The True Meaning of Happiness

Kareem Awada outside the Renaissance Center in Detroit.

The pictured featured in this article is of my nephew Kareem outside the Renaissance Center in Detroit playing with the Water Jets. My family and I watched Kareem play with the water for what seemed like hours. What is so significant about this picture is at that moment in time, there was no place on earth I rather be. This is the most I smiled and laughed in recent memory. What I cherish most from all my travels around the world is not the tourist attractions but rather the people I met along the way.   Kareem reminded me that it is the people I cherish that make me happy, not the location.

People often ask me what has been my favorite location of all the places I have visited due to my extensive traveling.  I have visited some of the most sought out travel destinations in the world.   But my response always puzzles those who have asked the question. I always reply that my two favorite places that I have visited is Louisiana on hurricane relief and in Zambia on a service mission. Two of the most desolated areas of the world at the time, had the made the most impactful memories that has shaped the way I live today.  It was not the scenery that I remember on these trips, but rather I remember the people we helped and those who worked beside me.  I would have gladly been anywhere in the world with these people because of the love and happiness we shared was special. We were able to smile and laugh with the people we helped while we did difficult work.  It was this experience that made me realize what true happiness was for me.

Some people may begin reading this and think that I am discouraging people from moving on, succeeding, or chasing after a career or dream.  But what I am really advocating is that people need to try and be happy with what they have in life. You can always strive to have more in life, but if you do not appreciate what you already have, how on earth are you going to appreciate even more? I understand that for some people happiness is tied completely to a location.  There is an exception to every rule. But I sincerely believe that for most of us, we cannot achieve true happiness simply by changing our surroundings.  Happiness is much more than that.  It is nice to see a beautiful relic in an exotic location, but it will not carry as much meaning if you did not share it with a person you love.  It is your friends and family that will bring the most joy to your life.

This is a story that you may have heard before.  But what I think is different about this story is that I have been around the world and chased my dreams. I want everyone to have that opportunity and not feel that they are somehow trapped in a location, to have the best of both worlds. But having the best of both worlds takes hard work and more importantly time.  Traveling the world did not just fall in my lap nor did it somehow fit into a certain time frame.  Happiness was not something that I looked forward to but was something that I tried to live every day.  It is not always about the destination but also about enjoying the journey along the way.  So many people are so focused on their ultimate destination that they forget about the present.  If you cannot find reasons to smile and laugh in your current surroundings, when and if you reach your ultimate destination, you may arrive a bitter and resentful person.

When I look back at the times I cherish the most, it is the people I remember. It was not the great world attractions that I remember, but rather the people I shared them with.  And some of the best moments in my life happened in my own backyard.  Far too many people always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  Happiness is a state of mind and not a location. If you are unhappy in your current predicament, it is unlikely that simply moving locations is going to bring you the happiness you desire.  Positivity is a choice that you make every day and it does not come without struggles.  Find reasons to smile, find reason to be kind to someone, and most importantly find reasons to be happy.

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