Being Happy

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Recently I was asked if I was financially independent, how would I lead my life? What would change from my present lifestyle? It got me thinking. Yes, what will change? Interestingly, I suddenly realised nothing much will change. I will still be producing and directing movies. I will still be setting up the acting academy. I will still be a life coach. I don’t need to move to a bigger place. I don’t need to change my car. I don’t need a new wardrobe. Maybe I will buy a painting that I have been looking at. But really, there will be no drastic change. I cannot not work. I will probably be a little more relaxed. But again, not much. I will still be engaged, I will still be challenged by my work, by my projects, my some daily tasks. This means, at this stage of my life, I am doing pretty much what I want to do. It is a good feeling. So should I be happy. Am I happy?

When I was much younger, I would take frequent ferry rides to Pulau Bukom. I remember I would sometimes forget that no matter how far I went, the horizon was still beyond me. That there was no end point, it was ongoing. One day, it dawned on me that I was looking forward to the ride more than the place I was heading to. Years later, I would feel the same way on some flights. On one of those flights, I had an idea that happiness was also not a destination. It was a mood, it was not permanent. It came and went and if people thought that way, then maybe people would find happiness more often. We all think we want to be happy. Or happier. Yet it is not always a conscious thought. How often do we stop to think if what drive us to be as busy as we are, are about being happy? Do we know of anyone who is as focused on being happy as we know people who are focused on, say, making a living?

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This is my mother. Laughing her laugh. She is 90 this year. She is forgetful and she practically lives in the moment. Her life is emotionally compartmentalized. She experiences joy like a child. Her joy is simple, not coloured by distractions or other feelings. She also has more joyous moments because her feelings do not linger or preoccupy her mind. She focuses on the now and speaks matter-of-factly with little consideration and hence little pretence. Her joy is as real as can be. Our help Siti came to Singapore before she was 21 to take care of her. She started out respecting her as an elderly person. With time, there is a familial connection. Now my mother is like her grandmother. There is unconditional affection. Siti has learned Hainanese, but their communication is less verbal, more about feelings and touch. When I see them together, sometimes it looks like the picture of happiness.

If being happy is important, why isn’t it taught in school? Like we learn a language, or learn to paint. I have experienced intense joy. At times I have felt contented and at peace. I have enjoyed spending time in the company of good friends. Or being awashed with a sense of achievement. And I have felt loved by loved ones. Is happiness moments of positive and upbeat feelings? Or the collective of these good feelings that lift our spirits and well-being? Lately, I am told, and I am starting to understand, and beginning to be aware, that happiness is a choice. A conscious decision. When we decide to be happy, we can be. It is not as straight forward a concept. Yet it is also not too deep to comprehend. We think that happiness is elusive. And we are told we need to strive for happiness. But Leo Tolstoy said, “If you want to be happy, be’. Happiness is never stopping to think if you are. It is an option. Not unlike the fact that I will not change my lifestyle just because I can, financially. I choose this life and this lifestyle. I am contented. And I am as happy as can be.

‘What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our choice to be happy.’

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