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Making Happiness A Choice

Dec/31/2023 / by sweta-vikram

In the new year, seek things that bring you joy

South Asian woman in blue dress and beige stilettoes in a dancing pose
Photo via Shutterstock

A couple weeks ago, I saw a music video starring Ananya Pandey and Siddhant Chaturvedi, “I Wanna See You Dance” from the movie “Kho Gaye Hum Kahan”. After that, I couldn’t stop humming it for a week or emulating Ananya’s dance moves. Smiles consumed every cell in my body.

This video popped up in my YouTube feed a few days after our 25th wedding anniversary. This milestone anniversary was complicated for both me and my husband. All I had wanted for our silver anniversary was to have lunch with my dad, my Badi Ma (Dad’s older brother’s wife), and my in-laws in Lonavla.

Earlier in the year my husband had asked, “Don’t you want to go somewhere, just the two of us?” I had replied, “Twenty-five years ago, they didn’t get to enjoy the day and neither did we. We were dolled up, and they were playing host.” I wanted the older ones in our family to celebrate with us. Three of the four people who were supposed to join us for lunch are now deceased. 

Life’s Change of Plans

Since India wasn’t a possibility to visit, my husband and I made alternate plans to go to Aruba the week of our anniversary. But 2023 decided to give us a rude surprise: my Badi Ma passed away. We chose to stay back in NYC and get a quiet dinner. Our anniversary and the relationship we have built together over the years warmed up my heart. Our anniversary also felt heavy as I missed my parents’ wishes and voice.

People sharing pictures of their happy families or capturing moments of family gatherings on social media felt like salt on an open wound. It reminded me of what I will never have. Our well-wishers kept saying that 2024 would be a bright and cheerful year for us. 

Happiness Comes From Within

There are no guarantees in the world. To put that level of pressure on a clock changing time at midnight or destiny feels a bit much. You can’t expect to wrap up a bad year and expect only good awaits you on the other side. That’s a recipe for disappointment.

I am the kind of person who believes happiness is an inside job. Nobody knows what 2024 holds for them. That is why it’s so important to live in the now and for today. The past is long gone. The future isn’t under our control. 

The day after our anniversary, I said to my husband that I missed the lightness in my heart. My mother would say that my father and I had the loudest laughter. With both parents gone, my funky, funny, witty side got buried under the role of a grieving daughter and keeper of family stories. I had not danced since we cremated my father and father-in-law, which was seven months ago. At weddings on my in-laws’ side, I used to groove with my father-in-law. At our own wedding, my dad, cousins, and I did all Govinda and Raveena Tandon steps. My mom and mother-in-law would constantly nudge me to take on the stage at all weddings. My dad’s neighbors in Pune would do a dance party with me when I visited.

Dancing for Joy 

Dance has always been my go-to for joy, but the grief of 2023 added a distance between us. I knew only I could remedy the situation. The easiest way to manage your stress is to identify what brings you joy. When I sat down to meditate one day, I had a flashback of what I teach my clients: “Happiness is an inside job. Just like yoga or writing, you must practice it to experience it fully.” To cultivate a happy mindset, you have to master your mind. You can’t let your mind own you. 

My acupuncturist suggested a specific meditation to unblock the heart chakra. Strong women, in taking care of others, hold a lot within, he said. I had barely cried since losing Dad. One of my Ayurvedic mentors suggested that I also work on my throat chakra to release the words of anger and frustration. Losing your parents will show you the good and the ugly in the world. It fills you with disappointments and unfulfilled expectations.

You’d think as a writer, speaker, coach, and educator, I speak my mind. The stories that I share help others. I don’t give people access to what’s really bothering me. The world can’t handle 100% honesty.

Over the days, I made intentional efforts to watch more dance videos as they brought me joy. I hummed while cooking or preparing for events. I replaced some of the podcast listening-time with dance music. I told my childhood friends, “I am thinking of returning to the dance studio after my PhD exams.” They all chimed in with a “YES, you must!” It was a no-brainer. I used to be a choreographer in college. One of my friends in NYC offered to host my dance classes, once a week, in her apartment.

Taking Charges Of Our Emotions

What I have learned is that we must take responsibility for our emotional wellbeing. Bad phases in life will come. It’s our resilience and mindset that ensures we don’t lose ourselves to negativity. By recognizing what brings me bliss, I found a shift in my energy. I felt more in control of my mental health. I have also started to look at studios that offer Bollywood dance classes to attend after my PhD finals. 

My intention in 2024 is to make time for what brings me joy and pursue it. I hope you do the same because kindness begins with self, and everyone deserves to be happy. Nurturing your happiness is the best form of self-care. Wish you and your loved ones a joyous New Year!

“We forge the chains we wear in life.” ~ Charles Dickens

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