By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
There is a sense in which we can argue that our stay on earth is about a search for happiness. This means that all we say and do ought to make us happy, fulfilled and satisfied. But as we know, we often say and do things that do not make us happy. In fact, we sometimes do things which make us miserable. For example, a shouting match with one’s boss or beating up one’s spouse or looting public funds or internet fraud or taking another man’s wife could give one temporary satisfaction. In the end there comes a realization that it was not a good step to take, especially when the consequences start hitting back at us. Regrets sometimes come during old age for those who have the grace to live into old age.
People search for happiness through religion, spirituality, accumulation of wealth, the opposite sex, sex, marriage, political power, night clubs, alcohol, drugs, membership of powerful societies or cults, and property acquisition. Most important is the fact that when we are happy most of us do not stop and enjoy the moment of happiness. Until we lose it. Some do not know when they are happy or what they should do when they are happy. There are some who are afraid to show happiness so they ‘don’t attract the enemy’!
Perhaps we should address our minds to some questions: Is happiness a state of mind? Can we choose to be happy even if circumstances are bad or even tragic? Is happiness permanent? Are there phases in our lives where we are happy? Why did the Greeks say ‘count no man happy until he be dead? Can one be truly happy in this world? What is the role of sadness in appreciating happiness in practical terms? Why did Carl Jung say “even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity’?
A happy life is a sum. Not a bit. But we have or experience things that make us happy. To be happy means to feel and show pleasure or contentment. Happiness is a state of being happy. Dale Carnegie says that “it isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you ae doing that makes you happy or unhappy or unhappy. It is what you think about it’. A life of happiness is a journey. Not a destination. Some think that a day will come when they would say ‘yes I am happy; let me live the rest of my days in happiness’. That day may never come. Material things like a new car, a new house, money, give temporary happiness. When we get used to having these material things, we lose the excitement.
Some people deliberately choose to be happy. This is important – choosing happiness over sadness, appreciating the thing we have and the persons around us. The choice of happiness is crucial to being happy where we live, where we work or where we worship. In all the places mentioned above, there are sometimes persons who deliberately do things to keep you unhappy. Gossips. Backstabbing. Misquoting you. Peddling lies about you. Opposing every suggestion which you make just because it has come from you. If you give in to their antics, happiness will never be yours. We learn to live with some of such persons or ignore them completely.
Some people deliberately choose to be happy. This is important – choosing happiness over sadness, appreciating the thing we have and the persons around us. The choice of happiness is crucial to being happy where we live, where we work or where we worship. In all the places mentioned above, there are sometimes persons who deliberately do things to keep you unhappy
There are some who cannot be happy owing to how they are wired. They lack self- confidence. Their body constitution need help. But they do not know. I once counselled a young man who was complaining that his wife laughed too much about everything. I was in shock myself. ‘she laughs like a fool’, he asserted. ‘Do you want her to be sad? ‘No’, he replied. ‘But everything should not elicit laughter’. The young lady defended herself stating that it was her way of coping with the stress of family life. There are some people who want you to remain unhappy because they are not happy. Of such people we must beware. Happiness is something that we should cultivate even in the most trying of circumstances. It helps the heart. It sends a positive message to your spirit and organs and they begin to function better.
Happiness is deep, if true. It radiates into things that we do. There is artificial happiness too. this is the type that is caused by drugs, and some material things. Artificial happiness could lead to suicide or some inexplicable actions. Some appear to be happy but are indeed very sad in their spirit. Such persons need the help of a professional.
There are too many gloomy things happening in the world right now. Too many deaths; near and distant. Too much uncertainty about the future. A friend’s or brother’s or sister’s death is sad. Yet we have a right to be happy, to continue, to exist and show appreciation to the Maker. It will not stop us from dancing and singing in praise of God during prayers. In Christian theology, we are advised to ‘give thanks in all things’! This is sometimes difficult to grasp especially in very terrible circumstances. But the underlying message is that things could have been worse. So, happiness is something to work for, to desire and to treasure. It is not dependent on what we have or what we do not have. It is dependent on what we do with the things that we have and our attitude to the things that we do not have but would like to have. Some find happiness in a quiet life, as described by the philosopher Bertrand Russell when he says that “a happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live”.
-Professor Eghagha who writes from the University of Lagos can be reached via: