Aliya Khan -munir
The Road to Happiness II, Oil on Canvas, 2004, by Leslie Toms
From birth till death, we exist only for the sole purpose of achieving happiness. What is happiness? Fame, wealth, health, acknowledgement, pleasure or a sense of superiority? We seek these and in turn pursue them; sometimes with a single-minded purpose and sometimes with a careless approach, but all of us are driven by the above. We might try to tell ourselves we are doing all the work for helping others or for a better tomorrow. But in reality how many of us can truly say we aim for the stars for the good of others. Everyday we live a selfish existence trying to make ourselves happy.
We have been told by others, especially society, that the world will make us happy. So, from the moment that we become aware, we cease to search within ourselves and seek happiness where we have been told it exists. Like Kahlil Gibran has said, we seek happiness and happiness is ironically seeking us, but matter prevents the joining of man/woman to his/her happiness. We try different approaches to life: some of us choose to be spectators, giving very little of ourselves; always at a safe distance from anything that might bring about unhappiness; others like myself, however, choose to battle against fate for happiness. Happiness is our utopia; we concentrate our whole beings in trying to reach it.
I thought as a child my happiness would come from doing well in school, I learnt that the joy came not from the results but from the journey of seeking, learning and developing. During my twenties I wanted to be like all others and outward appearance was emphasised and I learnt finally, by the end of my twenties, that being comfortable in my own skin and not trying to look like a model was what brought me happiness. I thought happiness would be finding my love, only to realise that love came at great sacrifice and many struggles. At the end of the inner and outer battles, I came to realise that happiness with my love was being able to spend moments talking, laughing and sharing the mundane and boring details of life with my love, my husband. After graduating and working at a hectic pace I thought happiness would be achieved when I got my dream job, only to realise that my pleasure at work came from teaching students. Happiness to me came in the form of the classroom with its colourful boards, sweating students, giggling noises, endless questions and disturbances, the search and exchange of knowledge, not in the board rooms of investment banks with a hefty pay check. My dream of being an investment banker was pushed back, only for me to realise that happiness from work can be from something simpler and something that involved giving, not necessarily working with the number game. I became a mother and thought that my child would give me all the happiness in the world. I realised that my happiness came not from my expectations from her but from the love she shared and gave me so freely. I thought happiness would come in pleasing others, only to realise that happiness came not from expecting from others, nor from expecting rewards for doing the right thing, it came from the skip in my step, the warmth at the pit of my stomach and the urge to spin with joy at doing what my conscience told me to do. Happiness, I thought, would come from saying my prayers, but like Kahlil Gibran has said, it came when I prayed out of love for the Almighty and not for selfish reasons.
When I have asked friends or loved ones what makes them happy most have said, to be at peace, to be left alone and not criticised, to be safe from illness and loss, to not to be judged falsely, to be better treated by their family or society, to have their voices and their opinions heard and most of all to be appreciated. They too have sought happiness and have come to the conclusion that happiness is like a mirage; we are unsure whether it is real or imaginary. As for myself, I like to persevere and continue my search for happiness.
Searching for happiness I come across the obstacles of this world. I ponder about the lives of those who live without ever realising the consequences of their actions; who bring misery to others because they feel they are correct; who misuse power and position; who seek wealth and attain it at any cost; who destroy their loved ones out of selfishness and pride -- at such times, it is difficult not to give up hope and the search for happiness. I long then to break free out of this cage and ascend to another plane; where there is no selfishness, wickedness and injustice. But that is the easy way out.
The hardest thing is like Hamlet says, living in the mortal coil that binds us and having to deal with all the injustice and embarrassment that we have to go through, before we become who we are. When and if we are able to overcome all the humiliation, pain and suffering, then misery becomes a distant ache and we emerge far stronger and much more sure of ourselves. We realise our inner strength and we understand our self-worth; thus we find happiness.
I also sought happiness in nature and realised that it had a mind of its own and the world around me could not and shall not do what I will it to do. It will travel its own course and I must like all others, pay my due and find my happiness within myself, not with the world outside.
Nature is free and yet we rarely find happiness from her, because we are too caught up with our problems to notice her. I sat next to the window for the first time in years, to realise that happiness was staring me in the face. I saw the storm and lightning outside; darkness enfolded the sky; the wind whipped and lashed and the thunder screamed to be noticed. Amidst the turmoil of nature I realised that life is full of these storms, only to bring out the cleansed spirit; to take away the flaws that exist within us. It renews us and enables us to create a better self.
My journey is still a voyage and I have no control of my destination. I tell myself that if I had more control or if I were in charge of its course, I would be happier. Only I begin to realise that perhaps, I will never be happy, for it is not happiness I seek; happiness has always been there, what I seek is contentment, peace and self-respect. I seek contentment in who I am and what I have. Happiness is only an illusion. The true happiness, which can be felt, is there around me, I only have to remove my lenses of practicality and see it. Like Mark Twain has said 'Happiness is a Swedish sunset -- it is there for all, but most of us look the other way and lose it.'
(R) thedailystar.net 2007