One of the most memorable students I have had the pleasure to meet as an ESL teacher is a Taiwanese girl, whom I’ll call Eliza here (not her real name). She was in her early 30’s then, single, and was in-between jobs. Whenever we had run out of topics to converse about, her go-to is “Happiness.” Indeed, she was a very cheerful person; I surmised she was one of those types who light up the room just by their mere presence. Every class, even in the middle of a slow, lazy afternoon, she would answer my call (back then we still used Skype), with such glee and enthusiasm, that I couldn’t help but be genuinely happy as well. She could really make you feel like you were the most delightful person to talk to ever (which I doubt myself to be).
In one of our classes (it wasn’t really a conventional class where I was the teacher, and she was the student. The thing with these short online English classes, most are just conversational, like chatting with a friend. At times, I feel like there’s a reversal of roles, wherein I am learning a lot from my student.), we concluded the following about her favourite topic, Happiness:
You can be happy right here, right now. (Of course, there are exceptions, such as your country being at war, dealing with heartbreak and death of a loved one, going through a debilitating illness, and other painful human experiences. We don’t undermine these. There’s a time for sorrow; a time for everything, as King Solomon wisely asserted.) Happiness is a choice. The scenario I always like to use is that of a single woman. She might think, “Oh, if only I had a boyfriend, then I would be happy!” And then when she had a boyfriend she would say, “Oh, if only my boyfriend would propose to me and we get married, then I would be happy!” And then when she got married: “Oh if only we had children, then I would be happy!” And when the children were born and became toddlers: “Oh if only my children were older!” And so on and so forth. When would you find the time to be happy then? But you can decide to be happy, in the here and now. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor said, “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.” If you haven’t read his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” yet, I highly recommend it.
Happiness should not be based on external circumstances. We perceive happiness to be dependent on our wealth, status, beauty, material things, going on a vacation, etc. However, these things are transitory. If we lose these things, does it mean we would be unhappy? I agree, though, that they could make us happy for a time or to a certain point. I need money, for sure. According to Albert Ellis, the proponent of REBT (rational emotive behavior therapy), which is considered as the first form of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy, used for treating patients with mental health issues), “it was irrational to suggest that happiness was caused by external circumstances,” and “happiness depends on our interpretations of events” (PsychCentral, 2016). He went as far as saying this in his book “The Road to Tolerance: The Philosophy of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy” (2004):
“I think I can honestly say that I am one of the relatively few people in the United States, and perhaps in the entire world, who has not had a seriously miserable day since I created REBT in 1955. I find it almost impossible to feel intensely depressed, hostile, or upset for more than literally a few minutes at a time. … Whereas I was desperately unhappy for a good part of my childhood and teens, this feeling is virtually unknown to me today. Instead, these days I almost automatically go after self-disturbances and quickly eliminate them. Not squelch, suppress, or repress them — I mean really eliminate. … I derive considerable pleasure, enjoyment, and sometimes sheer bliss out of life. What more can one ask?”
I would go further and declare that true joy comes from God (if you believe in God, and I sure hope you do). To go from the earthly to eternity. But that’s another subject matter for another day. I’ve included some verses at the bottom if you are so inclined.
You can find beauty in the mundane. Life does not have to be a never-ending series of events where you hop from one activity to the next, leaving you out like a light at the end of the day. Nothing grand and spectacular must happen all the time. Life could also be about simple pleasures, the little things, the ones that are often overlooked but can give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, that leaves you with a smile on your face the whole day. We can appreciate even the not-so-grand incidents. I remember when my mother was in and out of the hospital during the pandemic, I valued the routinary, commonplace things that I used to just take for granted before, like having my morning coffee, taking a shower, receiving a call from a friend or my boyfriend, listening to music, talking to my mother during her good days (which were few and far between already by that time. I know I treasure those last moments with my mother, and I miss her terribly), and even running errands (finally, I could get some sun!). Then, when something special does happen (and I’m sure it would eventually find its way to you), it becomes extra special, perhaps even magical. If we had childlike wonder and delight and cherished even the smallest things and the ordinary.
I’ve gone on and on now about happiness; I hope I’m making sense. We can be content and happy despite our circumstances. Don’t wait until life has passed you by. You can make the decision to be happy.
Verses about Joy:
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” — Psalm 16:11 (ESV)
“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” — John 15:11 (NLT)
“As your words came to me I drank them in, and they filled my heart with joy and happiness because I belong to you, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.” — Jeremiah 15:16
“Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!” — Psalm 34:8 (CSB)
“The people the LORD has freed will return and enter Jerusalem with joy. Their happiness will last forever. They will have joy and gladness, and all sadness and sorrow will be gone far away.” Isaiah 51:11 (NCV)
What Makes Us Happy? (2016, May 17). PsychCentral https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-makes-us-happy#5