I took a break this week – it’s hard to find the words to describe writers block… so lets just say my mojo chose to desert me. I don’t know where she went, but I decided to go for a drive, hoping that if I lost myself well enough, I would somehow find and manage to coax her back. I achieved one of my objectives (Cambridge was beautiful), but I’m not sure I found her amongst the potholes, endless diversions, close to empty tank of petrol or incident that created a more than considerable tailback. One thing I did find though was how easily I can relate to the line from Bitter Sweet Symphony – ‘You’re a slave to money, then you die…’ What are normally just words in a song, suddenly gathered significant clarity. Is that really what this game of life is all about? (I also just discovered there’s a potential I could be a witch – at the exact moment I finished writing that sentence, the song came on TV … I kid you not!)
It got me thinking about what it means to be happy. It goes without saying that I was elated when I had my children (especially Chloe who took a full 18 hours of agony to appear…) Sure, I’ve been happy when I’ve got promotions, moved into a new house, got married, been on holiday, discovered Oreos are accidentally vegan…but none of these are every day occurrences (imagine how tiring it would be if they were). Do we really need to wait around for dramatic phenomena to reach such dizzy heights of happiness? And actually are the big moments always the ones that give us the most joy?
So far, I’ve had a total of two epiphany’s in my life. One, when my first husband left and I realised I was going to be ok. It was so eye-opening, it took my breath away. Lightbulb moment doesn’t come close, it was more akin to going from a pitch black cave, to the janitor flicking the on switch for all the floodlights at Wembley Stadium – so dazzling it was impossible to ignore.
The second was on a drive home from Tesco. I can’t remember the song that was playing (for arguments sake let’s assume it was You’ve Got the Love – The Source & Candi Staton version, obviously) but it was late spring, the sun was shining, daffodils were in full bloom, fleecy white clouds drifted without direction, elaborately contrast against the blue sky. I’d put the window down so I could not only feel, but smell the air. You know the scent of spring? Freshly cut grass, the warm, sweet smell of the earth starting to wake again. I was so happy, I thought my face would break and my heart explode. This may be hard to believe, but it was quite simply one of the happiest moments of my life. So completely seduced by the wonder of the world, the perfectly depicted scene laid out in front of me, it felt like I was seeing for the very first time. Everything was so wonderfully fitting – I realised then that this was what it felt like to be completely and utterly alive.
We’re all searching for happiness and like many of us, there was a time when I believed it could be bought. I had complete faith in the consumerist lie we’ve all been sold – work hard, earn money and you too can spend it on all this wonderful stuff that will bring you untold happiness. I’m far from cured, I often find myself falling back to the comfortable trap of trying to fill voids with ‘things’, somehow still hoping the feeling of contentment will last longer than the ride home. It’s too easy isn’t it? The bombardment of media, designed by people like me and you, to trick people like me and you into believing that if you just bought this shiny new thing, your life will somehow become immesurably better.
Even the most expensive, most amazing thing you’ve ever bought, think about how soon the excitement wore off and how quickly it became normal. Contentment has a shelf life. The halo effect may last a day, maybe even a week or more, but it won’t and can’t last forever, that’s kind of the point. It’s how we get stuck in the cycle of an endless search for the next big thing.
We’re programmed to be magpies from a very early age, but it’s only once it dawns on us that the voids still exist despite how many things we try to fill them with, that we move on from chasing material possessions. We realise that happiness isn’t borne through collecting things – no matter how much we think we might need them, or indeed how beautiful they may be. It comes from within. It’s an attitude, an acceptance, a conscious choice, a reaction, an appreciation. It’s taking the time to realise how lucky you are to exist in a world where beauty happens to be everywhere you look, if you simply allow yourself the time to stand back, breathe it in and behold. Sounds a whole lot easier doesn’t it?