You Have a Right to Be Happy

By Keith Varnum

When I was in my early twenties, my father died. I inherited his unfinished life work—to help my mother be happy. To express the challenge more accurately, his incomplete goal was to assist my mother to love herself. Of course, since he didn’t love himself, this goal was a tall order. Impossible really. How can you share something that you yourself don’t possess?

My predicament was the same as my dad’s. I had no clue what love was! And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I didn’t love myself. Nonetheless, I had a severely depressed, suicidal mother on my hands. No easy job for a young person just starting out on his own journey.

But this burden turned out to be a blessing! This heavy weight of responsibility transformed into an uplifting gift. This nightmare of a curse turned into a fortuitous miracle.

My mother’s condition sent me to the brink of despair and frustration and then … over the edge! … only to land in a new paradigm. … A fresh understanding of what life is really about.

Sweet Liberation

My mother was terrified to be alone and to live alone. She had spent every single day of her life with my father for forty years—without even sleeping one night in another bed without him at her side. Very sweet, but very dependent. It didn’t serve her well when he died.

Since my mom felt incapable of living alone, I spent several years shuttling her from one sister to another, one relative to another, one old friend to another, until there was no one left she knew on the planet who were willing to take her in and tolerate her despair.

I was discouraged and desperate. I knew she couldn’t live with me. It just wouldn’t work. At the time I could barely handle my own inner demons and a lightweight job as a waiter in Boston. Her constant grief and crying would sink me in a few days!

I prayed all day every day for a solution, for some glimmer of hope, for some new coping strategy. I loved my mother dearly. She had always been a very supportive, loving parent to me. She’d never before asked me for anything unreasonable. And she’d never before asked me for something I simply wasn’t capable of giving. I deeply wanted to help her, but I couldn’t see how

Then my prayers were answered.

And, as usual, in a manner I didn’t anticipate. And with a solution I could never have imagined!

Truth to the Rescue

The spark of truth I needed came from a young Italian man at a spiritual workshop in New York City. On a break from the seminar, my new acquaintance noticed my gloom. He asked me about the source of the dark clouds blocking out the sunshine in my soul.

I told him my sorry tale. He shared with me his long journey of freeing himself from the intense feelings of guilt and obligation from his old-world Italian parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nephews, nieces and cousins. He shared the raw, earthy, blunt perspective of someone who had weathered more than a few bumps on the road of life.

The Gift

As he spoke, he channeled a kind of saintly light that beamed radiantly from his chest.

Hawk-like he looked me square in the eyes and said, “You know, you have a right to be happy. Everyone has a right to be happy in life. That’s why we came here to live on earth—to experience happiness. Everyone has the inherent ability to choose to be happy—or not. And everyone has the ability to choose to be unhappy … guilty, sad, angry—or not!”

At that moment he expressed the essence of the wisdom I’d encountered in all my metaphysical studies. He distilled the core of what all my spiritual teachers had been trying to tell me. And I really heard it—I finally got it—from him in that mundane hotel hallway.

I can still hear his words and feel how they drove deep into my heart and my knowing. I can still feel the vibration of the space in which he told me. I can still recall how energized my body felt when I absorbed the import of his words into my being.

His words burned a hole in the illusion—and ignited a fire of understanding within me. I knew what he said was truth. It resounded through my body and into the depths of my young soul.


I was immediately elated. I jumped into the air with joy. I was free at last. Free from the overbearing weight of the guilt. The worry. The obligation.

I knew he was correct that I had the right to be happy.

And I knew he was correct that I had to grasp that right in order to have it. I had to actively choose that right. Take it for myself then and there.

And I know that in that moment of clarity I was capable of doing just that.

Simply a Choice

In the end it was actually just a simple decision. Once I saw in my heart that I—as everyone—deserved this right to be happy, I gave myself permission to be happy.

I took back my joy in that instant of lucidity. I owned my peace. Happiness.

And I knew that, in her heart, my mother actually wanted this happiness for me. But whether she consciously knew that or not, I would still grab my freedom to be happy.


Then I felt a level of deep peace that I’d never felt before in my life. I knew that I’d chosen happiness—and that no one—or no circumstance—could ever take it away from me again. I was home—for good.


Coincidentally, my mother made a similar decision for herself that same afternoon. When I met her later that day, she told me she had discovered that she now needed to live by herself. And that she’d be fine. And I no longer needed to take care of her.

Halleluiah! Praise Jesus! Divine synchronicity had struck once again.