Why be happy when you could be normal?

Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy

David Rigby

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At a recent event I was privileged to ask an Emirati lady to think of someone she really admired and then explain why. She thought for a split second and then a huge beaming smile spread across her face – and I had to know who she was thinking about….It was her husband. She explained the wonderful things he has achieved and how grateful she was to her parents for choosing this man for her.

This is a woman who is happy and is being normal in the society she was raised in.

But it’s not so for many people. When British writer Jeannette Winterton’ finally left home and slept in an old car her mother’s parting remark was: “Why be happy when you could be normal?” Normal for her mother (as father had no say) was the Baptist church at least once a day, having her daughter exorcised, and throwing her daughter out all night to sleep in the street.

She also would not allow books in the house for fear of corruption. Jeanette snook books into the house and kept them under the mattress in layers and when her mother eventually found them, she burnt them all in the backyard and threw her out again.

A generation earlier renowned Irish writer Edna Obrien had the privilege of having her first book, “The Country Girls” banned by the Irish Government and burned in the street for writing about “normal” repressive Irish life. And coincidentally she was brought up in a house were books were banned. Being happy was not “normal” in Eire either. She left her husband, who was a replication of her mother, moved to England with her children and is now known as one of Ireland’s greatest writers. “Unhappy houses are a very good incubation for stories,” she said.

Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Happiness is not a final destination, feeling good all the time or being rich or affording everything you want. It is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life (for example, finding meaning in your work) and how good you feel on a day-to-day basis.

Sonja Lyubomirsky concludes in her book “The How of Happiness” that 50 percent of a given human’s happiness level is genetically determined, 10 percent is affected by life circumstances and situation, and a remaining 40 percent of happiness is subject to self-control.

In other words, you have the ability to control how you feel—and with consistent practice, you can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life. Novelist and playwright Somerset Maughan said: “The only thing that counts is the love of duty; when love and duty are one, then grace is in you and you will enjoy a happiness which passes all understanding.”

Normal is a set of values, norms and behaviors based often on the society or social group you are in. In Dubai there are many “normal” living side-by-side. And for each the “normal” is different. What is normal for me is not normal for you.

As a child normal is what you know, as a young adult normal can be a conflict between your school, your friends and your parents. But often your parents choose your school to reflect their normal. And you are most likely to find friends from school who again are a reflection of their parents’ identical “normal”. Some people never realize there could be another normal to look for – and maybe that lack of awareness helps them to be happy but can also lead to depression.

The song “Is that all there is?” by Peggy Lee sums up that view. Setting up home with someone requires negotiating what will be their join “normal”. And that new “normal” could be very much in conflict with parents and friends normal. But if that normal is imposed one on the other then it’s a sure way to cause trouble.

Criteria which determine what is normal include:
Your age
Closeness of family and peer group
Being well travelled or not
Income and education
Religion, seriousness of following and exposure to others
Race and ethnicity
The “normal” of the country you are living in.

My friend on FB recently shared a two-year-old post: “After almost two hours I am gonna be on a boat, if something happens to me today you should know that I never gave up. And so shouldn’t you. You should never give up searching for a life that fits you. Where you feel safe and accepted.”

And that means you can be happy if you can find the normal which fits you. – Why be normal when you could be happy? And you could be both.

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