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Optimizing For Happiness

I used to want to be a mum. A little girl with my high forehead, Behati Similoluwa; and a boy that was not rambunctious - Obaloluwa Nathan.

I also used to want to grow old in Nigeria. Write and publish here. Run a business. Live in a house with large windows in a small town. Tend a garden — tomatoes, corn, okro, pepper, spinach, oranges, plantain. Teach and grade papers on weekdays. Walk to the market on Saturday mornings and sit on an àpótí for another woman to braid my hair. Walk everywhere on Sundays with my camera strapped to my neck. It had to be here. Nowhere else.

Point is, I used to want many things I do not want anymore. Perhaps this is too simplistic, but as I felt so seen reading Tochi:

"I am keen to admit that there is a rift; that the earth has shifted for me in a way that is irreparable, a way that leaves me estranged from what I considered to be true and singular and fixed."

Nothing has been true, singular, or fixed for me in the past three, four years. Especially happiness. There is no ground under my feet. It is not a case of not adapting to change. This is more fundamental. This one causes tremors. This one has changed the landscape. I no longer want the same things. I do not even want anything.

In 2019 I reacted badly when I was told I was going to be on medication indefinitely. I refused. My doctor then said that some people cannot just be happy. Apparently, it is a medical condition duh; low or irregular levels of serotonin and whatnot. And that I just might be one of those people. I remember thinking to myself - next time I have to get a Christian therapist. Because what the flipping fuck? Antidepressants for the rest of my life? A person of faith would never make such a statement. It did make me look back though. About the cynical, angry child I was. The teenager with bitterness laced in her blood. The defensive young adult.

I don't want to be happy anymore. Happiness has always been fixed points, a target to reach. Be a mum. Live in a house I really like. Be part of a community I feel safe in. Teach curious students. Be a writer. I wrote letters to my unborn daughter some years ago. In one of those letters, I mentioned how Aunty Moradeun and I decided to homeschool our kids with a community of other mums. But Moradeun isn't here anymore. See? The earth has shifted for me.

I just want to be okay. Maybe if I leave the survival rung in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I would start wanting more. But right now, I genuinely lack the desire to be happy. It feels like a wild ambition. It feels like a lot of hope. Hope is a lot of work.

I started talking to someone new last week and they talked about how they optimize every situation for happiness. If it was not making them happy, fin, the end. How they never dwell on the bad. The more we talk I realize how this person has created a bubble around them. A bubble that confines happiness to them, like it is a butterfly recklessly waiting to escape. I want to be like that again. I want to protect my butterfly. I want to even want the butterfly.

Till then, I look for little pockets of joy here and there.

Like last week. I had a job shooting a beachfront property. I screamed and kicked off my shoes, rolled my jeans, and ran into the water.

Or when I found Crayon's So Fine and my heart went ohhh. It has been on repeat for like a week now and I still don't know why.

Or how rooted I feel when I watch Lord of the Rings or One Tree Hill.

Or the night I woke up with a heavy weight between my legs. It was my neighbor's cat, Mr. P.

Or when my mum called. But it was my brother's voice I heard. I nearly slammed my brake. I had not heard his voice in months.

Or when I parked to take yet another photograph of bougainvilleas.

Or when I stopped under a fruit tree. There was a ripe one. Just within my reach.

I do not believe that I cannot be happy. Whether happiness is a journey or destination. I don't know that I am sad now. Sad is a strange word and there are better fitting ones for how I feel. I don't know whether I'll ever say yes again to the 'Are you happy' question. I hope to. Till then, I just want to be okay. I am content. These little pockets of joy are enough.


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