It’s a commonplace that money can’t buy you happiness. Studies show that people who win big in the lottery end out no happier than if they didn’t win.
Razan Shalab Al-Sham had plenty of money. She grew up as the privileged daughter of a very wealthy Syrian family. According to a recent story about her on National Public Radio, Al-Sham had no awareness of poverty until war tore apart her country in the wake of the Syrian uprising. “In all my life,” she said, “I didn’t feel that I should care about poor people or help them or stay in their villages. . . . I didn’t know the meaning of poor people until the revolution started.”
Al-Sham’s plan in life was to teach English literature. Fair enough.
But all that changed when the revolution began. Now, Al-Sham risks her life to bring help and aid to those who are seeking to end one-family rule in Syria. In the process, she interacts with many ordinary and poor Syrians, helping refugees and local town officials alike.
Why would this scion of wealth forsake her position of privilege and rub elbows with people so far below her on the socioeconomic ladder?
The misfortune of war
One reason, of course, is war. Though the Syrian revolution began among the poor, it quickly spread to many wealthy families, who became supporters of change even though they were doing well under the Assad regime. The regime, in turn, came down heavily on those families, raiding and looting their homes.
With the civil war hitting home for Al-Sham, her former comfortable path in life was upended.
However, instead of getting herself away to safety, she rolled up her sleeves and began providing practical help and aid to those who were hit hardest by the war: people who had lost homes and family members because of their villages’ resistance to the regime.
Her motives are idealistic. Al-Sham wants to see Syria transformed into a secular, democratic state in which the people can determine their own future. To achieve that goal, she found that she needed to step out of her position among the wealthy elite and devote her life to serving and working with ordinary Syrians.
The happiness of service
And yet, in the process she has discovered a happiness and satisfaction in life that she probably did not expect in her former days of living a privileged life.
If you listen to her story, you can hear the happiness in this young woman’s voice as she goes about her dangerous but fulfilling business. And in the NPR photos of her in discussions with local councils and standing with the men on a local civil police force whom she has just provided with new uniforms, her satisfaction and contentment in this new role shines out from her face.
Though she is still driven by idealistic motives of bringing about a transformation for the good in her country, she has discovered new reasons to serve ordinary Syrians and rub elbows with the poorest of her fellow citizens. She has discovered through her own experience that though her family’s money may give her the ability to accomplish things she otherwise couldn’t, it is the service itself that “buys” a sense of happiness and fulfillment in life.
Are you looking for happiness? Forget buying lottery tickets. Follow the example of one who already had wealth and privilege, and devote your life and your talents to serving your fellow human beings. Then, even in the midst of the inevitable pain and struggle of life, you will find the inner happiness you desire.