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How to be happy: Don't let others dictate your life

Updated September 09, 2015

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Somewhere along the line, you will realise that life has passed you by without you ever fully participating in it. —Creative commons
Somewhere along the line, you will realise that life has passed you by without you ever fully participating in it. —Creative commons

When I was 12, a kindly older relative asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to become a writer, and he visibly scoffed at the notion, telling me that writers are usually broke, with no real prospects of having a comfortable life.

I defiantly told him that J.K. Rowling had made millions from her books, and he said that she is just one person, there are countless others who don’t find success.

At the time, his words stung me badly, but they opened my eyes as well. So, while I never quit trying to become a writer and the dream to reach dizzying heights of success is still alive, it has been punctuated by the reality of day-to-day expenses.

I have another job to make money from, because that kindly gentleman was right – writing doesn’t make everyone as rich as J.K Rowling. Still, writing is my passion and something I will do my utmost to keep pursuing.

The purpose of saying all this is to answer some questions I received in response to my last piece on thriving in the workplace.

A few people asked me how to decide what to do with their lives, as they had no inkling what they wanted. They had stumbled into their lives and were now unhappy with the direction things were taking.

It seems to me, that we live in a society where the choices of most people were immensely affected by the opinions of others.

“My father wants me to appear for the CSS exams, I don’t want to but I’m doing this for him.”

“My parents said they wouldn’t pay my university expenses unless I got a degree in computer science. So that’s why I’m in this field.”

“I didn’t know what to study so I got admission in MBA as that’s what my older brother had done.”

Everyone I asked seems to have made serious life decisions this way. It takes away the burden of making a decision and gives us a permanent excuse to explain away our choices; 'My parents told me to', 'Everyone else was doing it', 'People say studying arts subjects is for dumb kids', etc.

These oft-repeated phrases are socially accepted as very reasonable explanations for why a person has done or not done something.

Adulthood – the phase of life in which a person makes his own life choices and then owns the consequences – never really arrives for us in Pakistan.

Most of us continue to live in our same old bedroom, eating food cooked by Amma, handing over our salaries to Abba and doing minor household chores assigned to us.

For women, things are slightly different as they have to move from their own bedroom to that of their husband's and exchange the authority of their parents for that of her parents-in-law. And, this is a very comfortable life for many.

You are referred to as an obedient child (even though you stopped being a child a long time ago) and you are absolved of all guilt if anything does go wrong, since everything from your career to your spouse was picked out by other people.

There is nothing wrong with living this way, if it makes you happy. But, somewhere along the line, most people wake up to the realisation that life has passed them by without them ever fully participating in it; they have lived mechanically to the tune of others and now, it’s too late to do anything about it.

Adulthood and the desire to be independent creeps up on us, but we are so paralysed by the fears instilled in us from very early childhood, that it’s hard to even think about making independent decisions and then living with the results.


Wanting to make our own choices is labelled as disobedience and the price is not only failure in this life, but also in the afterlife. That’s a big burden to carry.

Then, there is that age-old question which plagues us all “log kya kahen gay?

So we march on, making martyrs of ourselves, unable to even contemplate having dreams. We pity ourselves for never having done what we wanted, but are also proud of having lived for other people.

See: Loag kya kahen gay: Living a life in fear of public opinion

But does that make anybody happy in the long run, though? If you are dissatisfied with your life, it shines through in everything you do.

You turn bitter, your work and relationships are affected and you pass on your fears to the next generation, so they are trapped in the same cycle of perpetually dependent childhood.

Speak up. It’s your life, and you do have the right to express an opinion about it. This isn’t disrespectful or wrong. But, also have the courage to then live with your choices, whether they result in success or failure.

Dream but don’t build up your aspirations so much that they become castles in the sky you can never reach.

It’s never easy or straightforward to get where we want to go, but it is worth the effort. If you wish to become independent enough to make your own choices, then you have to be independent enough to take care of yourself.

Adulthood comes both with privileges and responsibilities. But the internal satisfaction of knowing you did something of your own accord is worth the cost.

Find a passion. If you don't know yours, start looking inward. There are always some things that we enjoy doing but are too caught up in other matters to notice.

Remember, you won't be suddenly propelled into the life you want to live through some magical event, except what you can do on your own.

Take a chance on yourself.