Being Happy

What allows us to be happy?

At Azraq we met two seven-year-old girls. Azraq is an informal school that works with refugee children in order to help them keep up with their public education. While I introduced myself to them, they asked, “Are you happy?” I wanted to say no. I wanted to respond that I was not happy, that I often found myself wondering what happiness even was. But then I thought of where I was. I thought of the mountain of privilege that I was standing on, and of the fact that I could visit their school, where I could walk in, and be treated like royalty, just because I was American. The school staff brought our Immerse team tea, then later coffee and towards the end we were even served cake. We moved in and out of the offices, entering classrooms, disturbing their learning time. All of this, only for us to take some nice pictures.

In one of my classes for Immerse we read Hanna Arendt, where she stated that where we are born, determines the rest of our lives. And as I left Azraq pensive, I began processing all the privileges I had back home: my large single dorm room, my highly acclaimed college, and at least two places to call home. I have all this, but I hear stories of families that have had to live multiple large families to a single apartment. I think of the car I share with my sister back home and the privilege of getting to drive it, while some refugees cannot afford even a taxi. I thought of how we as Duke students complain about our education, seldom being thankful for an education. Yet there are families in Amman that are not sure if they will have enough food for the entire month. There are people that don’t even know where they will be next year. They have no place to call home.

I was born in the United States of America, a country where my parents thought they could offer their children a better life. And they did. I had food growing up, a free education, a place to call home. Yet, I often thought about how unhappy I was. I saw my free education as a close-minded bowl, I was picky about the foods that my parents bought, and I saw all the imperfections of my house, instead of seeing the love that made it a home. I kept looking for the negative. Meanwhile, the little girls I met in Azraq were laughing, loving the attention they were receiving from the camera. A camera was enough to make them happy.

How could it be that I, having so much to be happy about, was often not? It took two little girls asking me about happiness in order for me to realize that I needed to change my perspective. To change my mindset. Yes, I want to be happy. Yes, I want to be able to comfortably answer those little girls with honesty.

Josie Tarin is a T’20 Undergraduate. She participated in the 2017 Immerse Project and is a Student Research Assistant with the Institute.

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