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On being happy!

Huzaima Bukhari

“The happiest people seem to be those who have no particular cause for being happy except that they are so”— William Inge-American playwright (1913-1973)

No person who lived, is living and who will live on this earth can claim that sorrow or delight never struck him/her. Everybody goes through different sentimental phases which include moments of misery, pleasure and happiness. This is how the life cycle goes on and as human beings we are well accustomed with these ups and downs. Of course, some events in some people’s lives maybe of an extraordinary nature which distinguishes their ordeal or pleasance from that of others but generally speaking, no one is free from emotional upheavals that continue to strike one’s life like the breaking waves along a coast. So, telling others to always appear happy seems an outright difficult proposal especially when they are occupied with their own problems.

In our routine life, there is a lot going on. The need to earn a livelihood, the responsibilities of a family, the urge to excel, the necessity of securing the future, the pressure to compete, the desire to achieve a goal, the restlessness accompanying creativity, the obligation to steer people towards the right path, maintenance of discipline, management of mental or physical ailments, and much much more; leave little room to present a “beaming joyfully” countenance. Or at least that is what the majority members of the human community think. Thus, a bright smiling face among a group of brooders would surely look odd and out of place. Similarly, a sorrowful person amid happy-go-lucky fellows would appear improper. Whatever emotion one is experiencing, is usually reflected in one’s demeanour, commonly referred to as body language.

Nonetheless and despite leading a stressful life, does not certainly imply that one cannot be light-hearted. As mentioned earlier, a trigger is all that is required to fire a bout of joy but to remain in a state of cheerfulness envisages immense courage and effort. Most of the time happiness is considered to be dependent upon our wishes or things that we would like to possess but these are quite momentary because as soon as that wish is fulfilled or the desired object is achieved, that yearning subsides leaving merely memories as remnants. The more lasting form of happiness comes with a content heart and lesser anxiety attacks. An open secret that wise ones tell us is that there is greater joy in giving than in taking. This also means that happiness is ethereal rather than hinged upon material gains.

Telling a sorehead to smile or spread sunshine through friendliness is like addressing a deaf person but the fact is that there are certain characteristics which, if adopted in life can uplift one, from a grumpy state to an amiable personality. These do not require spending money. Rather, the invaluable returns cannot be measured in monetary terms. Take the example of a smile. The cranial (facial) nerve predominantly controls forty three muscles in the face out of which it is believed that it takes only seventeen muscles to smile plus more calories are burned whereas all forty three get involved when a person frowns and fewer calories are lost. Those who are fitness freaks can start off by making a habit of smiling frequently, but the question is who would be most likely to smile often. Only a person who is friendly by nature would have the tendency to smile meaning thereby that the first step towards happiness is being friendly. A warm, glowing face is sufficient to melt the ice of estrangement between two persons. However, this feature in a closed society should be adopted with caution but its importance cannot be undermined on occasions such as weddings, get-togethers, parties and those public places frequented by the same people. These might include schools, colleges, jogging parks, gymnasiums, conferences, seminars etc. Making the other comfortable in one’s company by good humour and wit help to raise spirits, at the same time give a ticklish tinge to the atmosphere.

Those who remain at a distance, showing indifference and lack of interest in others are hardly able to attract friends. Consequently, they are left without support during a distressing time nor do their comportments show signs of happiness. Man is a social animal therefore importance of other human beings cannot be underscored sufficiently. One must bond with others in compassion, kindness and friendship and not end up like Charles Dicken’s Ebenezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol fame.

We tend to generally get dominated by our woes to a great extent and fail to appreciate the good in our lives. In the words of Edmond Mbiakar who said that most of the time we are all blessed, but the problem is that some of us count our blessings while others count their struggles, challenges and obstacles. We all have to pass through our share of hardships which comes in a variety of forms but it does not mean that we contaminate lives of those whom we meet every day. Besides, apart from sympathizing no one can really do anything substantial to alleviate our sufferings which in any case we would have to bear alone. The better policy then would be to share joy instead of resentments and enliven the environment but for this it is necessary to be happy.

The wise have laid down the golden principles of life that contemplate the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness and trial with humility. Problems will always be there but lamenting will not get rid of them hence solutions must be found and that too with pleasantness.

Joseph Addison beautifully depicts the idea in these words: “Mirth is like a flash of lightning that breaks through a gloom of clouds, and glitters for a moment; cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.”

Obviously, what can be done in the brightness of the day would be difficult to handle in the darkness of night.

Many will argue that in the event of passing through sullenness how would it be possible for a person to smile or look cheerful. Well, Aristotle has already answered this many centuries back. He says: “Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.”

Happiness comes from within but spreads around like a wildfire. Expecting an outside force to cheer you up is like living in a fool’s paradise. Worry, stress, anxiety and pensiveness may cause illness but in contrast to these, calmness, serenity, tranquility and cheerfulness might cure a chronic disease. Even yoga teachers emphasise upon smiling while attempting strenuous positions and that is the way they teach one to face difficult situations. A smile returned with a smile has immense healing capacity because this is one thing that is quite unique to human beings, if only they understood.

Be happy and make everyone around you happy too.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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