There is no way to say this without sounding ungrateful: being happy is overrated. I know this because I have tried. I have tried and failed miserably. In fact, I have encountered unmeasured proportions of failure in this matter. So, like any other failure, I made the bitter resolution that being happy is a bit too overrated for people like me. It is always better not to try, despite what self-help books might say.
The best advice for coping in an African household is not to try to be happy. Being sad is way easier. In fact, I have been sad all my life, you see.
So here are the simple steps and, out of the good nature of my heart, tips for being sad in an African home.
Step 1: Do Not be Sad
It’s funny because a second ago, I was preaching about happiness being overrated.
Just because I said “do not be sad” does not mean you should be happy either.
Actually, you cannot be happy because this is unlikely in an African household. There is very little to smile about when you are constantly reminded of everyone else’s sacrifices for your sustenance.
Now, on top of religious obligations, you are stuck paying a black tax to your self-appointed saviours, including that uncle who fights everyone and makes your mum cry at weddings.
Yes, that one who has been looking at you in a funny way since the swelling in your chest began to form.
Before I disclose classified family secrets, all I am saying is, “Do not be sad.” And trust me, sadness is easily achieved when you intentionally try not to achieve it.
Whenever you feel sad, talk to your parents.
Be very honest and tell them frankly that you are sad.
Their response will always be, “Just do not be sad then… be happy.”
Or they will point out how somewhere out there in the world, people are starving, and only starving people should be sad.
Moreover, think about it. Why didn’t you just choose happiness? It is such a simple thing to do.
Step 2: Turn Your Body Into a 24/7 Factory
“You will rest when you die.”
Apparently, that phrase is not a metaphor.
Rest in an African household is probably one of the most significant cultural myths.
Our only kind of rest is late Sunday lunch with the uncle I mentioned earlier.
And even then, expect that all the relatives who ate at your place have appointed you as the dishwasher. Congratulations. You won yourself a bucket full of stress, something that is abundant in this household.
If you are not on the go whenever someone looks at you, you fail your ancestors. You can see it as a form of exercise, albeit non-beneficial, the type that equips you with mental pain and anguish. Yeah, sadness galore.
A saying that’s often shouted at me (because goodness forbids us to communicate like normal human beings in this house) goes, “bite more than you can chew, stuff it in your cheeks and keep chewing.”
Be warned; watch out. You’re about to choke on stuff.
Unless you are sick or dying, you must constantly prove your worth.
“There is nothing like being mentally exhausted. We can’t see it, and you have no proof. So stop lying, and get to work.
If you forget to do the job, do not worry, we’ve got you.
You can select one of the very potent motivations available in the arsenal: from the disappointed looks to the snide comments and implied comparison with your mother’s churchmate’s friend’s son’s niece. She is now a doctor, while you sit down there useless.
You are welcome.
STEP 3: “You Do Not Know That You Are Sad”
You are not sad. You cannot possibly be.
“Why?” you ask.
Simple. You do not know what that is. You are too young. You have no real responsibilities. No real reasons to be sad. You are probably just constipated. “The unripe plantain you ate earlier must have caused that.”
Believe this. Let it sink in and weigh you down every single day. That way, you will hate yourself for feeling sad.
And that is good. Self-loathing and sadness are historically the best combos.
You have to feel selfish whenever your dopamine levels are a bit low.
Yes, plain old vanilla sadness is not enough; you need a sprinkle of guilt.
Listen to your parents.
Listen to all their beautiful words of encouragement, constantly demeaning your emotions and branding them as juvenile because you will never be fully developed to understand adult emotions.
You should know. Some emotions are reserved for people under whose roof you live.
You have to wallow in their dismissal of the weight crushing your chest.
If it is not asthma, you only need to sleep it off. Do not be dramatic about it.
Do not say, “I find no purpose in life.” You are too young for that.
Do you feel a little sadder after reading these tips? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. These tips are my top triggers, guaranteed to do the trick and keep you frowning for at least five days a week.
Quite a bargain, if you ask me.
Imagine being an expert at sadness. It should be fun, right?
If you relate to this, I hope you get to grow out of an environment that does not prioritise your mental health.
An African home is pretty akin to a maximum security prison. It’s pretty hard to cope. But one day, you will be old enough to take control of your emotions. However, till then, I want you to know that you are not alone.