Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lessons I’ve Learned I – How to be Happy

May 16, 2009

Since joining the Peace Corps and being sent to Cameroon, I have changed and learned a lot. I remember writing in one of the essays in the application process that I knew I would change – I didn’t know how but I knew it would be for the better. That’s been true, but even after the change, it’s hard to enumerate the lessons I’ve learned. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go.

The first, and probably the most important thing I’ve learned is how to be happy. I’m pretty sure that everything that I learned in this domain I knew before I came, but I’ve come to a higher realization of its truth and have been able to put it into practice.

Firstly, happiness is not sought. You can’t find it in money or things or places or even relationships. If flows naturally out of peace of mind. Virtually none of our unhappiness comes from the situations that we find ourselves in. It comes from our reactions and emotions to those situations. We have the power to choose our reactions and we have the power to control our emotions. Therefore we have the power to be happy. It’s easier said than done, but is very possible.

Secondly, the present moment cannot be changed. It is as it is and accepting it is a prerequisite for being happy. This necessarily excludes regrets about the past and worries about (but not planning for) the future. There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world and probably in our own lives as well. There are many examples that we can find where life simply isn’t fair. We don’t have to condone any of these things, but if we ever want to be happy or make a positive change, we need to first acknowledge and accept their existence right now.

I’ve learned that I personally will always have down times. Since being here I have found that I have small cycles of depression. When I thought I completely understood the lessons above and then went into one of those cycles, it was quite scary. I thought I was in complete control of my life, able to make proactive choices to better my future, my happiness, and my being. But I found that that wasn’t the case at all. Despite my continued ability to make those proactive choices, I had very little energy and found that I couldn’t get rid of my desire to stay in that sad state. What was the answer? Back to the lessons I thought I understood – accept the present moment. If I can’t get rid of the desire to remain depressed, it makes no sense to be mad or scared of it. It is what it is. I remind myself that it will pass, I spend my precious energy on maintaining my commitments, and I stop trying to change what I’ve learned have no control over. And if ever a problem arrives that I know won’t pass, that fact won’t change the answer that needs to be applied – only the difficulty in applying it.

Also related to my self-reflection and being happy is my choice of work. Ever since my first day at post, I’ve taken very seriously some advice from previous volunteers – don’t do ineffective or unsustainable work just to give yourself the semblance of being busy or productive. I refused to work with people that I thought were only motivated by selfish reasons and I did a lot more reflecting than doing. I analyzed what I thought was wrong with Cameroon so I would know where I could feel the most effective, and I reflected on the past and current approaches to development in search for answers to why it didn’t seem to be working. Although it took me a long time to get there and I’m not proclaiming to have found the answer, I did eventually reach conclusions on these fronts. And those conclusions led me to work that I felt rewarded in doing. My conclusions, essentially, were to take a more hands-off approach. I can’t change any other person – only they can. And the change needs to be at the core, not on surface or what I consider secondary issues like raising average salaries and building structures. Bubbles burst, but your foundation remains in tact. I realized that as an American, one of the biggest opportunities I’ve had to develop at the core, in my character, came from books – from the solutions and lessons that others have already learned, experimented with, and implemented. That led me to make lots of book donations to promote a love of reading and to take one specific book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and share it in detail with as many people as possible.

It was a very bumpy road learning this lesson, but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really good comments and assessment of your job and your growth. Have really enjoyed reading your blog and appreciate your writing skills (which I never knew you had) and how this experience has influenced your life. These types of major life experiences always seems to do that. I love you. Dad