Marya Zarif brings a holistic perspective to enriching the life of others: “Slow down, make something that brings joy and look at the big picture—understand that we are a part of a big beautiful mystery that is called life.”

By Sarah Fox


Marya Zarif—a Montreal-based concept artist and writer—was born in Aleppo, Syria. For almost a decade, she’s watched the destruction of her home from afar in Quebec and questioned how she could carry on. One day, Marya came to a realization: if she pushed forward, others would follow her lead.

“At the moment when you say, ‘we have no choice, we are going to continue. We owe life and we are life’ everything changes,” Marya says. “You become motivated by something that is beyond your courage and your force.”

In her work, Marya pinpoints a basic and essential human emotion that empowers one to overcome all obstacles: happiness. Through art and creative constructs, she guides people back to their sense of enjoyment and wonder—outlets she shares with others abroad and in her Montreal community.

The passionate co-founder and creative head of La maison de la Syrie—an organization that preserves Syrian culture, welcomes newcomers and invites others to explore it—uses food, music and art exhibitions to build community and allow Canadians to learn more about Syrian culture.

In addition to building a welcoming community she has seeded growth for the next generation as the co-founder of Fondation Je veux jouer. Through the organization, Marya and her team create games and playgrounds for children in Syrian refugee camps. Believing that the children of Syria need “positive things to look up on for them to pull themselves out and to start loving life again,” the organization cultivates spaces where youth and their families can find solace. As Marya concludes, “You don’t teach that, you open the place for those things to happen, and the child will find it himself. Play is the path to happiness.”

For Marya, life begins with happiness. Read on to find out how she channels this into gratitude and generosity strong enough to make a difference in her local and global community.

Marya’s five tips on how-to uplift others:

1. “Focus on what you really are—what makes you a happy, balanced and lovable person.” Marya insists that happiness breeds happiness, which is why identifying how you can spread positive energy onto others is top of her list of tips. “A positive image of self is capital for building tomorrow.”


2. “Recognize the gifts life sends you, and accept them.” Be it a new acquaintance, an opportunity or a creative idea, these are the types of gifts Marya is mindful of receiving with gratitude.


3. “Be a gift giver yourself.” For Marya, these gifts don’t materialize in the form of presents. Her gift is her light, and she encourages others to use theirs to brighten the world. “Each action of happiness and each action of good we do here is going to spread all over.”


4. “Be open and willing to stop and change everything you are doing.” Flexibility is key. If something isn’t working, Marya has learned to step back and accept that she may have to travel a different route to reach a new, and sometimes improved, destination. “You will find another way that might be even better.”


5. “Continue to play.” Marya describes “play” as the path to happiness for children, but it’s important that people of all ages continue to pursue joy and a sense of wonder in their lives. This will allow you to continue to explore your strengths and how to craft them to best use. “Play is about owning our bodies and mental skills and mastering them.”

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