Around this time last year, I’d made a silent resolution. I had decided that I was going to be happy. I had made up my mind that I would, as often as I could and for as long as it was possible, choose happiness.
My brother’s life may have been brief but it was never dull. I don’t think he was ever conscious of it, but everything in his life, every event, incident or occasion, was amplified. Perhaps it was just his flair for drama that contributed to this, but his emotions ranged in the extreme. When he was happy, he would be overjoyed. When he was angry, his wrath would evoke dread. Whatever mood he’d be in, it was always exaggerated, always infectious to the point where the whole house would be subdued if he ever was. Maybe, without knowing, he was compensating for all the emotions he wouldn’t be able to feel after death; maybe, in living large, he was making up for the short span of his actual physical presence.
He was nowhere near perfect, but one thing he always got right was happiness. My brother was not the type of man to lull around days on end in a haze of depression or melancholy. Certainly, he felt despair and anguish but he didn’t cozy up to those sentiments and hold on to them for long the way so many of us, including myself, tend to do. A free spirit like him, he always turned to his music. It was through composing, singing, playing the guitar and performing that my brother found the true way back to happiness, every time. His music was not just his passion or his hobby, it was his north star.
Last year, I had resolved to follow my north star, wherever it may lead me to. For a while after my brother died, I clung on to one, simple dictum: life is short. He died at 30 because his heart suddenly decided to stop beating and that’s all I could think of: that maybe I only have till 30 as well. I used it as an excuse for many of my actions, and as a basis for decisions both made and avoided. I’ve refined that approach a bit this past year. Life is short, certainly, but it must have some meaning. Quality > Quantity. For me, meaning derives from experience, and I wanted my life to overflow with some top-quality euphoria-inducing instances.
The past 12 months have been full of surprises, mostly good. In my pursuit of happiness, I have been to more concerts this past year than I have in the 22 years preceding it, I have traveled to brand new places all alone and fallen in love with new cities that feel like home, I have taken risks and forged connections with new names while erasing some old ones from my memory book, I have rediscovered an old hometown and reconnected with faces I hadn’t seen in a decade, I have changed the course of my professional life and plunged head-first into avenues I had never imagined I would ever be interested in. Through it all, I have had this one constant thought at the back of my mind: just be happy.
It doesn’t take much, I realised. It can be found sitting on the front steps of a purple house with a perfectly gooey cookie in one hand and a book in another, or in that breathless red-faced moment when you’ve finally beaten your own personal best time in a workout after weeks of training. It’s when you manage to, after constant scheduling and rescheduling, get around to Skyping with your long-distance best friend and end up talking 2 hours longer than you’d planned. Sometimes, it’s even when a client ends a long, frustrating thread of slightly passive aggressive emails with a simple ‘thank you :)’. It happens when you’re lying on the grass in a way you haven’t since you were 6 and all you can see is sunlight speckled with cloud fluff and leaves and you’re bewitched by the simplicity of the scene. It’s when you’re walking along a sunny street and are suddenly overcome by the impulsive need to hold the hand of the person walking next to you and you give in. It’s when you realise there is no rush to finish the novel that you’ve been working on and writing under pressure just makes for crappy prose and you can take a short detour into verse and indulge your love for poetry for a while. It happens when you finally get to dance at a live concert to the song you’re used to simply hearing on your headphones and tapping your fingers along to. It’s that glorious moment when you bite into the softest, flakiest pain au chocolat you’ve ever had and are glad you waited 35 minutes in line to order. It’s when you see your baby nieces holding hands and calling out to you to come play with them. It’s in that moment where you’re driving down a highway and waiting for the next song to play but there are too many commercials so you switch stations and Angels by The XX comes on and you grin like a sociopath and roll down all your car windows and pretend you’re driving a convertible because that’s how great it feels then. It’s when you finally figure out that those beautiful droopy yellow flowers you saw in California actually have a real name and are called Angel’s Trumpets. It happens when someone who hasn’t seen you in many years looks aghast and exclaims loudly about how much weight you’ve lost and you’re tempted to bust out a few moves to ‘I’m sexy and I know it’ but instead just nod and smile sagely instead. It happens after you’ve written a few lines of verse and you re-read in amazement that the words turned out just how you wanted in only one go. It’s when you receive an out-of-the-blue call/text/email/whatsapp/bbm/tweet/inbox message of concern from one of the many people who know and care about you.
My north star, I have realised, lies in forming connections. I find happiness in shared history, common ground, similar likes and dislikes and the ability to discover something about myself I had no idea existed simply by virtue of seeing myself through another individual’s perspective. These lead to great stories and, as anyone who knows even the bare minimum about me, I am a sucker for a good story. My happiness experiment has given me some grief this past year, it hasn’t led to permanent contentment, and it was an important part of the process for me to realise that it doesn’t have to.
Going all the way, going after what makes me happy, striving for things that bring a smile to my face – it’s this leap that matters, and I would take it again in a heartbeat. Because, sometimes, that’s what stops. The heart. Bhai’s did, and someday mine will too, and when that happens, I don’t want people talking about what I owned or achieved. I want to be known for the unlikely connections I was able to form, the surprising friendships I pursued and the unexpected yet fantastic stories that emerged out of them.
It’s not easy. Nothing real is ever easy. Just writing this post is taking Herculean effort because what I’m typing out is how I think on most days but its conflicting with what I’m thinking RIGHT NOW. Right this second, I realise it’s the 18th of December and I’m suppressing flashbacks of seeing my brother’s body and remembering the touch of his cold fingertips. At this moment, I’m trying to not recall the weeks and weeks of sleepless nights that ensued that first year and I am now wondering how I can ever get married without having him around to sing at my mehndi or walk me down the aisle.
Happiness is really hard work. It still requires making tough decisions to eliminate factors in your life that limit your joy, and then communicating and implementing what you have as just airy-fairy ideas into actuality. Happiness is a process. It’s taken me 3 years and a dead brother to realise that, and I am nowhere near done. But I’m trying.
The answer must be in the attempt.