Not happy? What’s the point?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch activistYou might think having that having lots of money might be enough to make anyone happy — or at least be a good start. Think what your life would be like it you hit the lottery jackpot. You wouldn’t be alone in assuming you’d cashed in a ticket to earthly bliss.

 
But when researchers checked it out, they found that lottery winners are no happier five years after getting the huge sums of money than they were before.
 
They found something else: How successful you are, and how satisfied you are with your life, may depend to some degree on your ability to be happy.
 
Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh working with researchers at the Queensland Institute found that happiness is determined by a mix of personality traits. They say people who worry less and are sociable react better to adversity and generally fare better in life. They also found that there are certain genetic mixes that lead to this personality type.
They concluded that while half of happiness came from inherited traits, the other half still came down to external factors such as relationships, health, and careers.
I find the subject fascinating, as the older I get the more I am convinced that unhappiness is the root cause of many of our problems.
 
I have always been a fairly happy person, in spite a streak of melancholy. I am able to “snap out of my dark moods.” I think that life is fabulous and that the next marvelous thing is right around the corner. Like most people, I have had setbacks in and disappointments in my life, but all-in-all I have had a marvelous time. I would much rather focus on that. 
 
As I was writing this, I stopped to chat with a friend who is almost 80. She has brought up a family on her own. Her ex-husband was a stinker about money, so she had to work very hard most of her life. She put herself through university. She worked as a journalist. She supported herself and her children. She had to work into her 70s. The thing I find amazing is that she never feels sorry for herself. She is remarkable. Even today she is ready for new adventures. She confided that she gets depressed when she is alone too much, so she goes out and finds something new to do.
 
Another friend of mine, who I also love and admire, lost her entire immediate family during the Nazi occupation of Poland. She survived, a very young girl living alone disguised among the Nazis. She finally walked – literally – out of Poland. Granted, she escaped the camps, unlike her closest relatives. But lose them, to live in such fear, is unimaginable.
 
She has been happily married for many years. She has a lovely and accomplished family. She obtained her Ph.D. and taught literature. She is one of the most generous, creative people I know.
 
Then there’s Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch activist. I just finished reading her autobiography Infidel.
 
Hirsi Ali had a horrific childhood and adolescence growing up in Somalia. At five she had suffered through a painful scarring ritual, genital mutilation. (According to Hirsi Ali, this barbaric practice is widespread through Africa.) Her grandmother organized the “surgery” while her parents were away. There were no doctors, anesthetics, or painkillers. Her two siblings suffered the same painful and disfiguring fate. Her mother and grandmother also beat her, and she was subject to her family’s whims.
 
What fascinates me about her is that despite years of abuse and brainwashing, she struck out for her own independence, especially when her father tried to send her to Canada when she was a young woman to marry a man against her will. En route, she fled to the Netherlands. She had little education and a life of submission and torture behind her, but she flew to freedom on the mere word of a 10-year-old Somali boy who told her the Dutch gave asylum to Somalis because of the African nation’s civil war.
 
Once in the Netherlands, Hirsi Ali gained immigrant status and pursued her education. Today, she is a political activist and outspoken critic of Islamic extremism. And through her activism she has became one of the most influential women in the world.  
 
Yet despite all the pain she has endured, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is happy and even grateful.
 
She conquered near-insurmountable odds to become an academic and a politician. Her life in Netherlands was challenging, but she overcame many obstacles, and was never bitter or resentful.
 
Most us won’t have as life stories that are as dramatic as Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s. We can be thankful for that, but we all a have moments of despair and obstacles to overcome. A positive outlook and the ability to work hard can carry you through most anything.
 
Being happy is contagious. It’s also healthful. Happy people live longer. If you think I am suggesting becoming a non-critical, grinning, village idiot, forget it. But too many people miss the joy in life by being stressed all the time. I see many potentially fabulous women missing the mark by fretting and whining about the small stuff of life.
 
Darlings, a happy heart is a gift. Surround yourself with happy people and avoid toxic negative people; they will drain you. Practice gratitude. Think of all the good things in your life. After all darlings, if you can’t be happy – what’s the point of it all?
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