In returning after my rest, I have been surprised daily by happiness. Not the light, fluffy, sparkly kind but a more profound and abiding mood rather than feeling: a wellspring that seeps into me and make my whole world richer. I have read the stats and done the various happiness tests that sprinkle the internet while trying to understand what this happiness is all about. The theories suggest that a sense of meaning, optimism and the desire to and acknowledgement of having an impact that improves the world in some small way are all factors that lead to a more lasting and deeper sense of happiness, and perhaps that’s true.
What I know is that as a feminist activist and trauma counsellor my life is once again submersed not only in the harms of the world, but also in its transformation. As an activist and counsellor, I get to hear the hope in someone’s voice when they tell me that they have slept through the night for the first time in years, that they have just experience a week without fear, that they feel good or normal again, that they have hope that they will teach others in need what they have learnt…and how can you not experience joy or happiness in these things?
I received a photograph (from a genocide survivor who had once thought happiness frivolous, pointless and stupid) where she was running toward happiness with her arms as wide open as her smile: her world connected again with love and life and the possibilities that in truth surround us all. Although the photograph for me is iconic and unutterably beautiful, it is also tapping into that wellspring that may connect us all.
This happiness is not simple, it does not prevent hurt, disappointment, irritation or anger but it keeps its flavour in the face of these things. It works with you through your mistakes and those moments when you seem to get everything right. It peaks in the shade of a tree as much as it does when you witness someone feeling again like they are a person: human and in and with the world.
Some of you may remember that I had to rest my constantly breaking heart, and that was good. And I am back and refreshed. My heart in its pieces and its wholeness overflows with a happiness, which allows me to connect again with the world, with the horrors that happen to those around us and to the wonder of how we, despite our best efforts, can connect and be part of everything around us.
We can and do change the world by the way we live in it, and what better way than to pursue empathy and connection with others and the whole world around us. Feminism does this in a very basic sense: disrupting our world, plunging us into imagining difference. I think of feminism as a kind of gateway drug to happiness. It allows you to view being human in a new way and from there you can act in ways that connect you to the world you want all around you. Your route may not be feminism; it may be through environmental activism, economic, political, social activism, buying a Rape Crisis heart or even through a commitment to smile daily at strangers. But whatever it is, to pursue happiness all you need to do is reach out and act on it.
Morgan Mitchell lives in Cape Town where she works with survivors of trauma in private practice as a trauma and EMDR counsellor. She has been a volunteer at Rape Crisis since 2001 and is a feminist civil rights activist. For over 15 years, she has also developed materials for a variety of ages and cultures.