interesting to be a woman and to get to 45 and not be married and not have kids. Especially when you have just pushed out your fifth kid on TV. You start hearing crazy sh*t like: ‘Oh, you just haven’t found the right guy yet,’ ‘What are you going to DO?”Oh, you poor thing,’ ‘why is someone like you still single,” “have you ever thought of having kids?’ ‘why don’t you just have a kid on your own.’ It’s never ending and not helpful.”

After exploring the idea that she “grew up planning a wedding,” but also had many career aspirations, among other topics, the Black-ish actress later spoke about how writing the words, “My life is mine” in her journal radically changed her perspective. She realized that she hadn’t fully been living life on her own terms.

She spoke about how when she prioritizes herself, those around her consider her “selfish, pushy, aggressive, controlling, relentless” and more  — even if they have good intentions.

But Ross makes her commitment to living for herself crystal clear, saying, “So here I am sorting out what MY LIFE looks like when it’s fully mine. It takes a certain bravery to do that. It means risking being misunderstood, perceived as alone and broken, having no one to focus on, fall into or hide behind, having to be my own support and having to stretch and find family love and connection outside of the traditional places. But, I want to do it. I want to be the Brave Me, the real me, the one whose life is my own.”

The actress has emphasized that her life choices should be celebrated, and that she should continue to take pride in the progress she’s made.

Emily Blunt broke through stereotypes to become an action star

After telling Reuters in 2015 that her empowering role in the 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise “made quite an impact” (because women aren’t always taken as seriously as the men they act with in action movies) the actress spoke about what this means on a larger scale.

“It’s always a good thing to push people’s minds that women can be tough and cool and lethal…I do feel things are changing. Women are proving themselves time and time again to have an amazing tap of what works in cinema,” she told the media outlet.

Amal Clooney has lived her life challenging the status quo

The celebrated international human rights attorney (who married George Clooney and had their twins last year at age 39) showed that she’s not afraid to be a voice for change during a speech at Vanderbilt University’s Senior Day this past May. She told the graduates to “Be courageous. Challenge orthodoxy. Stand up for what you believe in,” she said. “When you are in your rocking chair talking to your grandchildren many years from now, be sure you have a good story to tell.”

“My advice isn’t that you have to be Gandhi or Mandela or Martin Luther King or that you should be a human rights activist or get jobs where the salary decreases at every turn,” Clooney also said, and then reportedly took a moment to quote poet Robert Frost, saying, “There will be moments in your life where two roads diverge in the wood, and when that happens, be courageous.”

Clooney thinks that you shouldn’t be afraid to break the mold — even when others aren’t doing the same.

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