By Tshepang Molisana (@tshepimolisana)
Once upon a time, in golden a city of lights and frequently dashed dreams, a woman found the secret to true, lasting happiness. She poured herself hot baths, she found solace in friendship and good wine and through the persistent pursuit of her own pleasure, and she found herself on the yellow brick road to her own ‘happily ever after’.
The great modern philosopher, RuPaul, in his infinite wisdom and his highest heels once declared: “we have to keep laughing, or we cry ourselves to death”.
It has to say something about the state of affairs in the world when a large multilateral organisation like the United Nations teams up with the likes of rapper, producer, (etc, etc) Pharrell Williams to promote an ‘International Day of Happiness’. The pursuit of happiness has become a matter of international (affairs) importance.
Long before the UN decided to cop Pharrel’s song, I decided to take the 100 Happy Days Challenge this year (which I document on my blog A Pocketful of Resolutions) and found that throughout the challenge strangers and friends reached out to me, as we tried to find each other in the very human act of sharing a smile each day. I found that the days I sat elbow deep in a bag of cookies, the days my own happiness seemed to evade me, I had been relentlessly pursuing the joy of others. The day I decided to take up the challenge, ‘day 1’, I had taken a photograph with two of my sisters, and in the simplicity of their smiles, I realised that it was highly unlikely that I would ever feel more joy. 85 days later, I sat in a chair at The Red Cross Children’s Hospital reading a chapter from Roald Dahl’s ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ to an eleven year old boy. I watched his eyes light up at the gross humour, I connected to the pause in his pain, and I realise how shared true happiness is.
It is this reckless, almost hedonistic idea of ‘joy above all things’ that has propelled many to define their joy- their reason for living. Writer, Ruby Wax, went back to Oxford University in the prime of her middle-age to study the human mind. Her Master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford resulted in ‘Sane New World’, a witty book that was both study on depression, and a hilarious foray into the thoughts that often make it difficult for some of us to even imagine getting out of bed each morning. Ruby jokes: “Who wants the funny girl to be sad? Depression is the latest taboo. People glaze over; you can see them thinking, ‘Oh here she goes again, jawing on about ‘the darkness’.”
As someone who has suffered from Anxiety and Clinical Depression for several years, I say “shantay, you stay” to RuPaul’s school of life. I subscribe to the ‘mindful’ act of laughter, in spite of circumstances that often make it easier to cry and bury oneself in a bucket of chocolate chip cookies.
I’ve recently begun work on a new Non-Profit called ‘The Butterfly Foundation’. The foundation’s founder, Marc Bernitz’ aim is to decrease the stigma that many mental health sufferers face each day.
It isn’t only sufferers of depression who aim to be validated and understood. We live in a fast-paced world, and no one wants to be ‘the sad girl at the dinner party’. The speed, distance, and anonymity of our world makes the idea of ‘happiness’ a bright light in a world shrouded in darkness.
Architect, Michael Elion has covered the city of Cape Town in hearts, crystals, and rainbows for his ‘City of Rainbows’ project. At a World Design Capital event, he told me that hearts undoubtedly create happiness. Seeing a rainbow in the place of a zebra crossing creates positive energy, we spread this feeling of happiness simply by spreading hearts and rainbows and we hope that this positivity, in turn encourages others to react positively.
Sufferers of ‘Stockholm Syndrom’ endeavour to empathise with their captors because even in the deepest darkness, it is supremely human to try to find happiness in the path of another. Even in our most precarious sadness, our ‘human-ness’ seeks the comfort that comes with truly connecting.
‘Oxytocin’, the touch hormone helps us feel connected to whoever it is that we’re touching. “I try to be deliberately happy,” my friend Lunathi Ngwane told me. She physically touched my arm, and the oxytocin we shared in this connection, propelled by a conversation about ‘happiness’ truly moved me. As a UCT Student, Lunathi relates to the strain of a high pressure environment that often affects her happiness. She explained that she originally studied Finance and Accounting out of a deliberate pursuit of financial security, which she believed would make her happy. However, in the academic spin cycle, the rinse cycle often leads to feelings of unhappiness, which can, in turn affect academic success.
Lunathi says that she has learnt that being good to herself is a prerequisite for leading a happy life. She tells herself that she deserves good thing and she nurtures her relationships with others and herself: “self-confidence, laughter, good health, cake, a good bottle of wine, academic achievement – anything that will bring me joy, even momentarily, is a good thing that I deserve.”
In her Harvard Commencement speech to the graduating class of 2013, Oprah told the graduates that when you inevitably stumble and find yourself stuck in a hole, it is your dharma or life’s purpose that will get you out.
Sandile Ndelu, an Allen Gray Orbid Foundation Fellow and a UCT Law & Media Studies student underwent rigorous kidney dialysis treatments. His rainbow, the positivity that he shared with me in this difficult time was: “perhaps this is for my memoirs.”
The idea of pursuing the answer to ‘what is your why’, keeps many of the happiest people afloat in their path to ever after. Erouda Risch Iyer’s first husband came home after a twelve-year long relationship and told her: “I don’t want to be married anymore.” She jokes that she lived in a country that is excellent for drinking good wine, so her path to peace involved plenty of that. She did an archetype course with two special coaches and good friends and found that: “When you are angry and sad about life being shitty celebrating it the best way you know how is a fantastic way to live!”
On her path to her ‘dharma’, her purpose, Erouda had a successful media job, as a line producer and insert director on a TV show called Solving It- SA’s true crime stories. Her work involved travelling around South Africa and talking to crime experts, and psychologists about the reasons criminals did the things they did. She also interviewed the families of the victims, and it was clear to her that she had no idea what sad was. But she says that she considered herself lucky: ”my pain was nothing compared.”
Along this yellow brick road, Erouda met a real-life Prince. He proposed to her with a ring that glistens with scintillating diamonds along the band that supports a clear princess cut diamond. She swoons: “the princess, surrounded by the moon and the stars.”
Today, Erouda, through yoga, meditation, long-hot baths, friendship, good books and good wine, has found the peace that comes with the ability to let go. She has learnt to speak German and is currently learning how to speak Spanish. This year alone, her travel plans include Cancun, Switzerland, South Africa, Zanzibar, then back to Mexico. She is a stay at home mom, and is still deeply in love with her husband. Her happily ever after might have been unimaginable when her first husband had come home and essentially told her that he didn’t love her any more. But she insists that there is no right or wrong way to handle life’s difficulties, her happiness is an exercise in mindful thinking, she insists that it isn’t all hearts and rainbows. Erouda’s happiness and her peaceful pursuit of it, inspires me.
It was found that 71% of people who took the ‘100 Happy Days Challenge’ failed to complete it because they claimed that they did not have enough time in the day to ‘be happy’. At the time of writing this, I was 93 days in. I’m still quite intent on ‘making time’ to be happy for the next 7 days and beyond. What I have learnt thus far is that happiness descends one day at a time, one step at a time, and one heart at a time. It is this commencement, this graduation, that even when you stumble, when you learn from your mistakes and build the bricks to your path to peace gives me boundless hope that we can all live happily ever after.