“Is anyone truly happy?”

A friend of mine posed this question on her WhatsApp recently. My mind instantly resounded with a NO. My fingers, however, immediately raced to the keypad and typed, “Yes. I am truly happy. Happiness is a state of mind.” Did I believe what I had just said? I am yet to discover. I simply quoted to her what I had found on the internet a while back when I googled the true meaning of happiness.

As a little girl I had huge dreams. I dreamt of owning multiple cars and houses and wearing clothes designed specifically for me. This was what, according to my younger self, was the ultimate key to happiness. The phrase, “Money can’t buy happiness” had no significance in my life. I mean, who wouldn’t be unhappy with a Ferrari parked in their garage.

The media’s portrayal of happiness is one that is devoid of logic, because according to them happiness can be obtained from purchasing a new handbag or a new car. However studies have shown that attaching happiness to material possessions is a recipe for disaster. This is primarily because the joys of purchasing an item erodes as the item begins to wear and tear.

The older I get, the more I realise how misinformed my thinking has been. I’m starting to take into cognizance of the fact that no link exists between materialism and happiness. Research in Social Science shows that materialism leads to outcomes such as dissatisfaction with life overall, depression, and in most cases anxiety. When people are unhappy because of poverty, loneliness, or insecurities they try to deal with their problems by striving for wealth. Purchasing a brand new cell phone brings forth instant comfort. You’re always going to live a life of longing.

The poor are unhappy and so are the rich. Research has shown that it is far better to spend money on experiences rather than on things. I believe that the key to happiness doesn’t lie in buying the latest IPhone, but rather in spending money on travelling to new places, learning a new skill or engaging in outdoor activities which can bring forth a certain level of satisfaction. It is an undeniable fact that having enough money does give people a certain level of comfort. One is able to afford good accommodation, as well as good medical care. All these together lead to one living a long and healthy life.

What then is happiness?

In her book, The How of Happiness, researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says this of happiness, “It is the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.”

I have searched for happiness in places where those around me seemed to have found it. A few years ago, I went out with strangers disguised as friends and we partied for an entire night. I got intoxicated to an extent where my true nature escaped from my body and in came someone unrecognisable. At that moment I felt the sadness fading away and happiness seemed nearer than ever before. All it would take was me extending my hand a little further and grasping the happiness so tight that it would never abandon me again. As I was on verge of taking hold of my happiness, the alcohol I had consumed placed me into a deep sleep.

When I woke up the following morning, as I half opened my eyes, I caught a glimpse of my sadness beside the bed. It anticipated the moment when it would occupy its usual residence in my soul. The sadness was accompanied by a vigorous headache. I searched for happiness in a bottle of alcohol and I instead found a hangover. To this day, I have not consumed alcohol again.

My encounter with alcohol is not the only one where I have sought happiness through dangerous avenues. The second occurrence was whereby I observed a friend who had been gloomy and sad transform into the happiest person in a split second. This was after she smoked a few puffs of marijuana. As I gazed at her, I quietly thought to myself, this is my second chance at getting a taste of happiness. My friend gladly passed the joint in my direction. And just like the alcohol, smoking marijuana gave me instant gratification that eroded with the high feeling.

I recently read an article in the Sowetan titled, “Jokes aside, state of our nation’s defined by booze” by Malaika Mahlatsi. Mahlatsi raised concerns about the great extent to which young people are reliant on alcohol. She wrote, “The reality of the situation is that this consumption of alcohol is largely an escape from the nervous conditions that define the lives of our people.” Her words resonated with me partly because they reminded me of a time when I too once sought solace in alcohol.

For me, alcohol was an escape from sadness with the hopes of finding happiness. But for others, alcohol is an escape from unemployment, racism, poverty, gender-based violence, the list is endless. It is an ongoing misconception that people who drink or smoke do so for the fun of it, however this is a huge deviation from reality. People who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, and social anxiety are more likely to develop an addiction. Alcohol and drugs are temporary coping mechanisms that have long-lasting, devastating effects.

I may not carry all the answers of what happiness is, but what I am sure of is that happiness is not in alcohol, marijuana, materialism, or social media likes. Happiness is within. The more I seek answers the further I’m drawn to committing the simplest of activities.

There is an unexplainable joy that fills my heart whenever I read a book, go for a jog, or even make a phone call to a friend. What often leads to happiness is appreciation for all the good things that exist in your life. When you feel unhappy because you are unable to purchase the car of your dreams, remember that someone else out there is wheelchair bound and wishes that they could take a walk to the grocery store. The more you show appreciation for the things you have, the less you’ll attach happiness to material possessions. Always remember that everyone has something that someone else wishes to have. Many people come to know of these minor pleasures far late in their lives when they’ve broken their bones from hard work, believing that to be the ultimate key to happiness.

Perhaps unlike me, you’re not fond of reading or jogging, however, there are alternatives. Your happiness could lie in meditating, listening to music, or even preparing a meal for your family. Search for happiness in those things that are closest to your heart. And remember that it’s okay not to be okay.


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Tell us: Where do you think true happiness comes from?