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Let me cut through the long story and reveal the secret — it’s contentment!

I write it like I discovered this secret to happiness. But I will tell you a story.

It was 1996. Two things mattered the most: the shoes you wore and the car you were driven in.

Back then my dad had a dead beat Passat. The original VW Passat — 1982 model. It wasn’t just my dad’s. It was also my mom’s. Back then it was our only car. But back then my classmates had parents who drove more recent cars. It seemed like the average car that dropped kids off at the International School, Ibadan was a Lincoln Navigator and mostly kids were chauffeur driven.

I wanted to be one of the cool kids. I wanted to fit in but I couldn’t help my parents to afford a better car so I did what I could do- I always pretended to tie my shoe lace in a desperate effort to hide from being seen. The older I got, the more I didn’t want my dad to drop me off in school. I prayed that somehow he would change his mind and allow me follow others to school. Like God was pranking me, my mum got an offer to lecture in my school. This didn’t only mean my dad would drop both of us in school, it also meant my mother would on many occassions address me together with other kids in literature class.

My life started to end. I started to despised school. I lied that Mrs. Kuyinu, whose face I carry on my own head, was a distant relative. I avoided being in the same location with her in school. She busted this story once when in class she told a story about my birth.

My school was fun but I hated it. I also hated that my parents couldn’t afford Timberland boots. Every cool guy had them. I asked my father to buy for me. His response was that the flat shoes he bought me were from London and not the local LOP store. I could not move around freely. I was ashamed of my heritage, my properties and myself.

Then I started to hate life.

Many years later, I graduated from the University, started my own freelance gig that fetched me an average of about $200 a month. It was enough for me to subscribe to my internet service, it was enough to buy call credits to call my girlfriend and it was enough for me to buy many bottles of Coca Cola that ended up under my bed. It was enough for me to transport myself every Saturday to Lagos to spend 4 hours with my girlfriend undetected by my mother who would think I am in front of my computer all day.

But my girlfriend had an actual job working at the headquarters of a telecommunications company. And that was the problem then. I was happy with my job, she was happy with her job. But we weren’t happy about my job. I earned 350% less than she did. Our mutual friends and her colleagues earned 350% more than I did. I knew that, she knew that. But they didn’t know. It was a problem because she wanted me to earn more. I knew I would eventually do. But I loved what I did and I loved life. Especially the prospects of spending the rest of my life with her.

We broke up later.

The mistake of Money and Happiness

There’s almost no way we can talk about happiness and the subject of money or possessions won’t pop up. I wish I had $10 million in my bank account right now. If I did, I would buy myself a Tesla Model S, I’d get a great home somewhere in Banana Island while I build my own condo in the Bahamas, another in the Philippines. But sadly, my level of happiness won’t change(pun intended).

In his book, On Desire , Professor B. Irvine offers the following thought experiment: Suppose you woke up one morning to discover that you were the last person on earth: during the night, aliens had spirited away everyone but you. Suppose that despite the absence of other people, the world’s buildings, houses, stores, and roads remained as they had been the night before. Cars were where their now-vanished owners had parked them, and gas for these cars was plentiful at now-unattended gas stations. The electricity still worked. It would be like this world except that everyone but you was gone. You would, of course, be very lonely, but let us ignore the emotional aspects of being the last person, and instead focus our attention on the material aspects. In the situation described, you could satisfy many material desires that you can’t satisfy in our actual world. You could have the car of your dreams. You could even have a showroom full of expensive cars. You could have the house of your dreams — or live in a palace. You could wear very expensive clothes. You could acquire not just a big diamond ring but the Hope Diamond itself. The interesting question is this: without people around, would you still want these things? Would the material desires you harbored when the world was full of people still be present in you if other people vanished? Probably not. Without anyone else to impress, probably lose all interest in your appearance. The thought experiment shows that we choose our lifestyles — our houses, our clothes, our watches — with other people in mind.

In his book, Happy; Why More Or Less Everything Is Absolutely Fine, Derren Brown went on to write, “Wealth is like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we become; and the same is true of fame.’

How comparison kills us

Furthermore, Derren Brown continues by mentioning how we are told to live our lives by focusing on the future and by believing in ourselves at all costs. The result, too often, is waste and frustration. By projecting ourselves always into the hereafter we miss out on the present, on knowing ourselves and the richness of the current moment. By trying to control what we can’t, we all but guarantee frustration and disappointment. It’s why the deepest book I have read so far is the Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. In it, he describes how there is absolutely no worry in the present. In fact when we are unhappy, we are either stuck in the past or living in the future.

How Social Media kills us faster than cigarettes

The biggest distraction in this generation is social media. The average smart phone user spends more time on Instagram and Facebook than any other application. In fact I read somewhere that more time is spent on social media than is spent in actual human interaction. The problem is when we assume that people around us are happy or successful because of the glossy pictures they put on Instagram or Facebook. This tricks us into thinking that these subjects have good lives. The harm comes in when you compare your emotional state to what is perceived by a picture or status message. We often forget this —

Happiness requires struggle

Yes, happiness requires struggle. And struggle should be a part of the production and benefits of happiness.

Mark Manson writes in his blog —

If I ask you, “What do you want out of life?” and you say something like, “I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,” it’s so ubiquitous that it doesn’t even mean anything. A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

Because happiness requires struggle. The positive is the side effect of handling the negative. You can only avoid negative experiences for so long before they come roaring back to life.

Forgetting Happiness, striving for Joy instead

According to JD Salinger, author of Catcher In The Rye, “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid”. While fulfillment of happiness is reliant on contentment, the state of joy is a much deeper one. In fact a contrastive definition reads, Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure. Joy is a stronger, less common feeling than happiness.

Joy is a more spiritual experience and is closely tied to gratitude, caring for others and ultimately a higher life.

In a recent podcast of James Altucher’s, Dan Ariely says and I paraphrase, “We often think of maximizing happiness. What gives us joy is not what gives us happiness.

Lifetime accomplishments that relate directly with our sense of humanity achieve a different sense of happiness. The problem is we focus on the short term and give up on the long term.

When Alexander the Great saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.

The only struggle for happiness that’s necessary

If you are in a tireless pursuit of happiness, ask yourself if you’re comparing yourself to others. I am not sure this setting in humans can ever be deactivated. We can instead remind ourselves to turn off the need to compare ourselves with the next person.

Also, we need to stay in the present and enjoy the process, enjoy the journey. A line misattributed to Plutarch and more accurately credited to Die Hard ’s Hans Gruber runs as follows

When Alexander the Great saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.

Today, I wish I could go back to the past and thank my father with a hug for the sacrifice he continuously made giving us a ride to school. I am continuously thankful that my mother was not just my best teacher in secondary school but she was also many people’s favorite teacher. On record I have about 24 random people(and more) who also think she was their best teacher including female Nigerian Rap act, Sasha.


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