Joana Saahirah, The Happiness Freak, performing in Russia
-How have you been doing, kiddo? – João, the nicest clerk, asked me, as he was counting money, on my last visit to the bank.
-I´m better now. But I was quite sick, ya´know? I almost cancelled my USA & Canada Tour to return to Europe and get myself admitted into a hospital. That´s how sick I was…
(note: João, as my bank account manager, follow my career and world trips; they´re also two of the coolest human beings I´ve ever met)
–Hmmm…I see your photos and videos on Facebook and you always look, and sound, so happy. I had no idea you´d been sick.
Here´s the thing: I cultivate happiness and I don´t think it´s cool to drop my pain, and occasional bitterness, into other people´s heads. Although I don´t hide my dark days, and I have them too, I don´t presume the whole world is interested in knowing about them; I also don´t think it´s people´s jobs to pat me on the back when things don´t go as I wish them to do.
Then there´s FOCUS.
I´m not always happy but, let me repeat it, I cultivate happiness. You may call it stubbornness, positive attitude, naivety – I´ve been called “crazy” on more than one occasion because, and I quote, “you´re always happy”.
Nope. I´m not always happy but I collect happiness seeds and I bury them under the earth the same way I wash my face – daily, automatically, as part of my routine. I do it out of habit but, let´s be real, for survival reasons. I have the lowest level of tolerance for long term unhappiness.
Sometimes, the seed grows, turning itself into flowers, fruits, hope, a smile on my face, a renewed sense of faith. Other times, the seed dies where it was buried: under the earth. I keep burying it under the earth, a habit probably inherited form my peasant family.
Misery loves company and, as I´ve observed, people will get annoyed at you – I´d say antagonistic or aggressive – if all they hear from you is good news. Apparently, appearances matter. A lot. And people compare themselves, and their lives, to others as a way to measure their worth and happiness quotient. If you seem to be happy all the time, you´ll earn a few of haters. For no reason. YOU, the HAPPY FREAK, reminds them of their unhappiness. That sucks – you suck! Why can´t you just be miserable like the rest of us?
Mirrors are a pain in the neck.
Apparently, I´m not a normal person in many senses but, especially, in the sense that I don´t compare myself, or my life, to others and the life they seem to live. Why would I?
My dreams are mine – they´re not everybody´s dreams. My heaven can be hell for another person and vice-versa. What makes me happy is not necessarily what makes you happy. And what makes me happy keeps evolving, changing, growing as I grow up.
Now let me tell you the truest part of my truth: although I´m known as a dancer, a teacher, a choreographer and an author, I´m above everything else a Happiness Freak. Or, to put it more pleasantly, a Happiness Researcher. Everything I´ve done, so far, aims at one thing and one thing only: being happy and understanding it as an Art form, a way of living.
The subject has always fascinated me, guided my steps, worked as a compass that tells me where I should go, whom I should be with, what I should create, when to say yes and when to say no. I recognize no other authority except the authority of my soul which speaks, I believe, through happiness.
And there´s no better moment to reflect on Happiness than when we go through unhappy times. Contrast is magic. We see the light because we come in contact with darkness; we feel the cold after tasting the warmth; we value health the moment we lose it, even if through a light headache; we can learn love from hate and right from wrong. Dipping into hell, in order to have a taste of heaven, is not the problem. The problem is the remain in hell, for longer than necessary, and eventually becoming it.
Unhappiness can teach us about happiness. So, (follow my lead), if we want to understand, and experience, consistent happiness – one which doesn´t depend on volative, ever changing exterior circumstances -, we shouldn´t run away from unhappiness, the partner who´ll teach us about its (apparent) opposite. We should accept it as an integral part of our Happiness experience.
Too philosophical for you?
Unhappiness, as an inevitable part of existence, is a major key to Happiness. That is if we listen and observe ourselves, going through the sadness, from the outside (I call it “putting myself on Freud´s divan).
Let´s take my 2017 as an example.
It was marvellous. And horrible.
It was expansive. And destructive.
It was hopeful. And desperate.
It was the end. And the beginning.
Colorful, I´d add. As life always is. We try to paint it black and white but nothing is that simple. We wait for the moment when every piece will fall into place – the place we believe is the correct – and that “ideal” moment never arrives. We keep waiting. And postponing happiness. Ad eternum.
Here´s what a short, but effective, dip into hell taught me:
The murderer is the healer. The healer is the murderer.
The thief is the giver. The giver is the thief.
The king is the beggar. The beggar is the king.
Friends turn out to be enemies. Enemies turn out to be friends.
Making sense – logical/rational – sense will drive you nuts. I mean clinically nuts; singing La La Land, running around naked with a sailor´s cap stuck in your shaved head, in a hospice in the south of France, nuts.
But we can trick our rational minds, which love black and white movies, into taking a nap. And we can watch the whole picture from a balcony above our need to control and label.
Here´s a glimpse of what I saw from that balcony, this year, while going through fires – literal and metaphoric -, the death of loved ones, disease, betrayals and obstacles that would make your inner hero throw the towel on the floor:
- There´s no univeral definition of Happiness. Every person builds his/her own. And that´s OK.
- As volatile, complex, sensitive, permeable beings, we cannot remain indifferent to our suffering and the suffering of others ; we are empathetic with the chaos inside and around us. We´re also contradictory beings. We can be at the top of the mountain, the one we dreamt of, surrounded by every reason to feel happy, and conclude: I´ve never been more miserable than I am now! Therefore, the claim that we can be happy, in perfect harmony with the Cosmos, and with unblemished inner joy all the time is an utopia. To say the least.
- Although we cannot be happy all the time, as a consequence of our human condition, we can cultivate HAPPINESS as a default mode, an unshakeable home, invisible to the outside world – an internal place we can cultivate, decorate, cherish. The goal is to create a happiness ground/base/floor we can bounce back to after each shock, setback, loss, disappointment, fall, heartbreak. This, I believe, is possible.
- It´s essential to create your Awakened Dreaming Space to check in, realize where you stand on your particular journey, and redefine your path, if needed. Having a clear PURPOSE is one of the keys to happiness. I´ve noticed I lose Fire* – stamina, passion, “animus”, physical and mental health, reason for living – when I lose track of my purpose. And having periodic Awakened Dreaming meetings is essential to keep my purpose on track. Have a notebook and a pen; book a meeting with yourself on a warm, quiet, cosy coffeeshop where you´ll be able to sit, for at least one hour, and have a cappuccino with yourself. Breathe. Don´t run away from yourself or what hurts (Yey! Guilty as charged. Professional runner in da house!). You booked the meeting – SHOW UP for yourself. Write down your thoughts, dreams for the present moment and steps to materialize those dreams. Recognize what´s not working and write down steps – practical, doable – to change the situation. Reclaim YOUr power back. Distinguish between the dreams you have for yourself and the dreams others – mum and dad, friends, facebook peeps, society – have for you. Make a thorough check-up to your soul. Don´t be afraid to recognize the rotten fruit – expired dreams, stuff that doesn´t make sense to you anymore – and throw it away. Look within. Taste your cappuccino. Exhale.
4. Cultivating happiness – and accepting it won´t always flourish – is a habit you can create. Examples of my personal habits: I brush my teeth three times a day; I comb my hair one time a day; the first thing I do when I wake up is drinking water; I drink coffee in the morning and after lunch; I do yoga and meditation; I run outdoors; I listen to inspiring podcasts and read good books. And. And. And (it seems I´m a habit creature; we all are).
I also cultivate happiness as a habit. How do I do it? Here are a few examples that work for me (I suggest you find your own formula):
- I reeducate my mind, as much as possible, on a daily basis. If I catch myself feeding negative thoughts – I´m not good enough, I´m exhausted, I can´t do it, I´m not loved and a scary array of quite imaginative self-destructive ideas -, I thank those thoughts for existing while replacing them with their opposites.
- I make a point on saying NO whenever someone is mean, rude or dishonest. No, sir; no, lady – NOT in my space, NOT with me; thank you, have a good life, bye-bye!
- I work on what I love (this is a BIG ONE) and, therefore, spend most of my time creating the things I was born to create. The idea of “retiring” is not appealing to me as it seems to be for most people I know – I wish I will never have to retire. May life, and self-care, grant me the health to keep working till my last breath.
- Don´t be a
jerk cruel person. Peace of mind is essential for The Cult of Happiness and we cannot have it if we hurt others knowingly. Peace of mind doesn´t mix with evilness – they´re like water and oil. And there´s no happiness without peace of mind so, there you go, do to others what you wish them to do to you and vice-versa (my mum´s golden rule).
- Focus on what, and whom, you love. Ignore what, and whom, you dislike. Your energy moves towards the point you´re most focused on. Focus on what makes you happy, inspired, expansive. Do NOT gossip, backstab or hurt other people – it´s tacky and a loss of time/energy. Get your juices flowing towards creation instead of destruction. I know how appealing destruction can be. Knocking the castle down is easier, and more instantly satisfying, than building it. But it doesn´t bring long lasting satisfaction. Be the Doer, not the Critic. Be a badass Light Creator -there´s more than enough darkness in the world.
- Take responsibility for your life. If some areas of my life suck, I search the source of the problem within instead of pointing fingers at others (“he made this to me; she made me feel like that”). That gives you power – the power to change. And the power to change gives you hope. And hope gives you happiness.
- Take the small, simple, greatest, pleasures seriously. Bubble baths in the Winter – candles, incense, tea and a good book included -; brunch shared with a friend on a Sunday morning; observing Paintings in Art Galleries and painting, with my own hands, whenever I can; watching movies; cooking; flipping through cook books just for the pleasure of seeing the pictures (my mouth waters when I look at them); feeling the rain on my face as I´m caught running in the middle of a storm; eating healthy and delicious food; having passionate, soulful, sex with a man of my heart´s choice; staring at the sky; observing birds; walking bare feet; dipping into the ocean; playing with children and pets; reading and writing; falling asleep after a productive, happy, day, tuck between warms sheets and blankets; stretching my muscles as I wake up. And the list continues (I´m really good at the Pleasure Section).
- Keep in mind nothing is for granted. I can die today. You can, too. I´m not trying to get you depressed – just aware of the GIFT of being alive.
- Learn how to live with your wounds instead of hoping to heal them. I´ve observed people, and myself, a lot. Here´s of what I´ve concluded after observing people and myself from the point of view of the teacher I (also) am: some wounds don´t heal, at least not in a lifetime, independently of how hard you work on them. The question resides in discerning which wounds we can heal and which wounds we´ll have to accept as a part of our internal tissue – like a broken limb we learn to live with or a crooked tooth that adds charm to our smile.
- Realize nobody can make you happy except you. If you keep depositing that task on other people´s backs, you´ll end up disappointed, again and again. You, and nobody else, is responsible for making YOU happy. Others can help and add to your happiness. Having a loving family, friends, a lover, or whoever surrounds you and brings you further joy is a PLUS. But, repeat after me, they cannot make you happy. The Cult of Happiness is born and fed from the inside out.
- Work on the BELIEF that YOU´re DESERVING of HAPPINESS. Oh, boy! Here´s something I see as obvious, on an intellectual level, but contradictory on a subconscious level, the one which shapes the way we operate in life. Here´s a question that deserves serious consideration: why is it so hard to truly believe we deserve to be happy in every area of our life? For now, I´m focused on erasing the belief pattern that operates under the blanket, whispering in my ears: YOU DON´T DESERVE TO BE HAPPY. YOU DON´T DESERVE ALL THIS SUCCESS. YOU DON´T DESERVE ABUNDANCE. YOU DON´T DESERVE RELATIONSHIPS THAT HONOUR YOUR CHARACTER, DIGNITY AND HEART. YOU DON´T DESERVE TO EXIST AND SHINE FULLY.
Truth hurts, I can tell you that! It can also heal as good disinfectants do.
Me, in the Irish countryside, before leading a Retreat with Egyptian Dance, Self-Discovery & Empowerment as the main subjects.
I´ve just returned from the Irish countryside where I was leading a wonderful retreat. One night, two artists who live at this place (Boghill, by the way) offered to perform for our group.
-There´ll be Celtic harp and poetry about the Irish countryside. – I was told.
SOLD. What could go wrong with Celtic harp and poetry about the Irish countryside?
A lot, we soon found out.
There was harp, all right. And there was poetry. But the poetry was about depression, loss, darkness, death and, what seemed to me, the CULT of UNHAPPINESS.
It can be so alluring…
Many artists have fallen into it and I can understand why. Darkness is fertile, in creative terms, and self-indulgent, on a personal level; it gives our ego a sense of (false) importance.
It can seduce us, gather sympathy, exterior support, twisted vanity trips, the impression that we´re at the center of a special hypersensitive world nobody, except us, can understand. It makes us believe nobody can understand our pain – unique, never witnessed, almost mystical.
We can easily fall into the swamp and stay there, willingly or not, presuming life is trying to punish us for known, and unknown, mistakes.
It´s easy to get stuck into the unhappiness trap – it takes loads of work and self-awareness to cultivate happiness.
Or dumbness. If you´re really – really – dumb, you´re happy all the time. Or you believe you are which is almost the same. Yeahhhh!
Although I did enjoy the poetry reading, the cult of unhappiness disturbed me. And awakened me.
All of us, including the Happiness Freaks, fall into the hole every once in a while.
Here´s the thing:
Nobody can avoid suffering but we can avoid cultivating suffering as a way of life.
Nobody can avoid falling but we can avoid getting too comfortable on the floor (beware: the floor is comfortable and oh so safe; the world outside of our shell is extremely uncomfortable and risky and, yet, that´s where we grow).
Nobody can avoid having their heart broken – I believe you´re not a full human being if you´ve never had your heart broken – but we can avoid becoming chronically broken by building walls so strong, and high, we won´t be able to love, or be loved, again.
Fall in the swamp, for God´s sake, but make sure you don´t remain there, (un)happily swimming with alligators, for longer than a season. Cry, bump your head into walls; watch reruns of “Dexter”, or whatever works for you, while stuffing yourself with junk food (do people still have time to do that?!), but, please, mark a date on your calendar: THIS IS THE DAY I SAY GOODBYE TO MY COMFY SWAMP. Swamps have a function to fulfil – once it´s fulfilled, it´s time to wrap your sleeves up and move out.
Imagine a snorkeling ride. The swimmers carry an oxygen tank for a 2 hours´ride. They go under water and get comfy down there. Once the 2 hours´mark shows up on their waterproof watches, they know they have to go back to the surface. Otherwise, they´ll drown. This is exactly how I see unhappiness – we´re not only allowed, but forced, to go down there, but we must come back to the surface. Otherwise, we´ll drown in our own pain and we´ll become it.
I recently read an article that spoke of genetic predisposition for happiness. It made sense.
If hormones – those
bitches! partners – affect the way we feel, think and act, imagine what our genetic code can do.
Let´s say that some of us are born with a Happiness quota of 50% and others with 80% or 20%. The ones who have a privileged starting point – let´s say a 80% of happiness quota to start with – have an easier job at cultivating happiness as a default mode because they´re already half way there, genetically speaking. Once something nasty happens, they bounce back to their basic 80% happiness quota without much effort.
Meanwhile, others – let´s say the 20% lot – will barely make it to 50%, even if they land their dream job, win the lottery, fall in love with the most amazing person in the universe or (fill in your blank).
Here´s my thoughts on this genetic predisposition possibility:
Science discovers new evidence every day. Let´s consider this study as a possibility and not as an undeniable fact.
Plus: if we can´t change something, we can, at least, make the best of it. If, let´s suppose, you´re part of the unlucky folks who were born with a low happiness quota, changing that genetic predisposition may not be in your hands but DOING THE BEST OUT OF YOUR QUOTA IS.
As an Egyptian Dance Teacher, I often mention the value of RESOURCEFULNESS to my students. Resourcefulness is about USING WHAT YOU HAVE, MAKING THE BEST OF IT AND TRANSFORMING IT INTO GREATNESS. You pick a rock and you turn it into a diamond. In other words: alchemy. I´ve watched dancers with 10% of knowledge shining more than dancers with 80% of knowledge. It´s not what you have/know/are that defines you but WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE/KNOW/ARE.
The same applies to Happiness ❤
Here´s the challenge for the upcoming year:
HOW DO YOU CULTIVATE HAPPINESS AS A DEFAULT MODE, a WAY OF LIVING?
Send your answers/suggestions to my email (email@example.com)
Moments of pure joy (photographs from my recent work trips to Brazil, Bali and Canada.