Learning the secret to my happiness has taken self-mastering and acceptance
I must have been 11 years old, in the city with my aunt and not quite enjoying the lengthy walk up West Street, Durban.
I remember her having a chat with an older white lady who eventually bought me an ice-cream. As she handed the treat to me, she wore a wide, discomforting cosmetic smile and spoke through her clenched teeth as she shook her head in a playful gesture.
"Who's the happiest girl in the world, huh? Who is the happiest girl in the world now, sweetie?"
I did not answer.
My silence was not the result of not knowing the happiest girl in the world at that very moment. I knew her. It was Julia Roberts!
But I could not respond to the lady because I took offence at how she was infantilising me on the first day I wore my new pair of jelly heels and felt like a little woman.
I could see the lady's face wrinkle into disappointment as I gave her a cold stare instead of allowing ice-cream to transform me into a happy little girl - the happiest in the world!
That memory was triggered a few years ago when I attended therapy to deal with depression. It became evident that whenever I thought about who was possibly the happiest girl in the world, it was always some other girl.
In fact, it was usually some far-fetched public figure I had never encountered at a personal level.
Oprah Winfrey for sure, and maybe Beyoncé.
That Nomzamo Mbatha and her majestic dimples. The pretty. The rich. The fortunate. Them!
I had never responded with my own name. I did not consider myself one of the happiest beings known to me because I subscribed to a shallow understanding of what happiness is.
I could not imagine a happy life without the material ornaments, fame and a smile beaming through waterproof make-up.
It's tricky to affirm your happiness when you live in a community that has greetings that are especially weaved to confirm despair and bitter feelings.
I have memories of how my mother and her neighbours would respond to each other with a resounding "akusizi ukukhala" (it's no use complaining) or "siyancenga nje" (we're just getting by) when exchanging pleasantries early in the morning.
That's where I realised how we burden ourselves with unhappiness from the onset of any given day. We nurse this state of unhappiness to a point where it feels like a natural existence and becomes a growing limb.
It took a great deal of self-mastering and acceptance to get to a point where I could openly admit to being happy. I still struggle with responding to greetings positively instead of delving into what is wrong with me that day.
That simple "I am great thanks, and how are you?" is sometimes elusive, but I work at it. I remind myself that my main objective in life is to be happy.
In my journey to achieving constant happiness, I have learnt too that the sources are different from person to person. I thrive in silence and solitude.
Now and again, when I think about who the happiest girl in the world is, I say "Me!" and laugh out loud. I am happy.
I am happy that I am able to accept that there will be moments of unhappiness.
And, all in all, I am happy to know that I no longer have to compare my happiness with others' - especially folks who pose for momentary happy shots.