"Don't ever let somebody tell you you can't do something. Not even me… You got a dream, you gotta protect it. People can't do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can't do it. If you want something, go get it."

“Pursuit of Happyness” has always been one of my favorite films. Chris Gardner’s determination to earn a better life for his family inspires me to never give up on my dreams and the sacrifices he makes for his son never fail to make me cry. Since I first watched this movie I felt a strong connection to Gardner’s story, but it wasn’t until recently, when I revisited “Pursuit of Happyness” with my mom and dad, that I realized why it provokes me to feel the way I do. 

My mother immigrated to America when she was 22. After surviving years of civil wars, bombings, homelessness and extreme poverty in Lebanon she decided that if she ever wanted to have kids, they couldn’t live a life like hers. This decision meant she would have to leave her entire life behind — her family, her friends, her education and her career goals — all so the kids she imagined having could live a better life. She made this decision while aware of its consequences. She knew what it was like to have the sound of bombs in the morning replace the sound of an alarm clock buzzing and didn't want her children to know that feeling. She knew what it was like to sleep on the floor in an abandoned school because the homeless shelter she previously lived in had been bombed. She didn’t want her children to go to bed each night wondering where tomorrow's bed would be. My mother’s pursuit of happiness was in giving her kids a better life than her own. A life in which survival was not their priority.

My father emigrated from Lebanon to America when he was six years old. His father found a job in an assembly line at the Chrysler Motor Company and he toiled away each day trying to make ends meet. Even with all this, my grandfather’s job was not enough to support his eight kids, so my father had to work at a young age. As a 12-year-old, he spent his weekends landscaping his neighbors’ lawns, his evenings working at a pizza shop and his mornings distributing leaflets throughout his neighborhood. My father knew what it was like to live an impoverished life and he didn’t want his children to know that life. He knew what it was like to have the responsibility of providing for your family before reaching your teenage years and he didn’t want his children to feel that burden. He spent the first 20 years of his life saving money from various minimum wage jobs and when he met my mom, he made the brave decision to go to law school with a weekly salary of $100 in hopes of establishing a successful career so that his children would live a life far from his own. My father’s pursuit of happiness was in giving his kids a better life than his own. A life in which survival was not their priority. 

My parents have sacrificed so much for my siblings and me. My mother left her entire life behind and moved to a different country while my father worked endlessly, trying to escape the shackles of poverty. Whenever I watch Chris Gardner in “Pursuit of Happyness,” I am reminded of my parent’s struggles. I am reminded of their determination to give me and my siblings a life where the obligation to survive is replaced with the opportunity to thrive. Just as Gardner did everything in his power to become a stockbroker so that his son could have a stable home and pursue his dreams, my parents were also set on giving me a life of stability and opportunity. 

My favorite line from the film is when Gardner reminds his son, “Don't ever let somebody tell you you can't do something. Not even me… You got a dream, you gotta protect it. People can't do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can't do it. If you want something, go get it.” My parents instilled sentiments similar to these in me. They spent the majority of their lives pursuing an idea of happiness that would allow me to pursue my dreams. My parents’ brave sacrifices blessed me with this opportunity to dream. They lifted the burden of survival off my shoulders, and now, they have left it up to me to discover what definition of “happyness” I will pursue.

Noor Moughni can be reached at nmoughni@umich.edu. 

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