The shocking news of the death of a prominent young musician reached me while I was sitting in the evening, enjoying the cool breeze of Chisamba. Social media of course has different stories of what led to her death and it is alleged there was alcohol abuse. This made me think of all the legendary musicians we have lost over the years due to alcohol or substance abuse. The question of what leads to the substance abuse by celebrities when they seem so happy and successful lingers on my mind. This reminds me of how I looked forward to owning a car and when I got one in 2009, I didn’t feel anything, I drove around a lot more hoping to feel the happiness but it was in vain. I then realised I was more excited for its arrival than actually owning it. And many years later when I upgraded to a bigger car, I knew better that happiness can never come from owning a car (cru-cru) no matter the engine size.
Happiness is something that people seek to find and it can vary from one person to the next. Typically, it is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment. While it has many different definitions, it is often described as involving positive emotions and life satisfaction. When most people talk about the true meaning of happiness, they might be talking about how they feel in the present moment or referring to a more general sense of how they feel about life overall. If we were all asked today are we happy? What would be our response? And if we were asked, what would make us happy?

The ancient philosopher Aristotle, suggested that happiness is the “One human desire” and all other human desires exist as a way to obtain happiness. He believed that there were four levels of happiness: happiness from immediate gratification, from comparison and achievement, from making positive contributions and from achieving fulfillment. Some people believe that happiness will be achieved once they reach a certain milestone, such as finding the perfect partner or landing a particular salary. A couple struggling with fertility looks forward to the day they will get a positive pregnancy result and believe it will be their happiest day. A student looks forward to graduation day believing it will be their happiest. A die-hard cadre’s happiest moment would be to meet the President.

While perceptions of happiness may be different from one person to the next, there are some key signs to look for when measuring and assessing happiness and these are; feeling like you are living the life you wanted, enjoying positive healthy relationships, practicing self-care and treating yourself with kindness and compassion, having gratitude and having meaning and purpose. Happy people still feel the whole range of human emotions—anger, frustration, boredom, loneliness and even sadness from time to time. But even when faced with discomfort, they have an underlying sense of optimism that things will get better, that they can deal with what is happening and that they will be able to feel happy again.

While some people just tend to be naturally happier, there are things that you can do to cultivate your sense of happiness such as pursuing intrinsic goals, enjoying the moment and reframing negative thoughts by asking yourself, what can be done different in future to get a positive response.

In one of my first counselling classes, Prof. Ndhlovu posed a question on what annoyed us, mine was ZESCO’s load shedding. He then challenged the entire class to do something about whatever it was that took away our happiness. This was the year I invested in a big inverter that I still own today and is quite useful. The lesson we were being taught is that there is always something one can do to push aside that which takes away happiness.

The alleged alcohol abuse story brings me to the high levels of abuse in our own society. Majority of people abusing alcohol and substances do it to get pleasure. Humans are biologically motivated to seek rewards and these rewards should come from healthy behaviours. When you eat a delicious meal, your body releases a chemical called dopamine which makes you feel pleasure and it becomes a cycle that every time you eat that meal, you begin to seek these rewards of good feelings. Therefore, you will make effort to eat that meal that gives you that feel good feeling. Illegal substances send massive surges of dopamine through your brain too, as well as certain activities such as sex or spending money. But instead of motivating you to do the things you need to do to survive (eat, work and spend time with loved ones) such massive dopamine levels from drugs damage your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. This causes an unhealthy drive to seek pleasure or happiness from the substance and less from healthier activities. Therefore, most alcohol and substance abusers need happiness but get it in the wrong places. Alcohol, drug and substance abuse is a cry for help and love. You will find that a musician who starts very well begins abusing substances thinking they will find happiness. Sadly, it’s not only youths finding pleasure in wrong places but even adults who climb ladders in corporate world tend to abuse alcohol because they think it will bring them happiness, but this form of happiness is detrimental to their health.

If you find yourself mainly sad, suicidal, engaging in random sex with strangers, drowning yourself in alcohol to be able to function or sleep, abusing drugs and substances, seek help from your nearest healthcare provider who will refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist or drug and alcohol counsellor. Addictions are treatable, through hospital management, medications, rehabilitation, therapy and support groups.

About the Author

Aka Monde, is a licensed Professional Counsellor who holds a Master of Science in Counselling from the University of Zambia. She believes in the adage “a problem shared, is a problem half solved.” Speak to your pastor, church elder, elderly family member or see a professional counsellor when in need.

Email: [email protected]