BY LEYLA YVONNE ERGIL
FEB 19, 2023 – DAILY SABAH
EDITED BY BUSE KESKIN
Mehmet Toğoğlu, the head of the search and rescue team of the local NGO Haytap, hugs a woman in tears after he failed to rescue her two cats in Antakya, Türkiye, Feb. 18, 2023. (AFP Photo)
To say this has been a hard 14 days is an injustice, as the word itself does not express what has been happening here. Nor do the words ‘tragedy,’ ‘devastation’ or ‘heartbreak’ explain what we feel. There’s a saying in Turkish, ‘Söz’un bittiği yer,’ which translates to, ‘This is where words end’
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Idon’t mean to be a drama queen, and I almost feel unfit to even write about the situation, especially as so many have suffered such horror. After all, I am in a town in Muğla, on Türkiye’s southwestern coast on the other side of the country. Although we only watch the wreckage in the footage, the earthquake’s aftermath is also palpable. The town is near empty, with many people setting off for the southeast to help the earthquake victims and others in mourning, like me, missing the people we lost to tragic deaths. Last night was the first time a film was shown on television rather than the 24-hour coverage of the recovery of victims.
The usual greetings of saying “Naber,” as in “How are you?” is no longer a question we can answer in vain. No one here is okay right now. We feel guilty saying it’s cold outside and similarly for even surviving. I feel like a drama queen for feeling as sad as I am, even though I lost someone I loved to a genuinely terrifying death. While the Turks around me feel the same, they come from a legacy of Stoics, and instead of blatantly expressing their emotions, they tend to mobilize their energy into relief efforts, which does bring some sense of purpose back to life.
How to be joyful again
That said, I asked a mentor of mine, a fellow expat and expert in happiness and being grounded, how to feel joy again. And what he said surprised me but also was a sort of reset. In short, he said: “Leyla, you should feel happy now because you survived. But, unfortunately, tragedies happen, and sometimes we are hopeless. And so, feel grateful that you have a roof over your head, a job, and another day because, at any moment, it can be taken away.”
“This situation can be an awakening that anything you may have complained about before is luxury and, as the saying goes, ‘First-world problems.’ So, no longer will people be upset because their computer isn’t working or complain about trivial things such as line-cutting or horn-honking. Instead, let this tragedy serve as a lesson that every moment we have is a gift and to be grateful for everything and everyone we have in our lives while we still do,” he said.
Gratitude can ground us
While still devastated, the guidance to feel grateful for the beauty still left in life has helped change my perspective. Instead of feeling guilty for experiencing joy and moments of lightheartedness and sometimes even laughter, I now feel guilty wallowing in sorrow. Somehow, the emotions of joy and sadness are combined, and I think we have to learn how to live in harmony with both to be mentally sound. But maybe that is the key to life and enjoying every moment we have in it.
I do know that I don’t think I will as quickly complain about the simple things and hopefully won’t even notice them. And I know how lucky we are to enjoy even the simple things, like a hot cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset and embracing a good friend. But, suddenly, now everything has meaning. It’s as if this tragedy is almost a lesson in genuinely appreciating every moment we have in this fleeting life.
Helping is happiness
Scientific studies on happiness show that helping others is one of the major catalysts to feeling good. Volunteering our time for charity work, donating and assisting in any way we can is in our human nature, and doing so brings us happiness. On par with philanthropy, the recipe for happiness is having positive social interactions with others. While this knowledge is almost inherent in Turks, who jump to help and communicate as much as possible, others may need to be reminded.
And so, as the moral of this story goes, if you want to feel good again, spend your energy on being part of the relief efforts. We can donate on our own, but even better is helping alongside others, which studies show will work to double the joy we feel at that moment. Unfortunately, there is a long road ahead to recovery in southeast Türkiye.
Recently referred to as NATO’s worst natural disaster, the grieving and recovery efforts will take a long time. So, if there is any silver lining, maybe we can also spend this long road ahead helping others rebuild their lives again from the rubble.
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