Thursday, July 3, 2014

Developing happiness / coming home in an "unlikely place"

the Amal Academy Fellows during our first session together
Every year, on the eve of my birthday, I enjoy what many find to be the oddest movie tradition: the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Although I appreciate their skepticism, I've begun to think that perhaps the film somehow symbolizes home for me. Not because of the protagonist's name (although that might play a small part!), but because - in the words of Benjamin - the funny thing about coming home is that it looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You realise what's changed is you.

Watching the film last night, I realised that this line was particularly relevant this year, as I've been thinking a lot about the idea of home. And it's relationship to happiness. And how deeply my thoughts have changed about the two.

When I moved back "home" to California in 2011, I mistakenly assumed that home was a physical place, and that it should be synonymous with happiness. Which of course meant that I should automatically be happy moving back to California.

After nearly a year struggling through this deep misconception with family, friends and even in therapy, I eventually realised that perhaps home isn't a physical location at all, but rather a state of mind. Or, in the words of Pico Iyer, the place where you find yourself. Eventually I realised that I was spending so much time being nostalgic about the past or anticipating the future, that I was failing to live in the present. And as a result, failing to ever really understand myself.

Eventually I realised, in the words of Victor Frankl:

happiness cannot be pursued [like a physical place]; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.
And in many ways, I think that's why I've been able to come closer to home and happiness in one of the most unlikely places.

Many people are often confused why we chose Pakistan as the home for Amal Academy, and the reality is, I don't always have a good answer. When I asked Jacqueline in early 2013 for her advice though, she said to "focus less on place as a start than on where you will have the best shot at making change." Reinforcing this idea that home is less about the location and more about the meaning that is found developed there. Less about what you find on the outside, and more about what you carry in the inside. Less about the soil and more about the soul.