The True Meaning of Happiness

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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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7 Philosophies of Peace 

I am still quite young but through some of my experiences and travel, I have picked up 7 Philosophies of Peace that I try to live by. These philosophies may help some people or at least start a conversation. Feel free to comment below.

1. “When someone is hurting or asking for help, believe them.” Far too often people question a person’s life circumstance or worse, are accusatory. What I’ve learned is that we will never know a person’s whole story and we should try not to judge. Listen and be an ally to them. Judging can lead to anger and sometimes hate. 

2. “Don’t judge.” People proclaim that only God can judge and in the same breath judge someone else. The more people I meet and the more experiences I obtain, I’ve realized that judging a person’s choices or existence is toxic. It does not do you any good nor is it beneficial to the person you are judging.

3. “Validate feelings.” When someone is upset, angry, excited, sad, happy, depressed or feeling any other way, validate those feelings. It is demoralizing when someone belittles how you feel. What one does with those feelings is a whole different layer, but we should never dismiss how someone feels even if we think that it may be insignificant. That could be the hardest thing they are dealing with at that moment in their life. Support them, don’t judge them.

4. “Unconditional love.” It means no conditions. No exceptions. No buts. No Howevers. Love whoever and whenever you can. Even love your enemy. Often said but rarely applied.

5. “Service is hard and sometimes not fun.” You should help others because it is the right thing to do, not because of recognition or appreciation. The biggest gift of service is someone else allowing you to help them. Because we all know that admitting we need help is sometimes difficult. Although a thank you is nice it is not necessary when helping others.

6. “Refrain from stating I understand.” We often say that we understand when someone is going through a struggle when in fact we may not fully understand. Instead, say that I love you and I am here for you. Sometimes you will never understand and that is okay, it doesn’t mean you can’t care.

7. “Death and change.” These are the only two things in life guaranteed. It may seem ominous but I feel that it is liberating. Life is so precious and I try to live it to the fullest when I can. And nothing ever stays the same. The most successful people are those who either embrace change or anticipate it. Change can be scary but is necessary and inevitable.

The picture below was taken on a service trip in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where I learned many life lessons.

 

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Blind to Beauty

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” “Beauty is only skin deep.” There are thousands of quotes about beauty, but a large majority of people still cannot truly recognize it.  The lack of recognition derives from those who try to see beauty with their eyes.  Many have fallen victim to being blind to authentic beauty.   For most people, beauty is based upon one’s physical attractiveness, and not upon one’s heart.  It’s hard for many to believe that a person can be physically attractive, but not beautiful.   Beauty and physical attractiveness are not synonymous.  Both can coexist, but are not exclusive to one another.  You will never know that you are blind to beauty until you encounter it in its true form.

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Why not my Cause?

Was my cause not worthy of people’s notice? Did people doubt if the work we were doing was beneficial? Where was the outcry for the injustice being displayed in Zambia? I would tell myself: if only they could see what was going on in Zambia, and the work we were doing there; people would not be able to disregard the struggle before their eyes. I started pointing my finger at people without realizing; I was pointing three fingers at myself with the same hand. My frustration became a roadblock to me putting myself in their shoes. Once my initial frustration faded, I began to see more clearly. I came to the realization that before I ever went to Zambia, the Zambian people, and their struggles had never crossed my mind. In fact, I would have been hard-pressed to point Zambia out on a map.

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Choose to Love

When most people think of love, they usually think of the romantic love that they’ve seen in countless movies and novels.  Very few people consider the type of love leaders like Mohandas K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified.   When these iconic leaders spoke of love, it was thought of as a deliberate choice. Love wasn’t something that you fall into, but rather a choice to give love despite how they may have felt about the other person.  Love is a concept that is often misconstrued and can be very discriminate.  To love unconditionally is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp.  Loving unconditionally does not come without its failures, but rather it’s a struggle that is endured every day for the good of those affected by this choice.

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The True Meaning of Happiness

Image

Kareem Awada outside the Renaissance Center in Detroit.

The picture 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’d 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.

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Peace Transcending Politics

“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” This quote from Mother Teresa is one of the best illustrations of what striving for peace can be. Those who protest wars are not always looking for peace. Striving for peace goes beyond just being against a certain armed conflict. Even when armed conflict is stopped, it does not necessarily bring peace. Peace is a life style that does not come and go according to one’s convenience.  Many turn to politics to obtain peace when at times it is the same politics that brought the armed conflict in the first place. Some of the greatest figures of peace have not been politicians.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and Mohandas K. Gandhi are just a few that never had official state titles.  Peace can and does transcend politics.

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Making the Most of Our Time

Your Time: Service to Others

In late August of 2005, I watched as Hurricane Katrina caused one of the worst natural disasters in United States history.  Although I was emotionally affected about what happened in the Gulf Coast and the slow response to get people in the region help, I was not compelled to volunteer.  Like many people, I donated my loose change whenever I came across a fundraiser to help people affected by the hurricanes.  As I donated this change, I would always tell myself that I know I would do more if only I had the time and money.  Plus I had my own problems and what about my city?  The city I was born and raised in had issues with homelessness and poverty, just to name a few.   Making the most of my time never really included any hands-on service.  I was just too busy to do more than I had already done for the relief efforts.

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