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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Happy New Year?

Happy New Year?

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What is happiness? That depends on who you ask. People have celebrated Christmas all around the world, even in The Gambia, so if you would ask a child that question, he or she might say that happiness is to get something nice as a Christmas gift. If you ask someone who has been ill for a long time, the answer will be different, because with age we learn to understand what is important for us, and what is not.

I love to go back to the words of ancient wisdom, perhaps a sign of aging, but there is so much wisdom hidden in old proverbs. More than 2,300 years ago, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said: ”Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

What does it mean? Perhaps it sounds like mumbojumbo to you, but let us go a little deeper together so we might come to an understanding. Let us turn things around and make the statement a question instead: ”Is happiness the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence?” Let us agree on two alternative answers, yes or no. Just because I don’t like to make things easy for myself, I will begin with the second alternative, the no.

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No, happiness is not the meaning and purpose of life. It can’t be the whole aim, because it sounds too shallow. We can’t expect to be happy, we should be happy if we at least could be content. Wait a minute; did I just say that we should be happy if we at least are content? So being content is to be happy in a way? Like happy-light? A little happy, but not like it is bubbling inside?

Let us look at the other alternative, the yes.

Yes, of course happiness is what it is all about! Why else should we keep on striving, hoping for a better day to come? Why does this answer not sound happy at all, instead it sounds pragmatic, like we realise that there is a choice? Being pragmatic is when you see things as they are, you don’t valuate them, you just take them for what they are and try to do the best about it. Perhaps that is what happiness is, the ability to find the good even in the bad and decide to focus on that?

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If we should look at what the media is telling us about happiness, the narrative would be very different. This is their narrative: you can only be happy if you have the right looks, beautiful babies who always smile when you serve them the perfect meal, a nice house, a nice car, jewelleries and a perfect flawless skin. So if you can’t afford to buy expensive clothes, your kids don’t have enough to eat, your house roof is leaking, you don’t own a car, you have no jewelleries and you don’t like the colour of your skin – does that mean that you are a failure and are doomed to a life in misery?

Let us look at the matter in a more scientifical way.

Happiness describes the experience of positive emotions, such as joy, contentment and satisfaction.

According to research, happy people tend to eat healthier diets, they exercise more which increases their energy levels, decrease body fat and lower blood pressure.

Being happier may also improve sleep habits and practices, which is important for concentration, productivity, exercise performance and maintaining a healthy weight. A healthy immune system is important for overall health.

Being happy may even help reduce stress levels.

Looking at all these points, it looks like a description of Western world issues; it is telling us about a healthy diet, exercise, concentration and so forth. Should we shrug our shoulders and reject it as rubbish, or can we learn something from it? Let us look at the matter of diet first. Rice is the staple of the Gambian diet, but white rice is actually not healthy. The rice is polished which means that the nutrition, that are in the shell of each rice grain, are removed. This is done to make the rice look nice and clean, the rice grains are normally brown, but that was considered not looking appealing. So, eating the polished rice makes your stomach feel full for a while, but your intestines have nothing to work with.

This is the same with eating white bread, like tapa-lapa. It smells lovely when it is freshly baked, it looks appealing but it is not healthy. There is no nutrition in the white flour, the wheat grains are polished and the nutritions are taken away. You eat the bread, feel full for a while but your intestines have nothing to work with. And why should you care about that? Because you don’t get enough nutrition to improve your health and you get constipated. Learning more about nutritious food is not only a ”luxury” for the Western world. You have all the opportunities to grow your own food, even on a small scale, because you live in a lovely climate.

Learning more about what is healthy for yourself and your family, is happiness because you get the sense that you can actually can do something to improve your lives. Often we are bound to old habits, traditions, and anxiously ask ourselves: ”What would other people think?” that we fear to implement even small changes in our lives. It is easier to go on as we always have done, but sometimes it is better to be the one who is stepping out of the box. People might have opinions, but let them ask and be prepared with good answers. If they keep on questioning you, remember that you can only take responsibility for what you say, and not for what they hear.

Speaking about only being responsible for what one says, not for what other’s will hear. What if this was God Who told us: ”I can only be responsible for what I am saying, not for what you are hearing.” There is huge room for interpretation when we hear the words of God, and there are a lot of self-proclaimed ”prophets” who seem to be very sure that their version is the one and correct. How often do we listen to our inner self to seek answers? What is holding us back? Surely it is not God Who does that, because He gave us the freedom to find our way to peace and happiness.

Here is that word again, happiness. Loneliness makes us unhappy, and community is a guarantee for happiness. This is what media ads are telling us, but we also know that life is never that easy. Some people enjoy being alone and others feel lonely in a crowd. What makes us happy is a feeling of contentment, no matter the size of the group we belong to. Let us listen to each other, we can learn something even from those we disagree with. There is a short story, which I find both amusing and educative: Someone asked God why He sent a boy instead of a girl to be born on Christmas Day. God only said: ”You wouldn’t listen to her.”

Perhaps God sent a boy because the men need that the most. Prophet Jesus was known for being caring, loving and kind, charasteristics that we more relate to women than men. God never does anything by coincidence, so perhaps that is why He showed us that if men also learn to be kind, loving and caring we can live happily together.

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