Amidst the plethora of profoundly-captioned, prophetic images doing the rounds, I’ve spotted a simpler wish a few times now. ‘All I want in 2013 is to be happy’. Call me cynical, but it’s kind of a given, isn’t it? I mean, who honestly likes being angry, miserable, heartbroken, unwell or weary? It’s exhausting! But, nonetheless, it got me to thinking… are we just aiming too darn high? Is our broad expectation from life that happy is right and anything short of happy is wrong? Although this is a beautifully rose-tinted idyll, it’s pretty unrealistic, don’t you think? If plummeting to an extreme low is considered ‘rock bottom’ then surely hitting the pinnacle of elation is equally off-balance.
It will rarely end well – achieving the goal cannot be sustained in the long-term. This means that, eventually, a dip will follow and its unwitting recipient will feel that they’ve failed somehow and so begins that search for something even better. I often wonder if nature’s adrenaline junkies, in their constant quest for that buzz, actually live more of a fulfilling lifestyle than the rest of us who just kind of bumble along to the Joe Average soundtrack of a range of general emotions. Because the risk of ending your own life doing something that excites you seems worth it. What a concept.
I hate routine, this is no secret. I find any kind of repetitive behaviour beyond tedious and deeply frustrating. I can’t have a set morning routine or a set evening one. I have to mix it up a little, just so I don’t go completely insane. This may be why I’ve never stayed in the same job for more than four years. But I’ve accepted that this is just the way I tick and try to avoid the assumption there’s something wrong with me.
My thoughts always return to a documentary I once saw. I couldn’t tell you what it was about, but my lasting memory is of one particular man, who had spent the whole of his working life enjoying the role of a refuse collector. He had married young and had begun emptying bins as a first step onto the career ladder. Just a few years shy of retirement, he was as happy as Larry, still living in the same house, with the same wife, doing exactly the same job he always had – with a smile on his face – and having the same set menus for his evening meals. The high point of his day was settling down in front of the telly, donning his slippers and cracking open a beer. This made him happy. He was stress-free, ailment-free and carefree. I decided that, although I’d initially felt sorry for the chap, by the end of his story, I found myself feeling a little envious. He had nothing to frown about and to him, his life was spot-on. He was absolutely satisfied with the hand he’d been dealt, or, to put it another way, he was content with the pathway he’d self-paved. It didn’t matter which way I attempted to coat it – this was surely the absolute perfect way to live.
We all know we’d be screwed without the men who tirelessly empty our bins. But, for most of us, a lifelong ambition would be something dreamier and, I’d hazard, with a bit more variety. For me especially, the notion of spending an entire working career in the same role, working the same set days and hours and tea breaks and lunch breaks and piss breaks and then going home to the same dinners in regular rotation, makes my eye twitch. Quite severely. I know it’s unrealistic to assume a life free from routine, but believe me, there’s a lot you can juggle. If I lived the life of that man, I most definitely would NOT be happy. In fact, I would probably be under the wheels of the bin lorry after a few short months. And herein lies the confusion. What is it that we actually want?
For most people, life isn’t simple. Even when we try and keep it that way, it just isn’t. Our organisational brain goes into hyper-drive a gazillion times each day and there never seems to be enough time to do everything we want to that will eventually make us happy. Or so we think. We’re always chasing happy. And in our haste, we quite possibly pass it by. Because, just maybe, happy isn’t what we expect it to be…
As we grow older, natural highs are harder to come by. The things that made us floaty and giggly in the first flush of youth just don’t quite cut the mustard now. It was just easier to be happy when life was simpler. And in our constant craving to rekindle those fuzzy feelings, we rebel against the mundanities of life and shun the basic pleasures that, just maybe, evoked sensations of extreme happiness in our dim and distant pasts. I don’t need to provide examples. As individuals, we all set our own bar and create our own definitions of happy.
When Mr W was on the way back up from a recent period of clinical depression, I found myself constantly reassuring him that not being able to feel consciously happy didn’t make him unhappy either. Because most people don’t think they ARE happy. And if this particular day finds you feeling ‘happy’, the chances are, it will be short-lived and tomorrow will bring another tangled web of confusion and resentment. Unless you’re faced with that valuable lesson in perspective, that is. You know how it works – someone you know may become gravely ill, someone may end their days, someone may lose everything they have. And then, albeit briefly, you might allow yourself to feel a level of contentment previously unattainable. You’ll feel blessed, you’ll be relieved. You might even feel happy.
Ultimately, my recommendation is to stop trying so hard. Goals and ambitions are necessary in life, but it’s irrelevant how tiny or how immense these may be. And, during the intense quest for achievement and realisation, don’t neglect the details. Chances are, these minutiae might just be your happy.