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‘I’M A HAPPY, HEADSCARF-WEARING MUSLIM WOMAN’

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This week our reader columnist is Saiyyidah Zaidi-Stone. She’s an executive business coach and founder of non-profit organisation WorkingMuslim. She lives in London with her husband and two children.

‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ is a question my mum used to ask me all the time. The naive six-year-old me said, ‘I want to be happy’. I’m sure that there are psychologists out there that can deconstruct that answer.

So is the 38-year-old me happy? It's a small, simple question but one that makes you think. I have managed to get to the top of my career as a female working in the construction industry. I am one of only 10 female Fellows of the Association for Project Managers. But does status bring happiness? I am married with a son and daughter, but am I happy?

Ask them and most people will say they are fairly happy. Happiness is a complex equation with various ingredients in different proportions - it's not a simple Victoria sponge cake! Good health, a loving family, a good job, a decent wage, living in a ‘nice’ house, believing in God… They’re all ingredients in the cake of happiness. We can debate the last one, but it’s been proven by psychologists that a belief in God does increase happiness. Dare I say it? I am a happy headscarf-wearing Muslim woman.

I turned down a six figure job in order to do this, and am I happy? Absolutely.

Muslim women are portrayed in the media as oppressed, unhappy and downtrodden. Well, can I refute that stereotype please? I am no different to any of you reading this article. We all smile when we see a cute dog running in the park or get annoyed when we left our umbrella at home. I recently decided to leave my job and move onto pastures new. I wanted to try different things and explore how I can fully utilise my skills I have. I want be a pebble that creates some waves! I turned down a six figure job in order to do this, and am I happy? Absolutely. But at the same time, there is always the odd bit of anxiety that creeps in and makes me wonder if I made the right choice. It’s that self-doubt that can kill happiness.

We all suffer from self-doubt to some degree – “I won’t apply for that job, because I’ll never get it.” But I firmly believe that in order to be truly happy, I need to get over self doubt and simply strive to achieve my best at everything I do. I always worried about what to wear to interviews - not the brown or black skirt, but the hijab or not. My personal opinion, based on my experience over the last 10 years or so, is that actually it doesn’t really matter what you wear - it's what you say. Sure, people get their first impressions of you within eight seconds of seeing you. But if you’re smartly dressed and appear content or happy, then chances are you will be viewed much more positively.

I recently discovered some research regarding the silent messages that we give out: when we are giving a presentation, 7% of someone’s assessment is based on the content, 38% on the quality and credibility of the voice and an amazing 55% on body language and non-verbal behaviour. The happiness that we may or may not be feeling impacts on our body language and quality of voice. Perhaps because my glass is half full, I have managed to take advantage of this theory without even realising.

So again, am I happy? Absolutely. I now control my day and how I spend my time with my family or at work. I am even the Executive Director of Happiness in my company. Self-doubt is locked in the basement. At least for today, until I need to go and get some photocopy paper!

Picture credit: Getty