Running on trails through MacRitchie Reservoir Park, not too far from my neighborhood in Singapore this past Sunday morning, I dodged the monkeys and scaled the single-lane hanging bridge on the Tree Top Walk. When I emerged triumphantly from the jungle into a clearing that doubled for a golf course path, the skies opened up. But, I didn’t care. In fact, I embraced it. In epic movie style, I raised my hands, palms up to the sky, and let the rain pour over me, cleansing me. And that’s when I saw them…a group of middle-aged Asian men in argyle socks and white golf shoes huddled under a pavilion trying to stay dry and watching me with bewilderment, probably wondering what this crazy Ang Mo was up to.
I don’t know if it is my newfound freedom as I get older, or the fact that their fashion sense left a lot to be desired, but I did not feel any sense of embarrassment or compulsion to explain myself. I simply smiled and jogged away. That to me is freedom. Freedom from self-judgment. Freedom from the judgment of others. The ability to be yourself and to be completely happy about it.
That is not always easy, especially for me. But, maybe that’s true for many. I want people to like me, to connect with me, to think I’m pretty cool. And, when you are focused on that, you are not always focused on being yourself. There are two movies in which Julia Roberts starred with a similar theme that always resonated for me. Separately, in both “Runaway Bride” and “Eat, Pray, Love,” Roberts’ character is confronted with her tendency to adjust who she appears to be based on the person with whom she is in a relationship. In real life, whether that relationship is a partner, a friend, a business colleague or an acquaintance doesn’t matter. When you try too hard to be what you think others want you to be, it is not sustainable. And in the long run, you are not happy.
This concept of “happiness” can be a bit esoteric and, to some, very North American-centric. But, I don’t care. I still believe it is what we all crave deep down inside. The difference may simply be in how we define happiness. For me, it is intrinsically linked to our ability to be and act as ourselves, without the negative self judgment, or despite the judgment of others.
Yes, of course, level of happiness can easily be impacted by a person’s economic, social or political situation especially where health and safety are impacted. But, happiness is not only a product of these things. I was reminded of this recently by one of my colleagues at ShiftRunner. Gen, the newest addition to our team working directly for Pandoo Foundation, is managing our “on the ground” efforts in supporting education and economic sustainability in The Philippines. She will be writing a blog that will be featured on the Pandoo Foundation site about her activities and experiences in the field. She is clear in her belief that we are there, not to “save the day” or “make them happy.” We are meant to provide the tools that will allow them to bring their standard of living to a higher level, so that they can have a better life – as they determine what that is. She has seen firsthand that there is already a lot of happiness despite the situation, and we need to recognize and celebrate that.
From where do you believe that true happiness stems?