Sunday, May 13, 2007

Follow Your Dreams and Stumble on Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is one of the cornerstones of your existence. Can you imagine a life full of dark clouds hovering over your head without any ray of sunshine? No. I can’t imagine it. The world was created for you to live in and make it better than you found it. During that process if you play your cards well, you may enjoy the process. However, there is no happiness without sadness. Both emotions go hand in hand.

In 1981, I was riding an elevator at the Ealing Hospital in London on one summer afternoon with a group of nurses who started commenting on how beautiful the weather was. They couldn’t get enough of it and were looking forward to the weekend so they could bathe in the sun. I didn’t understand what they were talking about until January, when I appreciated the effect of the bitter cold winter. Having lived most of my life in Ghana where there was no winter, it was a shocking experience. I was not prepared for it in terms of shoes, clothes and how to drive in the snow. The cold cut through my bones. I nearly packed my bag and left for Ghana.

The stark contrast between the summer and winter made me look forward to summer. I started talking about it like the nurses in the elevator. Hence, to appreciate the summer I had to be exposed to its twin, the winter. In Ghana, I never had to worry about winter and hence I took the warm weather for granted.

In the same vein, you cannot appreciate happiness without experiencing its twin, sadness. The only way you enjoy happiness is that it gives you a break from melancholy. Happiness is therefore something that you have to cultivate. It does not depend on the quantity or the quality of your possessions. Neither does it depend on your station in life. It largely depends on what you are passionate about, your state of mind and your attitude towards life. To my mind, to cultivate happiness, these are some of the important principles to follow:

  1. Discipline and change your thoughts. Thoughts can make or break you. Every thought generated in your mind produces chemicals that can influence your mood, motivation, health and many other aspects of your wellbeing. Positive thoughts produce positive attitudes and negative thoughts, vice versa
  2. Find something you are passionate about and do it with all your heart. The fruits of your labor may contribute to your happiness.
  3. Learn to share. Replacing someone’s tears of sadness with tears of happiness will produce the same chemicals in you and make you happy.
  4. Recognize the importance of the divine in your life. This will help you to discern what is important in life.
  5. Have strong social connections. The warmth and empathy received from your friends or family when you are at the lowest point in your life will be like your warm blanket during the winter.
  6. Forgive and move on. If you bear grudges it is like someone has thrown you a hot potato and you have caught it and held on to it, thus burning your hand.
  7. Remember your possessions will not give you happiness, because the more you have the more you crave. The craving for more possessions is a source of conflict and unhappiness and traps you into a deep hole of misery.
  8. You should appreciate the fact that you cannot be happy all the time. Sadness is part of life. Just like you have to work to put food on the table to satisfy your hunger, sadness is there to remind us to go back to who we really are: children without any fixed agenda, without any properties, without any hatred and without any ambitions. In other words happiness is a byproduct of rightful living and its opposite is there to remind us when we stray from our path.
  9. Take time to visit the cemetery and read the beautiful words on the tombstones. You will realize that they all had the same ambitions and aspirations like you. Unfortunately, we are on a one way journey. We cannot fast rewind and come back to do it all over again, because we have only one life to live. Your purpose in this life is to be able to play your part so you can leave this world a little better than you found it. That is all you can do. So in the process, find a way of enjoying it while you are at it.

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