The pursuit of happiness
November 7, 2015, Saturday Peter Tan, email@example.com
Happiness is a choice. This I learnt through along tumultuous journey.
When I was a mere child, I was given the impression that life would be complete with good health and great wealth. I was taught to kneel before the altar every morning and evening to pray that my parents would live to a ripe old age and make lots of money.
I was also taught to pray for myself to be studious and pass all my exams with flying colours. With that drummed into me at an impressionable age, I grew up believing if I prayed hard enough, I would do well academically, get into a profession that paid well and the money would come rolling in.
When I became paralysed, I thought it was the end for me. Many nights, when I was alone, my suppressed sobs broke the quietness in the bedroom as I mourned for all the things I could never do again and all the money I could never earn.
It didn’t help that disability was portrayed as a tragedy and disabled people as despondent and helpless. I bought into that and saw my paralysis as an illness and a barrier that prevented me from making something out of my life. As I gradually recovered, I tried to move on but I was perpetually enveloped by a cloud of sadness.
There was always a reason to be miserable. I saw my schoolmates graduating and building their careers one by one, then getting married and having families of their own. I looked at myself and saw no future. What could a man with such crippling impairments as mine ever achieve? The more I thought about it, the more depressed I got.
The discontentment I experienced was as debilitating to the spirit as my impairments were to my independence. I was never satisfied. How could I when I had to depend on other people for the simplest of tasks? Even after I came to terms with the permanence of my condition, I still suffered from moodiness and depression. It was awful. I would do nothing but brooded all day long.
This went on for many years until I seriously got involved in the field of training. I took a step back and took stock of my life. It was then I grasped the extent I have allowed myself to be consumed by episodes of discontentment. It had gone on for such a long time that I didn’t know how else to feel. I was always focusing on what I couldn’t do rather than what I have achieved.
With a steadily deteriorating kidney disease and an uncertain mortality, I asked myself if I wanted to continue to live a life filled with unhappiness or look at the brighter side and celebrate what I have left. Being sad all the time was emotionally draining. It takes the same effort to be sad or happy. And I decided I wanted to be happy.
The food tasted better with this change. Everything I was doing became meaningful. I found contentment in the smallest of things. My dour appearance was replaced by a cheery smile. It felt as if a burden that had been holding me down for years was suddenly lifted off my chest.
I realised no one can make me happy except myself. Likewise, no one can make me feel sad or angry if I don’t allow it. My perspective of a situation determined my frame of mind. When I didn’t succeed in an endeavour, I could either look at it as a failure or as a lesson and an opportunity to be better the next time. Now, I take the latter path. Although I still feel bad for not giving my best, I am consoled by the fact that I will not make the same mistakes again in the future trainings I conduct.
We often hear people say they want to be happy and equate that with getting a new car, a designer handbag or the newest smartphone. In my experience, bought happiness doesn’t last. I have gotten many things to cheer myself up whenever I felt down. When I did that, I discovered I had to continuously feed myself with material things to keep feeling good. It is true that money can’t buy happiness, well, not in the long term anyway.
Happiness doesn’t come from possessing but by letting go. It is not about having all we want but being contented with that we have. It is not a goal to be achieved but has always been there for the taking. We can be happy even in the direst of circumstances. Happiness is a choice we make. All it requires is some practice in changing of the mind-set. It must be a conscious decision. We must want it to get it.
Martha Washington, the wife of the first president of the United States, said it best when she wrote, “I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstances but by our disposition.”
Now that I have made my choice, my chronic health issues and my physical limitations have become less significant and doesn’t trouble me as much as they used to. I wish I had found out about this earlier instead of having to spend half of my life wallowing in sadness and misery. Still, it is never too late. I have chosen happiness and that is how I will live come hell or high water.