At the same time, I came across an article written by an American self-help guru, who suggests we should all be conducting regular happiness audits. The premise of the article is that if we all paid as much mind to our emotional well being as we do to say, the running condition of our cars, then we’d be a lot better off. I suppose there’s some wisdom in that but, the truth is happiness is a strange and elusive concept.
The reality is, as anyone who has been kicking about this planet for any length of time will tell you, life is made up of happiness, misery and a whole lot of other emotions that fall somewhere in-between. It seems to me that sometimes people might actually be a lot happier if they stopped expecting to feel the highs of the ecstatic kind of happiness that comes, if we’re lucky, every once in a while. Settling instead for the everyday contentment of enjoying the little pleasures that life offers.
All too often we end up constructing barriers to our own well being by placing constraints on happiness. If only I had more money, if only I didn’t have to go to work, if only I was slimmer – does it sound familiar? There are so many pitfalls that, if we’re not careful, we can easily fall victim to but in the end none of them matter a jot.
Money is probably the number one reason that most of us use to avoid taking responsibility for our own happiness. Obviously, we need a certain amount of money to have any quality of life whatsoever and unemployment and poverty are possibly the biggest sources of misery and a blight on our society. That said there has to come a point when enough is enough. Were I to work full-time, I would earn a good wage and I appreciate how lucky I am to be in that position. I choose, however, to work just enough hours that I can get by and still enjoy the free time I need to pursue writing and other pastimes.
So what’s the problem, I hear you ask? You’d think I’d scored the happiness jackpot and yet I still manage to sabotage my own emotional well being on a regular basis. Happiness’ biggest enemy is, in my opinion, when we start to compare ourselves with others and covet what they have. Every now and again, I feel that twinge of envy as friends take off on their exotic holidays or I’m invited to their stylish homes, and I convince myself that working full-time would be worth it. The truth is though, it never is and for me, there lies the road to misery and stress.
It seems then that the key to happiness is knowing who we are and understanding what our needs are. There’s no blueprint for happiness because we’re all different. Just as I’m happiest with the optimum of free time others only feel truly fulfilled by the exhilaration of a successful career. Why is it then that we spend so much time wishing for that which will take us away from who we really are?
How many of us fully appreciate the life we have? I would say along with money, the only other requirement for happiness is health. The good health of ourselves and loved ones should be a daily source of joy to us and yet we continually take it for granted. I led a charmed existence until 2004, when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The tragedy is though, I didn’t even know how blessed my life was as I moaned and complained and squandered those everyday moments that form the backbone of our lives.
Throughout the two years of my dad’s illness, I came face to face with the reality of just how cruel life can be. Not only through my own family’s heartbreak but through the stories of the countless other families we met along the way. Parents of teenagers with a terminal illness, newlyweds faced with a death sentence before the ink had even set on their marriage certificate or the woman who, Solomon style, had to choose between her own chance of survival and that of her unborn child. Endless horror stories that caused me to silently promise that, never again would I fail to give thanks for the simple joy of being alive and healthy.
The shameful truth is my devotion to basking in the here and now didn’t last for very long. I was soon back to bitching and whining, wasting what I have by worrying about what I don’t have. So maybe the happiness guru is right and we do need to take stock of ourselves on a regular basis. Count our blessings and look for ways of tipping the balance in favour of being happy. Just like any gardener will tell you, we need to rip out even the smallest trace of negativity and its bedfellow misery before it can take root.