Happy When Happy Despite

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On my last birthday I made a massive discovery about myself: I have been postponing happiness for the most part of my life. I was the “happy when” type, the one who needed something to happen as a condition for her happiness.

Over the years, I have deceived my self continuously by promising to be happy when I achieved something or reached a goal;  alas I  could never keep the promise because I had to set another condition.

I will be Happy when I get married.

I will be happy when I get that job in the university.

I will be happy when I get my PhD.

I will be happy when the kids grow.

I will be happy when they graduate and get married.

I will be happy when I move to the new house.

I will be happy when I lose those five kilos.

I will be happy when I get my dream car.

And I was happy for all these things but only briefly because I had to hurry up and set a new goal and forget about the precious things I already have, take them for granted and assume I should have something else to aspire to.

Now that the realization struck me like a tornado, I tried to remember the last time when I was unconditionally happy, when I did not set a target.  To my surprise, I had to go so far back to the time when I was nine or ten! I saw myself playing on the beach with my sister and brother and some ten or twelve cousins. My parents, uncles and aunts were sitting under three overlapping umbrellas talking and laughing and eating as if there were no worries in their world.

I tried to figure out the reasons  why I lost the”  just feel happy for now ability” and decide the exact time I adopted ” a happy when” attitude ? Is it something in my personality?   Is it a cultural heritage which allows us to be happy only when our family’s pre-decided goals for us are achieved?  Is it an outdated educational system which stressed academic success as a condition for happiness and an end in itself? Or is it an inherent sense of guilt that stressed I  did not deserve happiness unless I do such and such and lashed me to do things fast and perfect?  Instead of coming up with a clear cut answer, I made another discovery.  Whenever I caught myself feeling happy for one little thing or another, I always felt guilty for it!.  How can I be happy while a relative is sick? Or when my son is stressed because of a final exam?  Or a friend has  just lost her husband? The things to worry about or fret over are always abundant;  deep down I have that notion that as long as they exist I have no right to be happy.  So happiness itself becomes a crime, another reason to torture myself  for not being supportive or helpful or at least appreciative of other’s feelings.  So instead of seizing the opportunity to grab a moment of happiness, my automatic pilot would drag me down to the real world and my mind would shun the happiness urge and start to do its real business: spotting a problem and trying to solve it, quick. I have always found excuses and sat up dates and deadlines that I never could meet to postpone happiness.

I also found out it is a cultural issue. In my country if you are with friends or family and a fit of laughter strikes for one reason or another, you will always find a sane person who volunteers to remind you that you have no right to be so happy! They will remind you that this very happy situation would definitely turn into a problem or a sad situation and warn you that your laughter might miraculously lead to tears!!   ” Khair Allah homa eg3alo chair”  meaning may God not turn this situation into the opposite.  It is some kind of  supplication we always mention when we catch ourselves lost in laughter or a sudden fit of happiness, as we expect God is likely to punish us for feeling happy.  This, of course, has no religious- related grounds at all since we are always urged , as Moslems, to expect good things and rewards from Allah.

Why cannot we just replace” happy when” with “happy despite” attitudes. To be happy despite the pain, the traffic jams, the loss of a dear one, the failure to get the job. I am not in a position to tell you what to do to be happy. If there is one thing I know by now about happiness then I must tell you it is a  CHOICE .  Happiness is so subjective, relative and brief.  I simply do not  know about you. But I know that I can feel joyful with simple things, as simple as a cup of earl grey or raspberry tea by choosing to drink it mindfully, by a one day trip with my husband, by a bunch of lilies in a vase by my desk, by watching a Disney movie with my kids, or taking my daughter to a shopping mall. Happiness is short and illusive, so go grab one moment and always make the choice to be happy no matter what happens.

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