KALYANI ADUSUMILLI went on a journey to find happiness for herself. In the process, she discovered how to help others be happy, and how to become a more authentic version of herself.
Happiness has become a mainstream concept these days. Does happiness hinge on meeting society’s expectations? How often do superficial trappings such as social status, physical appearance, and financial success determine happiness? We’ve often heard the old adage, “Money can’t buy happiness,” but do only the wealthy come to that conclusion? For a person stuck in poverty, money could offer happiness in the form of a well-fed belly and a roof over their head. And consider social media. The number of Instagram followers and “retweets” electrifies the young and propels them to seek spotlight as their source of happiness, while the older generations look on in bemusement. So, who gets to decide what it means to be happy?
Over the past couple of years, as I took stock of the pandemic that brought the modern world to its knees and left people in isolation, I reached the conclusion that the power to create happiness lies within me. Within you. Within each of us. That might seem obvious, but upon further reflection, very few of us actually utilize the power we wield. As I struggled to make sense of the tragedies occurring around the world and in my own personal sphere, happiness seemed both a distant memory and an unlikely future. Realizing that I needed an outlet, I sought therapy and spent the Covid lockdown trying to navigate my troubled past and conquer my fears about the future, with the hope that I might learn to live fully in the present.
Because of the decision to focus on well-being, I developed a heightened sense of self-awareness, which led me to understand more about the source of happiness. All too often, we either look to others to define our happiness or hold them responsible for it. I realized that as long as I continue to blame my parents for my lifelong anxieties or expect my spouse to provide the cure for my discontent, I will never achieve true happiness. I began to contemplate what “happy” meant to me.
Before long, I could admit that happiness meant more than just my roles as a mother and a spouse, and that I had never felt entirely fulfilled in my career as a lawyer. I wanted more. I wanted to live life on my terms for the first time, not on everyone else’s. Happiness wasn’t just about the big-ticket items, but trickled down to the details, like how much sleep I was getting each night, and how much time I was allotting for simple acts of self-care. “Happy” now seemed attainable, and I felt transformed. That transformation manifested visibly to my family and friends, much to their wonder and awe.
Happiness wasn’t just about the big-ticket items,
but trickled down to the details,
like how much sleep I was getting each night,
and how much time I was allotting for simple acts of self-care.
“Happy” now seemed attainable, and I felt transformed.
If it’s so obvious that the way to happiness rests at our own feet, then why do we not exercise our autonomy? With everyone so interconnected through technology, the pressure of conforming places an enormous burden on the choices that we make. We’re so busy taking cues from everyone else that we don’t take the time to stop and reflect on what we need. Many of us hide behind fears of rejection, failure, and ostracization. And when we find ourselves disappointed or thwarted, it’s far easier to point fingers at others and deflect responsibility.
A recent interaction with my eldest son, a high school senior, comes to mind. His teenage self has been a force to be reckoned with over the past couple of years. One day he stormed into my room, frustrated and angry about the restrictions on his screen time during the school year. Insisting that no other parents exerted that kind of control, he declared that we were making his life miserable. At first, I tried to reason with him, explaining that his oversleeping and lax attitude about his homework had resulted in those restrictions. I assured him that all parents want their children to thrive in school and that we were hardly the exceptions.
When my words fell on deaf ears, I waited until his anger was spent. Then, I told him that while we had his best interest at heart, he alone could decide whether to stay mired in his frustrations or alter the landscape. Eager to give him the benefit of what I had started to embrace, I told him that he could continue to complain and remain miserable or figure out a way to be happy. Calling attention to his desire for freedom, I hinted that he could show his maturity by acting more responsibly, earning the right to manage his time without supervision. I’m happy to say that he went on to do just that, with some stumbles along the way, ultimately resulting in a happier kid and happier parents.
This leads me to another observation – cultivating happiness inevitably fosters a happy environment and leads to healthier relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
Happiness is so very individual
and cannot be designed by anyone else.
Creating our own happiness takes courage.
In essence, we forget that what makes us human is our beautifully complex brain and the ability to reason and think for ourselves. Happiness is so very individual and cannot be designed by anyone else. Creating our own happiness takes courage. It requires an unshakeable commitment to stay true to ourselves, and a fierce determination to follow through with our passions, regardless of the outcome and in the face of adversity. Happiness demands that we place self-worth and well-being as priorities in our life so that we be authentic. Whether we live more than one lifetime or not remains a mystery, so with that uncertainty we would do well to remember another old saying, “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.” Choose to be happy now and be the architect of your own happiness. You are in the driver’s seat.
Illustrations by JASMEE MUDGAL
Kalyani is a health law attorney and writer who lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two sons. She is a mental health and mindfulness advocate who went on a journey to find happiness, discovered how to help others be happy, and has become a more authentic version of herself.