Posted by: Viola | May 7, 2014

Happiness is What I Do: An Essay

Today, a friend and classmate of mine from secondary school wrote to me and said she had read and appreciated one of my essays. It’s an essay I wrote two years ago for the golden jubilee of my secondary school in Cameroon, Our Lady of Lourdes. The essay has only been available in print, and I understand that there was a limited number of copies of the magazine in which the essay was published. So I thought I would share the essay on my blog. Here it is, as published in the LESA USA Inc. magazine commemorating the Lourdes Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2012 and 2013.

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Happiness is What I Do

By Viola Allo

I am ready to choose what to tell folks, when they ask me that question we all love to ask each other: “What do you do?” I have been working on how to answer that question for the last four years.

In 2007, I was on track to become a PhD candidate, a gifted ethnographer, an anthropologist of Cameroon. But I was miserable! Stressed out and burned out, I quit my program at the University of Michigan. If I had stayed, I would have become a professor, a researcher, an author of academic articles, an expert of experts on Cameroon. Today, I am none of these. I have no grand theories about Africa, no treatises that make me a go-to person for people who want to know the facts and figures of Cameroon. I own a master’s degree that I have yet to frame and hang on my wall.

So what should I tell folks, when they ask me what I do? What should I say? What details should I go into? I could say I am a poet. Or a yoga instructor. I could add that I work part-time, so as to conserve the mental space I need to craft long poems for Africa. I could share that my favorite yoga pose is a headstand, and that when I meditate, I love to taste the air flowing into my lungs. I could also say to folks, “I am happy. Happy is me. Happiness is what I do.”

My life today is not something I mapped out. All I knew, when I left grad school, was that I was tired of being miserable. A career counselor encouraged me to go back, to finish what I had started, to secure my future. I shook my head and told myself, “I want to be happy.” I continued to feel miserable for a whole year. Then my life got worse than it had been in grad school.

Believing I had failed in life, I began to feel unwell, my body and mind crushed. I sensed a dimming of the light within me, perceived a voracious darkness around me. This darkness became my salvation. It forced me to seek a genuine solution. I turned to my family for support, but they were not enough. I prayed, but I needed more than a prayer. I needed something to do that could give my life meaning. I needed a fire to live for. I needed a fire within me.

I launched a private investigation to find my fire. I leafed through the years of my life, as if they were stacks of old magazines. I peeled back the layers of my failures. I found that the things I had failed at were often things I did not enjoy doing in the first place. I located gems of success, points in my life when I had done extraordinary things. I collected memories of moments when I had known deep joy, when the sparkle of my clearest thoughts and emotions swamped my entire being.

My investigative mission took me back to my childhood in Cameroon. I recalled the magic of learning to read and write, at age 5, with my mother coaching me on my pronunciation and grammar. I recalled writing poems as a teenager in Bamenda. I saw a young Viola clutching a brown cardigan, studying in cold classrooms at the Our Lady of Lourdes campus. I heard a literature teacher saying, “Viola, what a great poem!” after he read my response to an assignment asking students to write an original poem. I still have that poem; it reads wonderfully. I recalled the literary jewels we read and wrote about, and my love for all the hymns we sang at mass. I recalled devouring poems in The Sheldon Book of Verse and studying hymns in my worn-out Cameroon Hymnal.

In 2008, a year after leaving grad school, I returned to writing poems. I took creative writing workshops at a community college, where I also discovered yoga. When writing or doing yoga, I felt a healing force sweep through me. I felt hopeful about the turns my life had taken. I began to feel grateful for my failures, because they had compelled me to explore the things that excite me.

In 2009, I journeyed to Cameroon to bask in the warmth of my family there. I returned to California in time to celebrate the publication of four poems. In 2010, I won a fellowship to attend my first writers’ conference. In both 2010 and 2011, one of my poems earned national recognition. In 2011, I celebrated the publication of another poem and an essay, and I also earned my yoga teaching certificate.

These days, I feel alive! And curious to discover what the future holds for me. I feel like more of the person I want to be, doing what I love to do, stoking my fire. So the next time someone asks me what I do, I will say, “I am a poet, and a yogi, and I am happy.”


Copyright © 2012 by Viola Allo. All rights reserved. Please contact the author for permission to share or use this essay. This essay was written for and published in the LESA USA, Inc. magazine commemorating the Lourdes Golden Jubilee celebration in 2012 and released for the LESA USA 13th Annual Convention.


Author’s Biography

Viola Allo, a poet, essayist, and yoga coach in Sacramento, California, graduated from Lourdes in 1996. A Fatima girl and former Assistant Senior Prefect, Viola is currently writing a memoir and perfecting her headstand.



  1. […] Viola Allo […]

  2. Viola, indeed, you hit the nail on the head in this essay. You have the same revelation I received while attending my alma mater, Oral Roberts University. I have always been a writer right from when I was younger. I never thought in my mind that I would ever go to school to get a degree in it. When I first heard the tender voice of God urging me to get the writing degree, I rejected it. I tried to rationalize how I would ever make a living from it, and how I would answer the questions from friends and family, but having obeyed and completed my degree, I feel so accomplished. People’s inquiries don’t bother me anymore because I know I am doing what I enjoy and whether or not money is abundant or scarce, I am satisfied. I am at peace.

    • Hi Rosalyn, Thanks so much for sharing your story. I celebrate you because you have found your passion and are following it. I am happy these days, but some days I do lament and regret how long it took me to find/pursue my most cherished passion(s). They were there all along but I didn’t have the wisdom and insight to choose them and focus on them. All the same, I rejoice everyday because I now know what I love and I can chart my goals and vision according to this love. It’s good ground to stand on, even when things are shaky and uncertain, which is how they often are. I admire your courage to pursue your writing degree, in the face of many objections from others. That is true bravery. Wishing you courage always. Many blessings to you. ~Viola

  3. Hi Viola. All that matters is you’re doing it now. You’re a great encouragement to me. I love your blog! I’m learning a lot from you, and I hope one day, I will have a blog that other people will be inspired by just like yours.
    For some reason I don’t get notified when you respond to me. I happened to come back on here to read some more and found your reply. I think I need to check back more often. Remain blessed.

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