What Makes South African Women Smile?

Wide open spaces, warm hugs, gorgeous underwear and laughing out loud. We ask eleven South African women what gives them that happy, fuzzy feeling.

Caryn Wilensky, Shoe Designer
Happiness is…watching the sunset from my luxurious boudoir
“At 50 years old, I’ve realised happiness is not something static. Rather, it’s organic.” says Caryn. “Happiness is when you can allow yourself to be authentic, even if it’s not socially acceptable. I am married to a man who encourages me to be just that; authentic and powerful, and that’s rare.

“Keeping things simple, getting married on my 50th birthday, a romantic picnic on the fast train to Provence, being creative and being outside of my ego-self are also all things that make my life fabulous.”

In 2005, Caryn started making ballet-inspired shoes under her fashion label, Coast & Koi, which has spread like wildfire across South Africa and abroad.

Raenette Taljaard, Author
Happiness is… champagne and pate with melba toast
“One of my happiest moments was watching the new South African constitution being crafted,” says Raenette. “And the day I met Lucio, my partner who helps me take time out in our garden to quietly ponder everything.

“I recently said that I’m building beautiful bridles for my cynicism. There is always the inevitable moment when something bizarre will happen – a daily delivery of mirth and weirdness in the world to make us all giggle.”

In 1999, at just 25 years old, Raenette was the youngest woman to ever be elected as an MP in parliament. A published author, lecturer and director of the Helen Suzman Foundation, she says that a daily debriefing with loved ones over wine is what makes her happy.

Lindy Briginshaw, Businesswoman
Happiness is…travelling to unusual destinations
“Developing countries draw me especially and I’m happiest exploring somewhere or something completely different – a camel ride in the desert from M’hamid to Mzouga, talking to strangers, or even bargaining with traders for a special memento,” says Lindy. “I love winter morning walks in the forest with Jezebel, my energetic German Shepherd. Being surrounded by the crisp, fresh air helps me connect to the spirit – giving me inspiration.

“Then there are wide open spaces like the rugged Karoo landscape, my beloved boyfriend Jacques and home-cooked food that have the power of bringing in the sunshine too – even on rainy days.”

Always interested in the development sector and politics, Lindy established her own creative consultancy, Development Works, in Cape Town in 2003.

Yolanda Yawa, Performer
Happiness is…inner healing and positive living
“Happiness comes from within – and what’s left in its wake is a bed of roses,” says Yolanda. “Roses have thorns, but you need to go beyond that. Even though I am HIV-positive, finding out my kids were negative made me the happiest woman alive.

“Coda, the group with whom I sing, has achieved so much because we are all equally passionate about what we do. Without passion, there is no happiness. We are all living out our dreams, regardless of challenges.”

Performing since she was ten years old, Yolanda is a vocalist for Coda – a SA band of home-grown contemporary sounds. She is is also a jewellery and clothing designer, with her own fashion label, Yawa Creations that she started in 2003.

Francoise Lempereur, Writer
Happiness is…immersing myself in a hot fragrant bath with crystals
“It has taken me an inordinate amount of time to realise that happiness involves acceptance; acceptance of what simply is – instead of trying to control things I invariably have no control over,” says Francoise. “Walking with my three children beside the ocean and breathing in the sea air soothes and inspires me. I usually follow this up with a lengthy writing session, which is my greatest passion.

“Dark chocolate, strawberries, yoga and sharing black, irreverent humour with my best friends keeps me loving life, because I know laughter feeds the soul.”

Mother, advocate, author and editor, Francoise recently published a short story in ‘Breaking the Silence’, an anthology by People Opposing Women’s Abuse (POWA), published in 2008.

Neo Ntsoma, Photographer
Happiness is…indulging in delicious seafood
“Good imagery is my passion. I’m at my happiest when I’ve done something worthwhile, artistically and creatively. I love the joy of finding that special something that reflects my personality in a picture,” says Neo. “I’d like to see myself as a visual activist, especially when dealing with issues of women and youth empowerment.

“I believe that if you choose to think positive thoughts and be thankful for all the good things that have happened in your life, it invites happiness into your life.”

In 2004, Neo was the first woman to win the Mohammed Amin Award from CNN for African Journalist of the year. Today she owns her own company, Neo Ntsoma Productions, specialising in music, dance, fashion portraiture, film and television stills and reportage.

Andile Gaelesiwe, Presenter
Happiness is… awesome, fitting, flattering underwear
“Founding Open Disclosure for rape victims in 2002 showed me what happiness was. It was a purging for me to impart my life lessons to fellow South Africans, especially young people, helping them to realise the reason for their own existence,” says Andile. “Happiness is a state of mind – if you take care of yourself, you start to feel good and it rubs off on those around you.

“Sometimes when I feel down, I reach inside to that place where I can reside at soul level. There is always joy there – where I can smile, even if it hurts.”

Kwaito singer, songwriter, sexual rights campaigner and television presenter, Andile is always on the forefront of fighting social injustices, especially sexual abuse and violence.

Natalie du Toit, Swimmer
Happiness is… overcoming obstacles against all odds
“Qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games tops the list of happiest moments because it’s been my dream since I was six years old,” says Natalie. “Even when I lost my leg I never once thought ‘I won’t get into a pool again’. It wasn’t an option – nothing could stop me from reaching my goal!

“Swimming, silence, my dog Binga and braais with the family make me realise what life is really about. You have to take the good out of the bad, and remember that everything happens for a reason.”

SA swimmer, Natalie is one of the most successful disabled athletes in the world and is also a motivational speaker, inspiring people to reach for their dreams.

Teya Goven, Layout Artist
Happiness is…Fudge and Muffin, my Jack Russell and miniature Daschund
“Walking is a process of meditation for me and when I’m doing it outside I feel like I can connect with God. It’s like the nature around me absorbs all the worries and everyday concerns that prevent me from actually hearing my spirit,” says Teya. “Laugh-til-you-cry moments make life worth living, but also making sure you are doing something that’s in alignment with your spirit – even if it’s baking cupcakes! “Happiness comes in the letting go of all your preconceived ideas about when and how you will be happy and realising that you have the choice to be happy right now.”

After freelancing for a year, Teya now works as the art director for Essentials Magazine in Johannesburg.

Devi Sankaree Govender, Journalist
Happiness is…the funny things my children say
“In my job I see the worst of South African life, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Conclusively nailing someone to the wall by asking questions the victim wasn’t able to gives me great satisfaction. I know that at some level the work makes a difference to someone’s life – even if it’s small.

“When I get home, I am wife and mommy, and everything else gets filed away somewhere else. It’s where I can be myself ¬– cooking South Indian dishes for my family, playing games with my kids and snuggling under my soft duvet to read.”

From being a radio talk show host, newspaper columnist and investigative journalist for Carte Blanche, Devi juggles her public and private life with a smile.

Tebogo Kgobokoe, Dancer and Coach
Happiness is…spoiling myself to a luxury weekend away
“Life has its ups and downs. It’s like a dance – just go with the flow and let your life be rhythmical,” says Tebogo. “I no longer worry about what people think – especially about my body. I was constantly reminded that my body was not right for dancing but I did it anyway, and became a world renowned dance champion.

“Cooking, travelling and dancing – and watching my husband try out my dance moves – makes me laugh! It doesn’t take much to make me happy. A good warm hug usually does the trick.”

From six times undefeated SA Latin American and Ballroom Championships to being a World Professional finalist, Tebogo has her own entertainment consulting company, Moribo Promotions that she started in 2001. She travels the world as a dance lecturer, adjudicator and coach.

Where Are the Happy People?
• Out of 178 countries, the happiest nation in the world is Denmark followed by Switzerland and Austria.
• The least happy people live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Burundi.
• South Africa took 109th place, just before Cambodia and after Libya.
(According to a 2006 study conducted by Adrian White, social psyhcologist at the University of Leicester.)

Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Happiness and business coach, Jo-Anne MacKay explains that factors of crime, the economy, the general future of the country and job opportunities are the main causes of unhappiness in South Africans.

“Actively make your dreams a reality, practice the skill of happiness, find purpose in your life and create support structures for yourself,” Jo-Anne suggests. “Explore your passions and even if you feel fear creeping in – just do it! And, worry less about what others think of you.”

Author: Charlene Yared-West. Published The Oprah Magazine, September 2008, Vol. 7, No. 9, p114.(Please note that the copy posted above is the unedited version of what was published in the magazine and will differ slightly. To read the edited version of the article, please click on the images for an expanded view.)

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