I must have been about two years old yet I vividly remember the two sisters who used to come to wash our dishes every afternoon in India. Punam and Chinky were not that much older than me, Punam was probably 7 and Chinky must have been 5 years old. I always looked forward to seeing them, and often joined them in cleaning the dirty dishes. Even at that young age I couldn’t help but notice the happiness that radiated from those sisters. We giggled and talked as our small hands mixed with the soap and water rubbed the dirt away.
By the time I was 8 years old we had moved into another neighborhood and now we had an older woman as our housekeeper, Geeta. Geeta was pleasant and was often accompanied by her daughter Lakshmi to help her clean the house. I enjoyed mingling with them but observed that despite being my age Lakshmi barely knew the alphabet or her numbers. Thinking how unfair this was, I took it upon myself to teach Lakshmi and the rest of the children in her community everything that I knew. I taught them the alphabet, addition, subtraction, and even division. These children came from a poor neighborhood, where food, electricity, warm clothes were not always accessible, yet despite this they always had a smile on their faces.
We moved to England when I was about 10 years old; nevertheless I often spent my summers in India. I frequently interacted with the maids, and I even visited their unassuming homes. I never once noticed their circumstances overshadow their smiles or their welcoming attitude. They may not have had material belongings to give away but constantly imparted their warmth, smiles, and happiness toward me. I often found myself contemplating how can they be so happy when their daily lives are such a struggle?
Happiness at its essence is simple and I believe we are all born to experience the joy of being alive at every moment. However, we human beings do everything we can to get in the way and make it complicated. What my interactions growing up exhibited is that both happiness and the lack thereof is a choice. Our circumstances, feelings, shortcomings, and emotions maybe out of our control, however our response to these things is where our power lies.
I am currently a physician at a busy county hospital in New York where I get to meet people from all walks of life. I get to treat the mother who doesn’t have health insurance, I get to take care of the elderly who have never seen a physician in their lives, and I also get to interact with couples that despite their circumstances seem content. In clinic one day I had the honor of meeting a wife and husband who had been together for over 40 years. The wife was the caregiver and her husband was in a wheelchair. The love and warmth between them was palpable in the room. “We all have a choice doctor. We choose to smile despite our situation, we are just grateful we have each other.”
We all have a choice. When we are failing at something, we have the power to digest our reality but choose happiness despite it and continue to move forward. When our loved one is dying, we feel the pain but elect to rejoice in the memories made together. When we are given a diagnosis we were not expecting, we feel the dismay but choose to live for today and now. In my opinion this is happiness; when we choose life over misery. Pain, disappointment, regret, set backs, disenchantment are all encountered in life, however when we can feel all these emotions yet decide to move beyond them is when we are winning at life. Happiness is a choice, and ultimately its up to us to decide how we want to experience our lives. We can sulk in our tribulations or feel the pain yet have the courage to move beyond and write our life stories despite the discomfort. It is easy to feel elated when circumstances are as we had planned, however the real test of happiness is our response to the unforeseen conditions. Thus, it is essential to recognize the ball is always in our court, and it is imperative that we choose our response wisely.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on June 4, 2017.
Originally published at medium.com