Mala Rambharose is a published Poet, children’s author and Contributor to the Huffington Post. In 2013 she was named an Emerging Writer by the Writer’s Trust of Canada. Mala conducts workshops around how to Mother and Father ourselves. She is currently working on her first book for adults and is a guest speaker at the University of Toronto.
In high school, she was my best friend. We would skip class together wandering the halls talking about everything from our spiritual beliefs to what boys we had a crush on that week.
But things changed. We were 25 years old sitting across from each other, completely different people, when I asked the hard question, “What do you actually think about me?”
Based on her behaviour over the years, her answers did not surprise me but it still stung to hear them. Her list was concise and ended with, “I have always resented you for not experiencing stress or anxiety.”
Needless to say, this was the last conversation we had as ‘friends.’
The more mentors I accumulated and the more self-development courses I attended, I definitely noticed my story was not uncommon. There were plenty of people who were perceived in a way that dismissed the experiences they had.
There are many “happy people” who live through challenges and traumas that have not changed them into a smaller version of themselves. Some people I have encountered who inspire me have literally beaten all the odds – a millionaire, who was in and out of jail as a teenager, a powerful leader who was molested by her father for years, a reporter who was abducted, tortured and decided to help her abductors by starting an organization that would save them from the environment they lived in.
We have all heard stories like this, but whether we hear them in person or in the media, these are still real people who have to make real life decisions each moment of each day – like any of us.
While there are lots of people who may look “happy” because they smile, in this context, what I mean by “happy people” are people who find deep meaning in the experience of life, have high self- esteem and have a sense of purpose wherever they may be.
After all of my workshops, readings and interviews I notice many distorted perceptions – some spoken and some unspoken – about “happy people.” Here are 5 that stand out:
1. Happy people haven’t gone through as many hard things.
In popular culture, we hear stories about peoples’ lives like Oprah Winfrey or Tony Robbins where it is quite clear that they have been through hard things and are genuinely happy but in everyday life with friends, family and co-workers, we can assume the opposite quite often. For example, how many times have we found someone naïve for falling madly in love, instead of finding them wise? When we find someone naïve, we assume they don’t understand the ‘real’ world or they have never experienced heart break.
In a 2013 study by research scientists from both the University of British Columbia and the Barcelona School of Management, over 14 000 people were tested for their ability to savour experiences and the present moment. In their findings, the participants with more hardship in their past, seemed to have a greater ability to savour something as simple as going for a hike.
2. Happy people were born that way and don’t have to work at it.
There are many people who assume there is a genetic pre-disposition to “happiness,” even though babies and children are often perceived much happier than adults in our culture. How many times have you observed a baby or toddler laughing, playing and eager to explore? Or how many times have you seen a child finish crying and then get up and run around as if nothing had happened? Our assumption that people must be born “happy” disregards that most people have “happy” habits as children and lose them as they grow up. We forget that we danced and giggled. But these habits don’t have to be lost and can be relearned.
According to Dr. Jess Shatkin of New York University’s Child Study Centre, 2.5% of babies show signs of depression – which would imply that 97.5% of babies don’t. New hypothesis: most people are born “happy” and once exposed to suffering have to work at maintaining it. New hypothesis: most people are born “happy” and once exposed to suffering have to work at maintaining it.
3. Happy people don’t work as hard or as much.
I have noticed in my own life that the most “happy people” are not big complainers. But when a person does not complain regularly or exhibit signs of suffering there can often be a perception that they don’t deserve the good things that come their way – like life is too easy for them. I noticed this most in offices. If someone got a promotion that looked like they were suffering, people had more positive things to say but when a “happy” person got a promotion, the gossip was a lot more about how they were not equipped for the new position or they were not as deserving as someone else – even if the “happy” person worked just as many hours, took on just as many projects and welcomed more responsibility.
4. Happy people only have positive emotions and thoughts.
The founder of Momastery, Glennon Doyle Melton speaks of the importance of leaning into our pain and suffering in her memoir, Love Warrior. She says when pain knocks at the door, the best decision we can make is to invite it in saying don’t leave until you have taught me everything you have come to teach me. In Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, You Are Here, one of the practices he offers is saying to our anger and fear, “I will take care of you.” These practices are not new – they just seem foreign to us in our instant gratification, non-stop, high stress culture. Truly “happy” people – people who find life meaningful, have high self-esteem and a sense of purpose – do not seek to run away from truth – positive or negative.
5. Happy people are ‘nice’ and easy going.
When a person has strong boundaries, standards and firmness in their way of interacting, this is sometimes mistaken for meanness instead of the habits of a “happy” person – particularly with women, which Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg discusses in her book, Lean In. But according to researcher, Dr. Brene Brown, truly loving, compassionate, empathetic and generous people have the strongest boundaries. Her findings show that people who are ‘nice’ are not happy, that they often have feelings of unexpressed resentment and anger.
Happiness is a big subject these days and every person has their own sense of what it is. The common thread behind each of these myths is the assumption that duality does not exist for some people, which is simply not true. This assumption is a trick the mind plays so we don’t have to learn how to fully deal with life. The truth is, hard things happen to all of us, self-esteem is something we will have to work on for the rest of our lives, a person can have lots of responsibilities and not complain about them, fear and sadness are normal emotions, having a back bone is necessary and it is our choice to opt in, give 100% or not.
It’s Cool To BE Happy
Note: This is the 2nd article of the Employee Wellness Series by Mala – check out her first post here if you missed it!