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It comes down to the bottom line, are you happy?

A friend of mine has recently decided to throw in the towel with her seven year marriage because her husband didn’t make her feel special. I do simplify the issue, yes there were some very real reasons why the marriage didn’t work, and while people (her family, his family) would have preferred if, like other married women, she shipikishered (endured) it boiled down to that very simple issue.

I may not be an expert on love but I’m certainly an expert on heartache. I do believe relationships are hardwork – like anything worth having – but I do think the benefits must outweigh the hardwork. What is the point of putting in the effort and time to just feel miserable at the end of it all? While on the surface my friend and her husband seemed happy, the effort she was putting in to keep her marriage was eating away at her until she realised that she wasn’t being ‘rewarded’ for this effort with the love, respect, and affection she wanted and deserved.

I think it takes a strong person to leave a relationship that isn’t working. After all, it’s in our nature to want to be loved. But deep down when you’re not feeling special or fulfilled, all you’re feeling is miserable, unappreciated and empty.

Call me a hopeless romantic but I do believe that when you care about someone, you consider them and their feelings. You change (as difficult as it is) to make them happy, not because it’s important to you, but because it’s important to them. It’s the little things that count I think.

I’m beginning to understand the benefits of getting into a relationship when you are a whole person. What I mean is that you need to know who you are, what is important to you and what isn’t. I think, especially as women, we ignore the problems in our relationship because the man makes us ‘happy’. We ignore that that happiness is short-lived, if you’re only happy when you’re together but spend most of your time apart, is that enough to sustain a relationship?

We tend to fight for things long after we know that thing is broken or is not meant to be, rather than ask ourselves the simple question, am I happy?

Maybe I am simplifying it again. When asking yourself that question, put it in context. I do believe happiness is a state of ‘being’, which means that at any given moment you can be happy or unhappy depending on the situation. But I refer to the question of am I happy in this relationship? Am I happy with who I am in this relationship? Let’s not forget we tend to become different people to accommodate someone else in our life/relationship. I believe we should become a better version of ourselves, but if you don’t like what you see when you look honestly in the mirror then you shouldn’t ignore that. But back to the questions. Ask yourself, does this person have my best interest in mind? Does this person try to make me happy? Does he listen to me, does he put me first when he can?

Communication is key, be honest with yourself, and be honest with your partner. If one person is unhappy in the relationship, sooner or later there will be two unhappy people. Address it when you can, to nip it in the bud, and if it doesn’t work out, don’t be sad to move on. Take those lessons with you to find true happiness. Seven years later, my friend said, ‘life is too short to be unhappy’. We know this, yet we tend to think life is longer than it really is. Be happy.

I believe one of my biggest flaws is empathy. Especially when it’s people that I’m close to, friends, family, and occasionally people who’s stories I’ve followed in the media.

If a family member is hurting or in need, then I find ways to alleviate that pain or help them in their time or need. But when you’re constantly giving it drains you. I remember when I used to be in therapy and my therapist asked me why I helped people, including family members, and I replied, like it was a no-brainer that because if I didn’t, who was going to? I was in a position to help so shouldn’t I? His response was no, I didn’t have to, not if it ultimately hurt me more.

At first I couldn’t understand this. We should help, if we can, with no expectations of anything in return, that was the right thing to do. But after awhile I realised that what he meant was sometimes you have to put yourself first and ask if you can afford – emotionally and/or financially – to give of yourself. Actually the more I think about this, it’s not sometimes, but always. You have to for the sake of your soul.

After awhile I began to resent my family. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them, and knew that deep down, but I felt very alone from them. I was the first one people called when they needed help because I always came through, but when I needed help, I didn’t know who to turn to. I have been blessed to rarely need financial help, but emotionally, when I’ve been at cross-roads, and I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve suffered from mild depression (people told me to never admit it, saying it was career-suicide, but there I said it). I have been lucky to not have had severe depression, but even mild ones are hard to deal with, you really have to fight to stay happy and positive, which is draining, and difficult to do, especially alone.

But I overcame it, I got to a place where I was happy with who I was and happy with the decisions that I was making, really listening to what my heart and soul was saying, to keep me happy. As I’ve gotten older, gotten ‘successful’, I’ve realised that nothing can replace happiness.

I continued to give of myself, because I thought I could afford to. After awhile, I started to feel unappreciated – probably one of the things that furthered my depression – and felt that everyone took from me, but no one gave. I know that my friends and family love me and I would never question that, but I did wish that someone would stop and say, ‘I wonder how Cathy is feeling? And what does she need that I can give her?’

It never happened. It finally dawned on me that the victim mentality I was plaguing on myself was also not contributing to my mental health. Why should other people care about you? And why should you care if they don’t? Do we not have the capacities to be responsible for ourselves? We came into this world alone and we’ll leave it alone, so what is this need to have people focus on you?

It’s not me being cold or indifferent by any means, I simply mean it as a survival mechanism. If you are always giving, sooner or later there will be nothing to give. You will be tired, bitter and miserable, and then what good are you to anyone?

You have to put yourself first to keep your soul intact. If people around you can’t appreciate that, then that’s their loss. Because when you feel you are sacrificing for someone else, or being considerate of other people’s needs, while giving a piece of yourself, then you are only hurting yourself. Life, and indeed, relationships are about give and take. For everyone to be happy the scales have to be balanced.

It’s not a selfish attitude to take care of yourself first, it’s a healthy attitude. And it’s one I’m trying to do more and more, I might lose some people along the way, but then, that’s just a consequence I need to deal with to get myself to a better, healthier, happier place, and that’s my priority right now.

I’m always telling people that they should live life with no regrets. Life is about living and enjoying the moments in them. Yet, I seem continously haunted by my past. Maybe I’m too harsh on myself, and too unforgiving, because no one is perfect, we’ve all done stuff in our life that we’re not proud of or wish we hadn’t done. But the real problem comes when we let it consume who we are as a person today. Or if we don’t learn and repeat the same mistakes.

People always say that I have EI, because I’m reflective and empathetic. Kind of true I guess, and the empathy goes against the Type A personality other people say that I am (therefore I’m going to say that maybe I’m not Type A – oh well). But I read somewhere that to encourage our more emotional side – the healthy side that keeps us optimistic and positive – we need to change the way we think about situations. Rather than get down about an event or a situation, we should flip it to something more positive and that will change how we view and feel about the situation and keep us happy.

There is some truth in that. Think about it, when you have negative thoughts about a situation, it just makes the situation worse. But it is easier said than done. I also think this is why it’s so important to surround yourself with friends and family who uplift you. People you can trust to have your best interest at heart. So when you’re feeling like beating yourself up, there’s someone to remind you about the positive things in life, and your own best attributes. Call them your cheerleaders if you will. I think we all need them.

Yesterday I felt hurt. It’s not something that I often feel, or at least admit to feeling (must be a combination of hormones and lack of sleep). In the last seven, almost eight years, I’ve lived in London, I have felt prejudice and minor racial insults. You know the usual, ‘I didn’t recognize you because you’ve changed your hair’ kind of stuff – despite the fact that I am the only black girl in the team. I guess white people look the same when they change their hair, yet black people look completely different. Or is that just code for ‘all black people look the same’?

I’ve always brushed it off and not taken it too seriously, though I did make a mental note to ignore the person the next time if they insisted they hadn’t met me before. I was then accused of being aloof. Go figure right.

So anyway, yesterday, this woman who I’ve known for pretty much the entire almost 8 years I’ve been here, comes to the office bearing gifts for the whole team for a project we’d pulled off successful but guess who didn’t get a present? Yep, somehow I was forgotten. Not my team mates who only joined 18 months ago, but me. Ok, I suppose on top of being black, I am kind of aloof after all, so I guess you could be forgiven for not noticing me in the corner…

Still it hurt my feelings, it’s not nice not to be noticed. Little, brown girl in the corner.

I try not to let external validation affect me. My purpose in life is not to have other people tell me I’m great, I need to know and believe that myself. If we look for external validation we might never be happy. It also makes us forever unsure about our skills and accomplishments, leaving you feeling insecure and over critical or unappreciative of your successes.

But as I firmly believe, the universe provides your signs to show you your purpose and even validate your feelings, if you will. Recently I was feeling down. No matter how many wins I’d achieved, I didn’t feel it was enough, still felt not completely sure that I was good at what I was doing, or making any difference. Because I was looking for that external validation.

Then something happened. I opened up my facebook page for pretty much anyone to find me. I had a whole bunch of people I didn’t know requesting me as a friend, I thought most of them were requesting me because of my MTV affiliation. Imagine my surprise when a good number of them sent me a message saying how much they admired my sisters and I, how we really changed their life with Trendsetters.

My sister

I was honestly overwhelmed. We hadn’t published Trendsetters in a good three or four years, yet people still remembered it and regarded it highly. It was Zambia’s first publication for young people and unlike some of the stuff out there today, we weren’t trying to tear anyone down but uplift a generation of young people. We profiled positive young role models and provided inspiration to young people to encourage them to aspire for greatness and to protect themselves by not contracting HIV. The magazine was informative, yet educational.

I couldn’t believe after all these years and my many years at MTV, people still valued the work I did when I was 18!

This wasn’t the main decision that made me look deeper to find my personal legend, but it did help me stop and take stock.

I’d spent many years looking for this external validation, when it was in me all along. I knew I could be successful at anything I put my mind too. But I also knew that my family and helping people be better were the things I cared about the most. I could achieve part of this at MTV, but to do both, would require some changes. So, the first part of my journey was to make the conscious, yet painful decision, to leave MTV. Having handed in my resignation, makes the unknown both scary and exciting.

I’m happy to be on this journey though, as deep down, I know it’s time I put me first and find my way, with my family around me.