The biggest lesson the ‘disadvantaged’ taught me!

By Navin Muruga

I’ve spent the last 18 months visiting disadvantaged communities where most families earn less than a dollar per day. In Kenya, I met women who hiked through dangerously rocky terrain to collect dirty drinking water. In Sri Lanka, I met teenagers who had spent their childhood hiding in bomb shelters instead of attending school. And in the Philippines, I watched in shock as earthquake victims begged on the street for a bottle or two of clean drinking water. I’ve learnt a lot from these experiences but one lesson has stood out from the rest.


Happiness Is A Choice

I grew up believing that happiness was a result of success. My trip taught me otherwise. As I visited disadvantaged communities, I was blown away by how happy everyone was. War widows in North East Sri Lanka laughed hysterically as I embarrassed myself trying to speak to them in Tamil and dirt poor children in rural Cambodia squealed in delight as they introduced me to their pregnant pig who was coincidentally also named Navin. I met more happy people in these so called disadvantaged communities than I did back home in metropolitan Kuala Lumpur.

It has forced me to realize that most of us place too many conditions on being happy. We tell ourselves we need to have a big house, a fancy car, an impressive career and a perfect family when in fact none of these are a requirement. All we need to do is CHOOSE happiness. We need to get rid of these conditions and just decide to be happy. We should respect our current situation and by all means work hard to make it better but never let anything stop us from simply being happy.

Now that I’m back in Kuala Lumpur, I have found this lesson on happiness to be more relevant than ever. I find it guiding me wisely as I make professional and personal decisions.

When I visited these communities I thought I could teach them a thing or two about getting out of poverty. Who knew, they’d teach me instead!