The Currency of Happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of happiness. There has been many shifts in my life, my family, my friendships, my relationships, and my work. Lots of ups and some downs, but a little quiet time has allowed me to reflect again on how these things affect who I am.

You see, I relate happiness as a very Western ideal. It is a very selfish concept because happiness comes from within, although it can be shared, it is mostly about the individual. Growing up in Canada meant that the idea of self was always central to who we were. Being an individual was always celebrated and speaking your mind, finding your own voice is always the journey that one takes. On top of that, all the “Western” tv shows and movies that we watched, it was always about the importance of being happy, finding happiness, search for happiness, fulfilling your happy quota etc etc…

Hehe not such a bad thing right?

On the flip side, sacrifice is a very Eastern ideal. Communal, group thinking and cultural togetherness for the greater good is incredibly important. Sacrifice is almost a currency of how selfless you are, which equates to the value you bring to your family/circle/community. When I read about how some marriages still exist, most parents stick together and forgo their happiness to save face, to do it for the family. Some women stay in unhealthy marriages for the sake children because they don’t want to be selfish. I think to live in a toxic relationship and have your children watch you deteriorate, does more damage than good. (But I digress) However, family unity grows stronger when its not just about one person’s needs but the whole family.

But I always have a sense of guilt when I want to just be happy. I feel like I’m not allowed to enjoy it unless I worked hard enough for it.

Happiness has always been central to who I am and like everyone else, my emotional stability stems from it. If I am happy, then happiness runs through in all aspects of my life. But I always have a sense of guilt when I’m in it for longer than I should. Is it my Asian-ness that doesn’t allow me to deserve such things? I’ve got a Debbie Downer inside my head that tries to put life in perspective that I must sacrifice in order to attain such happiness. I feel like I’m not allowed to enjoy it unless I worked hard enough for it.

And that’s where I’m stumped.

As much as I want to do what I please and feel the way I feel, it’s not easy to forget about family and about the sacrifices they have made for me to enjoy this now. Maybe that’s what makes us Asians and our filial piety so important, we give back. That in our happiness or success, we always look back and think about what brought us to where we are. If it weren’t for some sort of sacrifice, in my family’s case- it was the early mornings at the deli and my mom’s frugality which allowed her to find pockets of money to survive for all of us- most of my success already came from a head start with my parents.
Millennials have such a sense of entitlement because they chase happiness and they believe they deserve it all #YOLO. It is at everyone’s expense but theirs. But if you didn’t earn it, or if someone didn’t help you earn it before you were born, why do you think should have it?

The more we care for happiness, the more selfish we are. But when you are happy isn’t that what’s most important? What currency should one use, happiness or sacrifice?