If you had asked me what happiness meant a decade ago, my answer would have read: it’s finally coming home to good food and a warm bed. You see, I was in a boarding school that availed me only the basic luxuries—as basic as they could get. When I posed the same question to a group of friends, answers differed with each person defining happiness as best he could, given the prevailing circumstances of their lives.
I used to think this was a one-definition-fits-all thing; that you could tell people what should give them lasting happiness, and that the sum of one’s feeling would be their dreams, both short and long-term, fulfilled. I may have been wrong.
It explains why a person living in luxury would consider suicide when they can afford everything they ever wanted. Why a mother would kill her own baby if children are God’s gift to man. Why certain people suffer spousal abuse, if the call to marriage is the highest union that two people can find. Why privileged children run away from home, when there are less privileged that would die to have just a bit of their part. Or why some go into crime even when provided for by the State. The paradox is that people want happiness but do not understand why their desires, now fulfilled, leave them feeling hollow still.
The much I’ve come to know is that our personal and collective definition of happiness changes the longer the sands pass though the hour-glass. It was Heraclitus who said that no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man. If human character was subject to time and experience, one’s perception of happiness is also subject to the same prevailing influence.
It brings some perspective into this ever elusive definition. In fact I am willing to bet that if I threw open the same question, obvious as the answer(s) may seem, it will take some thoughts to offer one that pleases you.
So I asked myself again: what does happiness mean to me?
Over time it has been so many things, but the passage of time has helped to refine my perception. The more sand has escaped from the hour-glass of my life, the clearer I see through it. Whereas happiness used to mean getting as much as I could within the shortest possible interval; now it is knowing that happiness is not in achievement itself, but in the journey between how soon I want it and when I eventually get it.
It’s another season of resolutions. I love resolutions; I love that January can be a marker, a month we set aside to take stock of our yesterdays and make better plans for our tomorrows.
A year ago I decided to take time to know my God better. It could have won the award for the shortest new year resolution list ever, but the effect of that single decision still ripples today. I’ve since learned it’s not how much you intend to achieve in a year that matters, but the quality of that achievement.
Just before the remodeling of our house commenced my dad and I talked about wisdom. The ease with which we make decisions based on current trends, and what’s acceptable today, but years after we are done reveling in the attention, we see the folly of our past choices and spend money and energy to correct the damages.
I sit in my bedroom and stare at the fresh cracks in my ceiling board. There are giant stones on my corridor and the parents have since relocated to another bedroom in the east wing of the house. Our living room is in terrible condition. The aluminum roofing sheets are totally gone and every morning I am jolted out of sleep by the slap of mallet on concrete above my head. There’s no telling when the ceiling boards will finally give way and cave in on me. The entire experience is frustrating. Yet there are nights when I stumble my way through the corridor to the living room, look overhead and have a perfect view of stars twinkling in the night sky. And I think that perhaps the remodeling process isn’t so bad after all.
There are two things this tells me:
One is that a new year resolution does not necessarily mark the close of a chapter or the beginning of a new one. Like a remodelling project, it can be a moment in time when we choose to retrace our steps and reconstruct.
Two, there will be clutters and times within the year when this new project seems like too much of a burden. It helps to remember why we’ve embarked on that journey in the first place and the quality of life we will have when it’s over.
Whether we are on a course to reconstruct yesterday, remodel, or simply taking more giant steps on the path we’ve been all along, I hope that when it seems like chaos is all there is we remember to look above and see the stars.
At the age of sixteen and fresh in the university, I convinced myself that I was in need of a boyfriend. Albeit not for the most conventional reasons, it was a decision influenced by the conditions of the environment I found myself. What came afterwards was something that would change my life and perspective. When the backlash came, my academics suffered, I hurt people, my focus was divided, and I lost a bit of myself. I learned that my actions, ill timed had the power to hurt me and others in numerous ways no matter how inconsequential they seemed at first. Continue reading