Much like the constantly evolving world around us, ‘Happiness’ and how I find it has changed over the years. Our ideas on what makes us happy are definitely shaped by the lives we’ve led. I had never given it much thought when I was young. It was a natural happenstance that occurred on a regular basis without much effort. The sun shined, the rivers flowed, the winds swayed the trees and I was happy.
As a child happiness often came in the form of times spent with family. With my sister and cousins. We were fortunate to have an abundantly blessed childhood. Those were the summers spent together atop trees amongst fruit orchards and swimming the days away. Hot afternoons melted amidst the pages of Enid Blytons, hide n seek games and in the evenings we imagined and enacted those adventures within our own parochial settings. We took short excursions across town to catch the latest cinema in air-conditioned splendor sipping chilled coca colas. We had scrumptious dinners with our families in the lush backyard oasis full of fragrant lilies and magnolias under starry summer skies whilst our Grandfather heralded us with grandeur tales of our ancestors, of legends and stories from his very own fascinating youth. We spoke about history and geography, about the state of things, about life. We joked and teased and sank our teeth into the juiciest mangoes. A breeze on my face still reminds me of the gush of excitement we felt as we bundled up on the huge swing nestled between tall tropical Ashoka trees to one corner of the yard trying to swing higher and higher as if to touch their tops. Those were the summers.
But happiness I found came even without the excitement and adventures of fun filled summers, festivities or the winter holidays. Happiness followed us to those other times through the early morning sounds of the rooster and the neighborhood waking up, through hurried scurries as we set about our pedantic days, hours at school and work, our chores, through staple lunches and dinners. We giggled and laughed and it magnified as we engaged with family, friends, neighbors and pets, discovered the soft flushes of infatuations, shared secrets, and indulged in the arts, music, books and sports. It hopped over moments of sadness, of tragedies and disappointments and stayed with us as we recovered, healed, discovered and continued to grow. Happiness found us wrapped around in cozy blankets, smiles on our faces secure in the warmth of the love that surrounded us, the relationships we forged and the love we could give back. It survived despite the untold tragedies revealed to us daily in the world.
As I grew up, I persevered, as it became harder to hold on to the unsullied purity of youthful happiness and resilient beliefs now threatened by the approaching chaotic sounds of adulthood. And then, happiness slipped away from me as the unthinkable happened. I watched my younger spirited 17 yr old sister hold on to it despite being told she had a brain tumor. As I struggled to find joy she fortified her will to survive and to remain happy. And she did not just that but spread her happiness to everyone in her life. This fiercely independent brave young girl showed us what it meant to really find and cultivate happiness and fought hard to maintain it through her treatments. A favorite amongst her doctors and hospital staff she enjoyed the things she could still enjoy and moved past the things she could no longer experience. She cherished the company she had, made people laugh and didn’t tolerate any sympathy. She found joy in the smallest of things and strung together those disjointed pearls of moments to remain happy. She had always been a carefree cheerful girl but there was this calm maturity now that radiated through her smiling face that was infectious. As always you couldn’t help but be happy around her.
Despite her will to live and all our efforts to save her we lost her. After 7 years of doing this dance of tempering our hopes, up and down, high and low, of watching her shine and then being snatched away through the most gut-wrenching series of events through her final days I forfeited. We were soul mates as sisters can be and yet we couldn’t have been more different. When tragedy struck where she soared I threw my hands up in the air and sank. I would no longer try, much less want to be happy ever again.
I had taken for granted that there would be white picket fences, a brilliant career, the love of my life, kids, sun kissed cheerful reunions with extended family and friends and adventurous expeditions to far off lands that my sister and I had dreamt we would go on some day. It was my idea of happiness in the future. This was no longer going to happen. The biggest piece in my happiness puzzle, the one confidante from my yesterdays who I counted on sharing my today and tomorrows was gone forever. I had no earthly idea on how to deal with this. This was not some temporary aberration where life would come out to greet me once things were back to normal. My normal had changed permanently. Needless to say I dived head first into the throes of depression. I refused happiness. It was fickle and had betrayed me. It was no friend of mine. I was afraid of it. I was shocked, nay, aghast that the world continued to spin. People smiled and laughed and life chimed on. Loved ones reminded me that my sister of all people would be the last to wallow in sadness but I resisted.
As time and the fogs of utter desolation lifted, faint musings of hope once again fluttered in my heart. I used to avoid the things that most reminded me of her, like listening to music or savoring good food, spontaneous excursions and other periods of bliss. But quite by chance I realized those were the things that got me closest to her and made me happy. Happiness now was different from before, always tinged with sadness, with some pain. It climbed the heights and just as it reached the crescendo the reality of the loss would punch me with a big blow. The blows softened over time and I learned to take pleasure in what I could enjoy just like my sister had taught me a long time ago. I learned to live life anew, much like learning to walk again. I had to invest in a greater sense of self and who I had become without my sister’s presence in my life. Happiness is no longer bright bursts of color. It has specks of gray and moody blues but it is still beautiful.
I seek it now in stillness. In trying to capture the essence of the present, enjoying gentle breezes, or water against my skin. Simple pleasures are once again all around for me to enjoy without effort. I seek happiness in the wisdom of nature that has stood the test of time, the trees still standing solemn, peaceful even after witnessing eons of changes good and bad. Happiness to me today is to create something lovingly, thoughts on a paper, nourishing food, a bond with someone, words of encouragement, a goal to accomplish. I have found meaning in this journey once more. Music once again puts a smile on my face and a spring in my step. Books, engaging with the world around and travel offers the chance of discovery holding untold joys.
Happiness is always leading that lost child inside you back for a chance to another beginning. It takes love, patience, forgiveness, healing and time. I take in the laughter of my child, the golden shades of sunlight trapped between her silken curls. I find my happiness now in her bright eyes and innocence.