The last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about the concept of happiness. What does it mean for me? Or what should it mean for me to be Chinese and be happy? I have struggled with my Chinese identity since high school. And since I started accepting myself as gay, I’ve realized there is more and more about my culture that I do not understand or want to accept. Many of the ideologies have caused me to evaluate who I am as an individual and make choices about myself that generally are not very Chinese.
There is just so much wrong about my culture, and frankly, I’d probably be able to write a book about all the instances in which I have found the mindset just completely archaic and asinine. Of course I’m not going to attempt to rant about all of them, just one for the time being…
The reason why I’ve brought this up is due to an interaction I had with my mom on a Saturday night. She came downstairs to my room and decided to give me a spiel about my life and what it means to be happy. I didn’t really respond to her because I didn’t know how to explain to her how I felt about the issue, as it was, utterly different from her idea of happiness. But anyway, she first asks me why I go out to drink on the weekends and come home very late. I have been doing this for about a year and a half now and I do enjoy it. It allows me to let go a little and forget about my worries for a while. I have not told her the details of course, because that would require a lot of explaining which I’m not prepared for nor would she be prepared to deal with the knowledge. She thinks I’ve joined some gang; that perhaps I’m doing ‘bad’ things. She doesn’t describe what she thinks I’m doing and I don’t ask. It’s probably a can of worms better left untouched.
She continues with how worried she is about me; that she sometimes has problems sleeping at night wondering about my life. Why am I not dating? Why am I not trying to find a girl, get married and settle down? What is wrong with her son?? I let her speak on without interruption. She then brings up my brother, who’s 5 years younger than me. Apparently, in the last while, my aunts have been trying to introduce a few girls to my brother. My mom has forwarded these pictures of these eligible daughters of these friends of my aunts to my brother to see if he is interested in meeting or chatting with these girls. He has declined. All of them.
Needless to say, my mom is not pleased with my brother’s decisions. But I have told her in the past that people in our generation don’t really like to be match made by their relatives. I mean, I definitely don’t. So here she is, 2 sons, one in his late 20s the other in his early 30s. Neither close to getting married. Now that she has voiced her concerns for both my brother and I, in an exasperated tone, says, “What is wrong with you two???” Well, for me, there is an obvious answer. I’m gay. Into men, so no girlfriend in any perceivable future. My brother, however, not sure what is up with him. We aren’t very close so I don’t know much about him. Don’t know if he’s ever dated anyone. If he’s not working, he’s basically at home playing video games.
Well then...happiness. What does it mean? According to my mom, and typical Chinese mentality, happiness is when your children continue to fulfill the duties that all Chinese people are expected to accomplish. This entails certain rites of passage, including of course, marriage and having children. She didn’t say it as such, but gave me accounts of her friends and other relatives who have children that have met these requirements. Many of them even younger than I, have become happily married, happily birthed a child into which happiness has been brought to their entire family. I did not reply. But my mind was reeling in thought. The one and only way life can proceed. A single formula for all human happiness. Yes, I’m cynical and sarcastic here. I don’t doubt this could work for many...but not I…
By being who I am, by loving whoever I may love, I will never fit into this formula. My life will not bring happiness for my mother. She will not get to experience happiness through me. Chinese culture is very much focussed on the group rather than the individual. Which, of course, is in contrast to Western culture that tends to promote the individual. Fundamentally, I do ascribe more to a Western mindset when it comes to this. I cannot sacrifice my own happiness to make other people happy. I don’t think it’s right. This is my life. I should be able to do what makes me happy. If I decide to live for others and derive happiness from their choices and actions, it is not true happiness.
My mom has worked so hard throughout her life to raise me and my brother. I do appreciate that greatly. But her culture has taught her to look for happiness outside of herself and seek it from her children. I’m not saying that that is wrong. Western parents will do that too. The difference is that Chinese parents have these checklists for their children and if these things don’t get checked off, then their own well being will be compromised. The more of these items that get checked off, the more there is a guarantee of a good life. Even my grandma has said it to me before, that she’s waiting and how happy she would be to see her grandchildren get married and have children. It just feels like my mom has put in all this work into her sons and yet may not reap any benefits.
I feel that it is quite a sad life to live when your own happiness is basically derived from whether or not your children also get married and have children. I don’t blame my mom for these Chinese ideals that have been instilled in her. I just find it disconcerting that her happiness does not come from things that she does for herself; she doesn’t have any hobbies or things within her life that will provide her with enjoyment. Most of her time at home is busying herself with chores or talking to relatives and friends on WeChat on her Ipad.
I hope she finds something other than her children that will bring her happiness in the future. And I hope that when that time does come for me to tell her about myself (or rather, to confirm something she might already think), that her world won’t come crashing down. Having children is still something I personally want to do, even if I have to adopt. I feel that it is something that I do want to experience as a human being. Maybe my mom might come around to be accepting of that? I mean, the child may not be our flesh and blood, but children do have the effect of changing people’s lives in very special ways sometimes.
Happiness is something we should all be striving for for ourselves. Everyone deserves it. It is not something that should be placed on the shoulders of others. I will always live for myself first because I only have this one life. If my actions bring joy to my parents, great, but it is not my life’s goal to please them. They have brought me into this world and have made immense sacrifices to get me to where I am today...and for that I am truly grateful. However, if they cannot be happy for the choices I make, then that is something they need to deal with. But I guess when you’re Chinese, it’s about ticking off a couple of boxes on a premade checklist...