A long time ago in my undergraduate days, a fellow classmate once told me something that would stick with me for the rest of my life: “Nothing can get in the way of my happiness”. I thought that was a very extreme statement. Yet she was very insistent. Here was a girl who had her many life and academic struggles, yet she was the first person who brought the concept of “happiness” to me. She was also the most bubbly person I knew in an institution known for rigorous academic standards and also tons of unhappy souls. Her lesson to me: Where you are in life and no matter how old you are, the only person in control of your happiness is you. Not a bad grade, a selfish friend, a pile of job rejections, or a life or career taking detours.
Now years later, I think back to her statement and try to relate this to what is happening around the world. Isn’t this strange? The world has never been more prosperous. The benefits of technology have made life simple. Yes, thanks to technology, we have more time on our hands to focus on goals greater than our immediate needs. But it does not seem like people are any happier than they were before. In fact, looking at the world today with talks of building “walls” to keep out the “others”, it is a safe bet that people’s happiness is really at an all-time low. Donald Trump did not emerge out of thin air; he is a direct product of an unhappy nation. Whether or not he will build that “wall” is beside the point, the truth is that at the root of unhappiness are the mental fences that people have already built in their minds. These mental fences are meant to keep out others who are different whether ethnically or culturally. These mental barriers come from inaccurate reporting and a sensationalizing media. A wall is tougher than a fence; anyone who wants to build a wall must have thought about building a fence. It’s only when the fence is too weak that you will want that wall. Realizing that people exhibit mental fences, it is easy for Trump to want to build that “wall”. Little do people know that mental fences gradually take control of theirs lives and happiness.
You don’t have to participate in American politics to really grasp what this mental fence is all about. Even in Canada where I live, not long ago a Prime Minister unwisely used the term “old-stock” Canadians, which he would later regret. The implications of this are obvious: there are two types of Canadians -one whose family arrived in Canada hundreds of years ago or the real Canadians and a second one who may have just arrived last year (those with darker skin or yellow skin). He was trying to build that mental fence in the minds of “old-stock” Canadians to keep out the other type of “Canadians” who may not speak English as well. This mental fence did not make anyone happy because here was a Prime Minister implying that new Canadians are a burden. Luckily, Canadians are smart and voted him out shortly after.
My classmate was right about being in control of one’s happiness. It is easier said than done, however. The most dangerous culprit is a mental fence because it is not as easy to remove something that is already fixed in you. There are also external influences that try to plant mental fences in you more often than you realize. One way to take back your happiness is to know where these fences come from. If you know their root cause, you will likely find ways to overcome them. Exercise critical thinking. And just be friends with people from another culture and learn as much as you can. Being well educated is the key to taking control of your happiness.