I’ve decided to deviate from writing about writing to discuss one of my favorite topics: HAPPINESS. We are, after all, not just a bunch of monolithic authors, but a group of multifaceted individuals with a passion for writing.
I AM HAPPY. I’m living the American dream: the home, the car, 2.5 kids (well more like 2.7 if you consider the length of gestation). We can forget the dog (no way am I leaving my warm bed before dawn in the dead of winter to walk a dog). That’s what many people describe as a state of happiness isn’t it?
Well, what if I didn’t have these things? What if tomorrow the home, the car, my spouse, my kids were taken from me, would I still be happy? The answer is yes. It will definitely hurt beyond measure (especially the family) but I would still be happy.
I didn’t always have these things. There was a time before the marriage, before the home, before the car and before the kids and I was still happy. I grew up in a developing country with my seven siblings dependent on the sole, sometimes unpredictable salary of a self-employed carpenter. Many of my clothes were inherited from two or more of my four older sisters. I often got teased about wearing ‘70s fashion in the ‘80s. There were no toys at Christmas (or birthdays for that matter) and our primary mode of transportation was our feet. Yet I was happy. I look back with fond memories of my childhood: making toys out of coconut shells, bits of old wood and milk cans, cllimbing trees and playing games with my siblings. It didn’t matter if we had much or little, we were happy.
As a young adult struggling to push myself through college in a foreign country (The USA), and later enduring the stress graduate school, I recall being happy. Getting a million and one rejections while trying to publish my novel, I was happy. Even while lying in a hospital bed with complications from childbirth, I recall being happy, thankful that both me and my premature infant were alive. Why? Happiness is a state of mind.
In “A Marriage of Convenience” when Tamara after being jilted, losing her job and is on the verge of losing her home complains to Kwabena that she had very little to be happy about this last year, his response was, “Happiness should be in spite of, not because of.” It is a mantra that I have adopted for most of my life. I don’t know if I coined that phrase or if I heard it from some wise old soul while still in my youth, but it makes sense to me.
We cannot control the circumstances of life. We can’t always control how others would treat us. We can’t always control our employment, our family life or even our health. The only thing we have total control over, is how we react to the circumstances of our life: our attitude… our outlook on life. We can choose (of course there are exceptions) to be happy, in spite of our current situations.
So when you receive that next rejection letter from a publisher (or literary agent) and I know we’ve all received more than we care to mention, or your books don't sell as well as you anticipated, don’t get discouraged or depressed. When we receive that bad news that we were dreading, or our health takes a turn for the worst, we can mourn for a while but still be happy. Choose to be happy in spite of it. Remember, HAPPINESS is intrinsic and only you can decide if you will be happy.
I often hear folks say, "I'll be happy when...(fill in the blank) I get a new job; a get a car; I graduate college; I get married; my thirty-something year old finally leaves home..." Well that day may never come. But we can choose to be happy today. There is an old saying I love, "Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, that's why we simply call it the present." With that said we need not put off happiness (or joy) for when we have accomplished our goal.
I recall my first trip to San Francisco. I was coming straight from New York City where I was accustomed to homeless panhandlers accosting me, then cursing if I ignored them. In San Francisco I met a homeless panhandler who asked me for money. He was smiling and pleasant, and looked genuinely happy. Being a struggling college student with barely enough to pay the train fare back to Palo Alto, I told him I didn't have money. He smiled and said have a nice day, then complimented me on my appearance. That time I thought he must be the happiest homeless man in San Francisco, until I went around the corner and met another with the same demeanour. These people were happy in spite of their situation. I doubt they were waiting until they found a home to be happy.
So the two points I really want to drive home about happiness: 1) it is a choice; 2) we need not put off being happy. So to quote the words of one of my favorite childhood Sunday school songs: "The time to be happy is now, and the place to be happy is here, and the way to be happy is to make others happy and we'll have a little heaven down here."