On impulse, I asked, “What is happiness to you?” Most people around me stumbled. They didn’t know. Wait! They did know, they assured me but they needed time, “to think about it.” So I gave them time and I gave myself time. My initial list was easy enough. It had the usual suspects:
A good book
A cup of tea with a friend
Shades of the evening sky
My friends had given it enough thought too and dutifully added more ‘happy’ things to my list:
Children playing in the playground
Clouds on a clear day
Some also added:
But I gently and respectfully removed these from my list and retained the ones that mattered to me. I began to enjoy this list and continued to add to it.
Making dream castles
Planning a vacation
Meeting my sister
Making a difference
The colour ‘orange’
And of course, my family.
Feeling rather pleased with myself, I arranged this list conspicuously so that I could look at it often. It gave me great joy. I also realised that the very act of categorising these ‘happy’ things made me happier. Everybody should have such a list, I thought. Insulated and ensconced by this general feeling of well-being, I walked in to the building. The usual peace greeted me and the giant foliage shaded the front gate. It was a secured area and it was under surveillance but nobody would stop me. I was a regular here and the people here know me. After all, I have been a volunteer long enough.
I greeted the staff cheerfully and signed my name in the register. They would call her and let her know that I have arrived. She is always happy to see me. She knows I carry a small chocolate with me, the one that she likes. She gobbles it up right in front of my eyes and I love seeing that excitement in her eyes. I must add that to my list of ‘happy’ things, I thought.
I know she will be happier this time. I had brought a gift after all. Ha! She wouldn’t be expecting that, I thought. She will be surprised that I remembered her birthday. I would say, “Haven’t I always remembered? Of course, I remember this time too!” Then, I will say how grown up she looks and I know she likes to hear these things. Strange, teenagers like to be told that they look older and adults like to be told that they look younger.
I was still waiting. Why hadn’t she come to see me yet? This place runs efficiently and the staff informs them when mentors visit. I have been meeting her for almost 5 years. I knew how this worked…but she still didn’t come. The lady at the counter gently guided me to where she was. I tightened the gift bag and sat stiffly next to the medical staff that attended to her. They were skilled in first aid. After a while, they left me alone with her.
“Did you do this to yourself?” I asked gently. She nodded. We spoke for a while but she wasn’t her usual self. “Why?” I asked. She lowered her eyes. “You know,” she said. We spoke a bit. I tried. Yes, I tried hard to be cheerful. I spoke of things that would excite her. I wanted her to feel better and then whipped out the 2 things that were considered, ‘happy,’ the chocolates and the gift. I handed them over, feeling inadequate and even ashamed. They weren’t ‘happy’ things at all!
Those pretty things that we had compiled, those that we thought were ‘happy’ were actually fake and so flaky. I kept the bag on the table and gave her a hug instead. That worked better. I promised that I will drop in again and saw her vacant eyes shine for a brief moment. I walked out of the building. The peace was scary, the foliage, sinister and the staff, tired. I came home and rewrote my list. Those pretty things were nice but not for those who had no hope, no place and no family. They needed sturdier things.
I made the list.