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Write On! Features: Unlearning What Happy Should Look Like by Kimberly Ihekwoaba

By Kimberly Ihekwoaba

Are you happy? A question I hear more recently.
I had to think hard to find an appropriate response.

And I thought:

Why are people asking if I am happy?
It’s taking twice as long to complete my book. Am I lazy?
I don’t have any desire to write. What’s wrong with me?
I only stare at a blank page, day after day. Am I even creative?
My book sales are close to nothing. What makes me so sure that I am a writer?

I just lost a loved one. I don’t know what to feel.
I am struggling with anxiety. How can I still be happy?
My mom got diagnosed with cancer. How can I be happy?
I come from a long lineage of addiction. How can I still be happy?
I just got an unplanned pregnancy. How should I be happy?
I feel stuck. How can I stay happy?
I do not know what to do with myself. I feel lost. How do I stay happy with myself?
My relationship just ended after nine years. How can I be happy?
Life is, and will always be, an opportunity in the midst of chaos.
Dealing with pain, developing coping mechanisms and psychology should be taught in schools.

Emotional maturity is a lifelong journey. Healing is a lifelong journey.

Below are a few tips that have helped me deal with hard times:

First of all, accept that, in life, there are things we’re not in control of. We can’t control the behaviour of other people, the weather, a global pandemic, a health scare, accidents… the list goes on. We’re only in control of our behaviours. But realise that it’s enough. Working on your mindsets, habits and skills is enough.

Secondly, accept that bad things happen to everyone. Rain falls on everyone. No, God is not punishing you. And no, it is not because you sinned. And it is not always karma. It is life.
It is life when you are up all night thinking how to get through another month of rent.
It is life when you are on your sickbed and not knowing who to call.
It is life when you are at the point of tears.

Thirdly, have an understanding of the pain you are feeling. Feel the pain and sit with it. It’s so easy to escape. Whether through drugs, sex, entertainment, social media, alcohol, relationships, work, etc. Attach words to the pain. How does it make you feel? Whether you feel angry, sad, shocked, abandoned, anxious, alone, or depressed, create a ‘non-judgment’ zone. Your emotions are all valid.

My fourth tip: Have an outlet for expressing your emotions. Whether it be through music, writing, dancing, or speaking. Don’t keep your emotions bottled up!

Five. Know that healing is not linear. It has its ups and downs. You will experience setbacks. And when that happens, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, refocus and get back on track.

Six. Time to change your environment to support your healing. You might have to take a break from certain people. Or end relationships altogether. It’s OK to grow apart. When you feel depressed, it can be  challenging to set boundaries. There are certain personalities you won’t want to deal with! Also, be intentional and selective with who you surround yourself with. Not everyone has the heart to care. Some people can use your pain for their entertainment, or they might be opportunistic with your current circumstances.

Seven. Practise being compassionate to yourself. If all you can do is cook good food and sleep on time, start from there and build from there. Start from the lowest-hanging fruit. With time, you will build momentum.

Eight. Work on your mindset. Listen to messages of hope and content that promote inner growth. Faith is believing in what you cannot see. And this is when you need it the most.

Nine. Practice gratitude. This is going to be challenging. Start with the small things. Be thankful for being part of the living. Be thankful for food. Be thankful for the car you have. Be thankful for having family and friends. Be thankful for having a support system. Be thankful for every dollar you spend. Be thankful for provision. Be thankful for having a roof over your head. Shift your focus to what you do have instead of lack.

Ten. Move your body and change what you eat. Movement helps with your well-being. Whether it be exercise, dancing, or taking a walk outside in nature. Be intentional with eating more nutritious food. And changing your environment helps with your mental health as well. Don’t feel like a prisoner in your own home. Some days will be hard. But the change of environment can transform your perspective.

Eleven. Learn how to self-regulate and self-soothe your emotions. It’s so easy to justify hurting others because of the pain we feel. We see it all the time; people are fond of projecting their internal conflict. But hurting others doesn’t take away the pain.

Twelve. Consider Therapy. Therapy helps create a better understanding of who we are – products of our childhood traumas and environment. Having someone you can connect with makes a difference. Sometimes, all people want is to be seen and heard. I understand that not everyone has access, or can afford it. Perhaps you can educate yourself in understanding how you feel and your behaviours. Focus on what you need to change about your mindsets and habits.

Thirteen. Build discipline and follow a schedule or routine. Building discipline means you’re working towards something. It’s better to have a goal you’re working towards than to wake up aimlessly. Your goals can be working out, applying to jobs, prospecting, reading books, learning a new skill, etc. Happiness doesn’t come from chasing titles, status, or things. Real happiness comes from the ‘doing’ of life. Engaging in what’s fulfilling for you. It comes from experiencing progress, no matter how small. The experiences, completions, meaningful relationship and seeing how you can make a difference in the life of others.

Fourteen. Change your story. Tell yourself a different story. The human brain has the power of neuroplasticity, so we can reprogram it to get the results we want. Instead of saying,  “I’m broken,” start saying, “I’m healing.” Instead of saying, “No one loves me,” say, “My tribe is making its way towards me.” Your mindset eavesdrops on your self-talk. So change what you say about yourself.

I wish you all healing and growth.
Do not allow your temporary confusion to become your permanent conclusion.
We are going to get through this.
So when people ask me if I am happy, I reply, “I am grateful.” And that is how I show up. Life is not perfect. But gratitude has been my bedrock. Faith that things can get better and that I can influence my future. Taking it one step at a time.

Through the peaks and valleys of life, revisiting blank pages helps to make sense of our lives. Writing is an outlet for self-expression. Seeing your thoughts on paper allows you to discover patterns and learn about yourself. It helps to realise limiting beliefs, fears, pains, unresolved issues, dreams, goals, aspirations and things to improve. Writing is like having a discussion with yourself and helping others recognise they’re not alone. We all show up with the duality of being a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time.


Connect with Kimberly on Twitter and Instagram: @iamkihek

Kimberly Ihekwoaba is a Multimedia Storyteller. Writing is a place that permits her to be soft, bold and fearless. Her originality is based on portraying life from a contradictory point of view. She brings honest, transparent and conspicuous sentiments to her work. It’s a platform to connect and become a storyteller in the lives of others. To learn more about Kimberly, visit her website:


Read the latest issue of Write On! (14) magazine online here.

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Change your story. Tell yourself a different story. The human brain has the power of neuroplasticity, so we can reprogram it to get the results we want.