I hear myself spouting doctrines to my children on the drive to school. Find the good in things. Do what makes you happy. Be around positive people. Eat delicious, healthy food. Get lots of sleep. Live for love. And so on, and the next thing I know I sound like a fridge magnet. I wonder why then, when I actively do a lot of these things in my life, how I still find darker times? How is it that when I so closely control these yardsticks of happiness and wellness, do I still fall off the happiness wagon? This perplexes me. I spoke to a very clever lady who explained her view, in a way that only very clever ladies can. She said that doing things to achieve happiness, things that were in the service of happiness would, ultimately, become futile. Either they would not produce the desired outcome or I would become a slave to these activities in the hope they would deliver. So if stopped doing them, everything would falter and fall.
This struck me as interesting.
Since I gave up paid work a few years ago, I’ve been pondering this question. Through my angst-ridden 40th birthday, dabbling with my profession, adjusting to parenting a teenager, re-entering education, getting my Masters, I had been circling the fact that even then; even after all that, happiness occasionally eluded me.
I have a friend who loves to swim. She’s started open air swimming in a Lido and it has produced such a jolt of pure happiness that I see in her proof of this point. She doesn’t swim to be happy. She swims because when she does so the silence under the water is elemental, so calming it’s meditative. She swims because the rhythm of the stroke enables her to process thoughts. She swims because in a heated, open air pool, in September, the surface steams and she faces into a rising, mysterious fog, her body submerged in warmth. Doesn’t that sound just wonderful?! She has found the thing that for her, is happiness. It is not something she does in the hope that it will lead there. It just is.
I used to love the lectures, early on in my Masters, having rediscovered how much I enjoyed recalling a book or a critical essay I’d absorbed and being able to talk about it with like-minded people. Certain things to do with Denmark, like this Instagram account make me happy; a glimpse of Royal Copenhagen crockery or a place I recognise from my childhood, when I used to visit with my Mum. My Mum makes me happy; her manner and her cooking and the fact that always, always says the right thing. Happening across the most crazy-beautiful pair of shoes on the internet makes me happy; to be fair it’s short-lived as I then frantically work out how I can get those shoes in my life. The happiness then shifts; it’s not pure anymore, but covetous. I am in service of those shoes. Beaches and particularly tropical, palm-tree edged beaches. Roast dinners with gravy. Laundered sheets. White-washed walls. I notice these things are not activities though, they are outcomes. I love a roast dinner, but I don’t love to cook.
So surely the aim – fridge magnet style – is to do what you love, not to covet the outcome of what you love?
With writing there is a curious convergence. This type of writing I love. The reportage, blog-fuelled writing is my favourite. Fictional writing, a novel, is a different thing. I love that I can do it, but the act itself is in service of happiness, it was not always happy-making! It was gruelling but enlightening – you wouldn’t believe what stuff emerges when you have a 1000-words-a-day requirement over your head. It produced satisfaction and an education. I never learnt so much about myself as when I wrote the draft of a book. I suppose that is why I now have some clarity about this whole topic. Time gives perspective, and perspective gives choice…