I couldn’t honestly say that the past two years of my life has been a walk in the park, but it definitely had plenty of moments of success and triumph. Somehow, it always seems easier to complain than to enjoy a moment of happiness. I can only guess how much of this is due to cultural influence, but I know for sure that grumbling and nitpicking are expected of you in a post(?)-communist country.
Last January, when father died and left a small company behind, the family was completely devastated. In the first few weeks, I had to step into his shoes and manage his company I knew nothing about. I was single, and had a tremendous workload at my workplace as well. We ended up closing down the company, but I did manage to be fully present in both places. And despite the trauma and grief, I’ve had plenty of success. It was the small things, situations I never thought I could handle, I suddenly did. Social anxiety, feeling of incapability, lack of self-confidence – these are just a couple of things I overcame in certain situations. But I could just never let it sink in, I could not celebrate. In a way, I felt that everyone expected me to feel terrible all the time, to complain, to feel sad, or to express my helplessness. So I started to feel guilty: am I allowed to be happy about myself while bad things happen to me or others?
This was the first time I noticed this phenomenon. Since then, just like the constant change in my feeling of self-worth and confidence, this guilt grows and diminishes. Whenever I did a good presentation, or been asked to model in a company brand campaign, I felt happy and excited for a moment, but then the feeling guilt came over me with a powerful sense of denial – this is a mistake in the course of things, I should not enjoy this, it will surely pass. It’s an outlying data point I need to disregard.
Then, I remembered of how I learnt this as a child – a paralysing social norm, ruining healthy egos, that frowned upon those who succeed. In the old days, if you had more, the State took it away. People who had something, kept it secret. It was a rule of fear. A fear of success, individualism. Children were taught to hush about what they had at home.
Even prior to that, Christianity happened. Pride being a deathly sin, there was no distinction between a brief enjoyment of success and vanity. Less secular countries had this attitude of shaming in their very veins. Children were quickly snapped at with a phrase: ‘na ne bízd el magad’, which reads something like ‘don’t be full of yourself’.
And there’s the proverb in Hungarian that says: ‘dögöljön meg a szomszéd tehene is, which reads something like: ‘death to the neighbour’s cow as well’.
All in all, I have plenty of things to be sad about and plenty to feel proud of. What is a struggle to me, is that whenever there is something good I could enjoy, I must consciously remember to allow myself a moment of joy, to let it in, because the happy moments never linger anyway. And more and more often I succeed in letting it in. Which is something I should be happy about.