Ivie M. Eke.
Recently an acquaintance of mine asked me the question, ‘are you happy?’ in lieu of the standard ‘how are you?’ or ‘how far?’ which I am accustomed to hearing as a greeting in Nigeria.
Am I happy?
Am I happy?
Well…yes. I think so.
This simple question led me down a rabbit hole of thoughts about happiness and my general well-being.
A lot of times when I stare at my reflection in the mirror, I wonder who I really am and who people see when they look at me.
The concept of self is rather deep and not something I would like to philosophize about, but think about it- you are an entity, a solid being, a mass of bones and flesh, a living, breathing soul.
In short, you are wonderful.
Why is it that we often forget this fact?
My earliest memory of my existence is of someone throwing me up in the air and catching me and me laughing with the expected childish delight. How wonderful it is to be a child, no worries or responsibilities!
Is self-loathing learned, or are we predestined to be unhappy with ourselves at some point in our lives? I know that I was teased as a child; I’m not sure for what reason exactly in primary school, but I know that there were comments about how I was too ‘quiet’ and ‘snobbish’ in secondary school. Such comments linger in your mind for years. It’s funny how even now, as an adult woman in her thirties, I am still essentially the same ‘quiet’ and ‘snobbish’ person who people feel would have been a better person if I smiled more, or was much more outgoing.
How do you learn to be happy and to love yourself? For me, it has been a circuitous journey, going through life in circles and ultimately ending up back where I started with myself.
I am not someone for whom happiness always occurs naturally; it has to be an action. Happiness for me is deliberate, intentional and focused:
1. I pray and I meditate often, and while those things help to keep me centred, I have to do other things to keep the happiness alive.
2. I write as often as I can, sometimes every day, sometimes a few times a week. Even when I am not putting pen to paper, believe me when I say that I am always writing something interesting in my head.
3. I read a lot of books, mostly fiction. My bedroom is full of books, from Adichie to Patterson, Achebe to Archer, Atta to Waheed. I avoided reading poetry in the past, but I started reading poetry when I myself started to write poetry. Maya Angelou, Rupi Kaur, Nayyirah Waheed and other fabulous writers have convinced me that poetry can be a blissfully emotional escape of floating words.
I also enjoy non-fiction books and well-written articles focused on current affairs which incorporate humour. I spent years studying Political Science, so I guess I’m making up for years spent studying humourless and soulless political systems.
4. I listen to music. It is a solid means of escape, and I use it to its best advantage. Do I want to be in either a happy or melancholic mood? There is a song to fit that specific state of mind. For me, listening to music is a heady experience which soothes and refreshes me.
5. I put on some makeup. For someone who previously was happy to dismiss my beauty as inconvenient, I sure have upped my makeup game. I think that fundamentally, makeup appeals to my nature. I love processes and organizing things, so the step-by-step application of makeup and its organization has taken me on a level of joy which I did not know I could feel.
6. I go for walks, though not as often as I would like. When I lived in England, I loved to walk from my house to the city centre, which often took 30-45 minutes. I would make sure that my iPod was fully charged, that I was wearing comfortable shoes and that I was well bundled up or otherwise. There is something about walking at a regular pace, without losing your breath and listening to your favourite song that seems so mundane but really made me so happy. It was a solitary activity but I never felt lonely as I walked to my destination. Usually, though, I would take the bus back home, because even enthusiasm for walking cannot cure sore feet or provide strength to carry shopping bags.
All of these happiness-inducing activities have led me along the path of self-love. It is not a smooth path by any means. Some days are darker than others. On some days, loneliness, self-doubt, and weariness weigh me down, and going about my daily routines becomes so difficult. On those days, the hurtful words which people say to you or about you suddenly sting you when before, they barely registered in your brain. You are more sensitive to unkindness and pettiness. You start to believe the negative words spoken about you.
I now see loving myself as a job for which I am paid with my own smiles. I take deep breaths, remind myself of how blessed I am and congratulate myself for any milestone which I have accomplished, no matter how small. Completing a blog post, blanking out thoughts of my Ex-Boyfriend from my mind or making it through a work day are all worthy of self-celebration.
Even though I am not completely happy, I am definitely happier now than I have ever been in my life. I do what I can to make myself happy, and I hope that with deliberate self-love, I will radiate and attract the kind of love and respect which I feel towards myself.
What does happiness mean to you?
Ivie M. Eke.
Ivie Eke is a writer and NGO Professional who daydreams about constant electricity in Nigeria and mangoes. She writes poetry, stories and essays on her blog, www.classicallyivy.com and is the author of two books, ‘Looking for myself and my phone charger’ and ‘Walking On Eggshells’, both available on Okada Books and Amazon.