"The Key to happiness is having dreams. The key to success is making those dreams come true."
I heard this quote as a teenage girl, and I made this the mantra of my life. I have always had dreams, be it graduating from college or starting a business or celebrating my birthday in the fanciest restaurant; they were my dreams. And I did feel happier every time I made my dream a reality.
Dreams come in all shapes and sizes.
And I soon realised that even the little things that I hoped to do in my spare time, I called them my dreams or passion projects. And accomplishing these big or small dreams fuelled my well-being and my happiness. The downside of this was when my dreams, however big or small, were shattered by someone or something; it upset me. For example, in February 2020, I won an entrepreneurship award for my innovative business idea, and a week later began the lockdown due to Covid. My business was affected by this situation, and certainly, I wasn't happy. Likewise, some small dreams also brought me joy, like holding hands and walking along the riverside with my husband. And if my husband was away on business, I didn't feel too happy. However, I always thought that working on realising my dreams depended on my hard work and perseverance, so I wasn't putting the key to my happiness in anyone else's pocket. But last week, I discovered that what I was thinking to be the key to my happiness was not the key to my happiness after all.
Last Saturday, my mother-in-law came over to our place to help us out. She usually comes to help out when I have to travel abroad for business. Unfortunately, I was out working all day Saturday and was supposed to take the flight on Sunday. When I came home on Saturday evening, I discovered that my mother-in-law had already cooked dinner. She had prepared some soup and spinach quiche. I couldn't yell at my mother-in-law, so instead and picked a fight with my husband. I said to him, "Who eats soup for dinner on Saturday night? Am I 85 and terminally ill? You know Saturday night is our take-out and movie night. I have worked all week, so I deserve some fun. I don't deserve soup on Saturday night." My husband tried to calm me down by offering to order a take-out dinner.
I refused the proposal by saying that it wasn't about soup. It was what the soup represented. I clarified, "It's not the soup that bothers me. I feel like a prisoner. Prisoners have their freedom taken away. And they don't get to order a steak with fries; they have to eat whatever is served, whether they like it or not. Even though I am not in a cell, I feel like I don't have the freedom to choose when your mum is here. She cooks meals without consulting with me." I was agitated, but I managed to eat the soup with the take-out dinner that my husband finally ordered, packed my bags and went to bed with a frown.
I left for Romania the following day, where I usually go to work when I have some spare time. I volunteer there with a charity called People-to-People Foundation, which runs a school for underprivileged children. When I got there, the charity's founder picked me up at the airport in a big van.
It was a 200 km drive from the airport to the school. He asked me if we could make a quick stop on the way to pick up some more people. I gladly agreed. We stopped in a town called Oradea, where the charity had housed some 50 plus Ukrainian war refugees. A few other vans were waiting for us. As we got there, the founder of this charity made a little speech. I didn't understand a word because it was in Russian. But I picked up two words - Italy and Germany. I asked him what was happening and if these people were going to Germany or Italy. He replied, "Maybe". I was curious, and I asked for details. He said, "Germany and Italy have set up medical camps for war refugees. We have requested NGOs in these countries; as soon as we get a green light from them, we will move these people there. But we don't know when. We have run out of resources at Oradea camp, so we are moving them to a care home in Tinca. But I can't say who will go where and when just yet. It depends on the NGOs who accept them."
My heart sank. These people whose lives have been turned upside down have lost their homes, their families are scattered, and they need medical attention; they have no right to choose where, when, how or with whom they would have to spend the rest of their lives now. Instead, they will be forced to live in a country that accepts them and gives them refugee status. They don't get to choose.
My colleague had prepared some water and snack for these people. As they got in the van, I offered it to them. A lady who could speak English thanked me a million times for the sandwich and bottle of water. I struck up a conversation with her. She said she was from the central part of Ukraine, south of the capital city Kyiv. She was there with her young children; one of them was disabled. Her husband could not leave the country. She and her husband had worked for almost ten long years to build their dream house, a successful business and were happily living with their children. But in a blink of an eye, all of that was gone. And now they had to move to a country where they didn't speak the language, didn't know anyone, and had no place to be. They'd have to start to build their dream from scratch.
These Ukrainian war refugees had lost a lot more than their freedom of choice. It was worse than being a prisoner. Prisoners lose their freedom as a consequence of the crime they've committed. And what was the crime these people had committed? They were born in Ukraine, a country that Russia chose to invade? Can you choose where you want to be born? It made me reflect upon my life, and my problems suddenly disappeared.
When we got to the camp in Tinca, I helped look after the children while their parents registered and did the paperwork. Later, I gave a hand to move some heavy boxes full of food and other goods. None of this was easy, but somehow I felt a deep sense of satisfaction.
This sense of fulfilment was way greater than momentary pleasure or happiness. When I was leaving the camp, those people thanked me with all their hearts. One of them even gathered people around, held hands and prayed for me. He said, "God bless your kind souls; we all shall remember you in our prayers. May you be happy forever!" And others said, "Amen." I left the place feeling better than I've ever felt about myself. And that's when I found the key to happiness.
Helping someone from time to time makes you realise that there's much more to life than your problems or chasing your dreams. As Albert Schweitzer put it, success is not the key to happiness. Instead, happiness is the key to success. And that happiness can come from doing things you love and helping others in their ventures.
The Caribbean Women Inventors & Innovators Network (CaribbWIIN) is a celebratory occasion in recognition of women creating viable new concepts, exceptional creativity innovation, research, development and enterprise.From simple technology, high viability to works by exceptional creative women and highly acclaimed social and economic inventions and innovations, the journey for achieving such success is applauded and acknowledged by these highly acclaimed international awards. CaribbWIIN is a part of the Global Women Inventors & Innovators Network (GlobalWIIN) which was established in 1998 with an amazing track record.It is a non-profit, non-governmental, non-political global organisation with the head office based in London, United Kingdom. GlobalWIIN continues to stage initiatives that have taken place across parts of Europe, Africa, Northern America, Middle East and Asia Pacific.