Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Finding happiness inside

Happiness requires something to do, something to love, and something to hope for. (Swahili)

Dear Zayda,

Each of us can decide what happiness means to us.

We can be happy because of what we have, except that human beings never see to have enough. For example, if we have a new car today, we may be happy till we see a state of the art SUV that we think would make us happier still.

We can also be happy because of who we are. Since we are unique and special, we can always tap into ourselves as our source happiness. The challenge is to know who we are and to have the courage to be that person.

So we can add a little to the proverb for today. We might make it read, “Happiness is knowing ourselves to we find something to do, something to love, and something to hope for consistent with the vision we hold of ourselves and our world.”

Let us imagine you see yourself as a writer of children’s stories. You might have something to do as a top buyer of furniture in a big firm. That job might earn you a big salary and allow you to own a home and a car while you are in your early twenties. However, just having “something to do” might not make you happy.

We all need something or someone to love. However, we sometimes love with the hope that the person will love us back. We may expect too much of that person who, after all, has his own life to lead and his own dreams to try to fulfill. In error, we may be relying on that person to fulfill our dreams. We may then turn to something to love, perhaps devoting ourselves to some worthy cause. Love of plants and animals, love of books, cars, and music, may fill the gap for a while. Sometimes for a long while. But if our real yearning is to love another human being, we will need to first learn to love ourselves. Some may say that we cannot truly love even things, until we love ourselves.

Happiness can give us something to hope for, just as something to hope for can give us a feeling of happiness. If we choose to be happy, the world can look good to us even on the dark days. Faith in ourselves can help us to realize that morning always follows night just as spring always follows winter. At the same time, we can make ourselves happy by having a goal to work toward.

If we turn around this Swahili proverb, we can see that an unhappy person is likely to have nothing to do, nothing to love, and nothing to hope for. Usually the person reaches that stage because she has not learned how to love herself. The best gift to that person is not necessarily a job, a mate, or even an animal for a pet. Those may help in the short run. However the person may end up even more unhappy if she loses the things that came from the outside because she did not come to terms with herself inside. The best help is to love the person just as she is, so she can start to see herself as lovable. We may need to hold her hands for a while, being patient with her, till she can take over the job of loving herself. We can best give that help if we already love ourselves.

Happiness is complex, my grandniece. The Swahili are onto something important here, but we may need to add to the advice they give us. Happiness also requires loving ourselves. It needs first of all to be an inside job.


Your shangazi Nothango (Yvonne)

No comments:


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at