As with the case of many of my writings, I’ve often been inspired by the books I read. Not only that: the experience I’ve encountered, the people I’ve met, the other side that I’ve travelled. The title of this blogpost seems grand, but it really isn’t. It is the core lesson I learn from reading Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom. Thank you David for lending me this book of his and said, “Even though your religion is not believed by the characters in this book, I’m pretty sure you may find some things to figure out”.
“Perplexed with a bit of relief” may be a good expression to describe how I feel after reading this book. It’s like, you know, being reminded of something so basic, so ‘going back to the ground’ you almost feel like a child learning knowledge about the world. I especially like page 98-99. This is the excerpt:
I knew depression was real, and in many cases required medical attention. I also knew we overused the word. Much of what we called ‘depression’ was really dissatisfaction, a result of setting a bar impossibly high or expecting treasures that we weren’t willing to work for. I knew people whose unbearable source of misery was their weight, their baldness, their lack of advancement in workplace, or their inability to find the perfect mate, even if they themselves did not behave like one. To these people, unhappiness was a condition, an intolerable state of affairs. If pills could help, pills were taken.
But pills were not going to change the fundamental problem in the construction. Wanting what you can’t have. Looking for self-worth in the mirror. Layering work on top of work and still wondering why you weren’t satisfied—before working some more.
I knew. I had done all that. There was a stretch where I would not have worked more hours in the day without eliminating sleep altogether. I piled on accomplishments. I made money. I earned accolades. And the longer I went at it, the emptier I began to feel, like pumping air faster and faster into a torn tire.
How many of us will react, “That’s my life!” after reading those passages? I bet a lot of us will. Isn’t it what we’ve got used to in modern society? There are many things that will keep us dissatisfied. My campus life is an example of a big chunk. I’m living in a world surrounded by high achievers, reaching on top of everything, the brightest minds of brightest students in the country. I’m not saying it’s bad. In fact, it’s the kind of life I’ve been living for my whole 20 years of breathing, and I’m proud of it. What intrigues me is the simple question, “Am I truly happy?”
Since I started school, I had always known what I wanted. In elementary school, my goal was to always be the first rank, and eventually be a student of SMP Negeri 5 Bandung, the best junior high school in this city. It went on as “to be a student of SMA Negeri 3 Bandung” and “to be a student of Institut Teknologi Bandung”. I was academically excellent in my 12 years plus of formal education, even until now many people still consider me as ‘excellent’. Even though I don’t have >3.5 GPA, I’ve had plenty of awards and accomplishments that have made me remarkable and received a lot of compliments. For myself, I knew I had always known where I wanted to go.
There are points in my life where I got so low, sank down to the earth with hands down. At these points, I often asked myself: what do I want in life?
That question haunts me again now. I once tweeted “Sometimes it takes a crisis to force you to find who you really are”. I meant it. This, as clever people say, a quarter life crisis. My formal education days will soon be memory. The next path is of course, “where am I gonna work?”, almost feels like searching for best schools all over again. Diverse choices come up, along with the thoughts of finding a steady partner, marriage, raising kids, getting old, … the list can go on.
Reading Have A Little Faith, I’m a little nudged by the message that book tries to imply. I begin to start questioning about what I’ve often treated as “side factors”. Things out of my busy daily life. Things about religion. About faith. About afterlife. About going back to God and decipher the meaning of signs I may have missed. About shalat. About shaum. About hajj. About zakat. About iman.
Religion is an element that is often missed while we’re trying to achieve big things. “Every man for himself”. God is like a divine creature some way up high, He has nothing to do with our pursuit of excellence. True, I do shalat five times a day, but as time goes by, I treat it as plain routine and eventually I’ve lost the meaning. My mistake is that it doesn’t make me closer to God.
Sometimes it’s so easy to make life seems bad. Sometimes it’s so easy to be trapped in crisis. Sometimes it’s so easy not to thank God. Unhappiness scatter everywhere around our lives. Bad score, jealousy that people are having better grades or better achievements, wanting to reach perfection, the desire for new gadgets, the wish to have a “better life”. Times when I updated my CV and realized that there was no more empty space to fill, but then I saw my friend got internship in a big fat company or won some competitions and went abroad free of charge. Times when I felt like I was smart enough but people were whizzing with their skyrocketing GPAs. Times when I felt like my life was great enough alone but then I saw my friends spending time with their significant others. So many emotions, so many things to feel bad about, so many factors of disappointment. Every single day, everything is never enough. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I bend on my knees praying that I’ll be given that better life, better chance, better this and that. I pray so that I can be happy. I search for accomplishments so that I can be happy. But what does it mean to be happy? What is ‘happy’?
Here’s what I learned from Have A Little Faith:
So, have we solved the secret of happiness?
“I believe so”, he said.
Are you going to tell me?
“For what you have. For the love you receive. And for what God has given you.”
He looked me in the eye. Then he sighed deeply.
Turns out that the secret of happiness that we all yearn for is right in front of our eyes. For me, that’s quite a drawback, isn’t it? Ambition is what keeps many of us alive. Looking up, striving for more. If the fuel’s not there so how can the engine work? If the desire to be bigger, greater, smarter, another –er is not there, then what’s left for us to live for?
I know because I’ve been there. It’s good to settle down, but where’s the fun in that?
I realize it’s hard to implement this, but this is what I’ll say: having more doesn’t keep you from wanting more. I’ve always had this vivid imagination that I’ll someday be a successful female CEO and live a wealthy woman life. But at the same time, I know a lot of rich people with unlimited amount of money who are not happy because of them. So how do we attain happiness?
I believe that the secret of happiness is not made to make us stop striving for the “better”. It’s good to live a life full of achievements, but it’s “better” to live a life full of meaning. I know someone who lives this way, and I can honestly say that he’s one of the happiest and most inspirational person I’ve ever met. I think the reason why he’s different from any other achiever I know is that he knows where his portion is. He knows his boundaries and let go with it. He, as he told me, “remember God at least 2 hours a day”. Maybe, these 2 hours are the time when he starts being grateful of what he has. And then move on with life. And continue to achieve greater things but keeping the satisfaction down to the right level. That way, he lives a beautiful life but still full of struggle.
Having more doesn’t keep you from wanting more.
The only thing I can say is that ambition, desire, want, they all got their expiration dates. Once they’re gone you’ll feel empty. It will be gone, no matter how hard you shake your head in disbelief. And when the time comes, like now, I think I’ll try to execute the secret of happiness. To be satisfied. To be grateful. For what I have. For the love I receive.
And for what God has given me.