…while you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and you learn at once how big and precious it is.Maxim Gorky (Russian Novelist and Playwright, 1868-1936)
Maybe it’s because of the Royal Wedding upon us or the Census and other box ticking related activities, that Britons seem to be preoccupied with happiness and what it means to be happy. BBC tracked down the ‘happiest woman in Britain‘ and the Evening Standard spoke to ‘the happiness expert‘ Professor Lord Richard Layard.
Reading a few blogs here and there I find a post about envy. As I skim through it, I wonder if envy is not the desire to have as much as happiness as the person being envied. The blogger refers to Bertrand Russell’s view of envy as one of the most potent causes of unhappiness and I can see how this all fits in together. His painfully honest account is a testament to the philosopher’s powerful observation.
Thinking about this almost silly preoccupation with happiness that tantalises most of our Western world, I try to form my own little theory about it trying to think of what it means to me. I’ve been meaning to write about happiness for some time now too as I think I felt it one day walking through the Leather Market Gardens in Camberwell on my way to the tube station.
I can’t remember the exact date but I know that I was leaving work a bit early when the days were just getting longer, the sun had been out all day and was just on its way to set, painting the skies orange – a rare sight for sore London eyes. Walking through the rose gardens and the kids’ playground I had the council estates on my left and the Shard on my right, London’s different directions all mixing in one background. And as I was looking around me, taking everything in, thinking about the steps that brought me in that little corner of the big metropolis, thinking about the paths that I could have taken but I was still there, I suddenly caught a glimpse of what happiness must feel like. I thought to myself that I had nothing to complain about, that very moment there were no buts and ifs and any hesitations, if someone had asked me ‘are you happy?’, I would have said ‘yes’. Straight away, no second thoughts, not an ‘I think I am but there’s things I can work on’. I would have ticked all the boxes too.
It takes some time to realise that you might be happy. It usually doesn’t hit me as it’s happening. It creeps up in moments like that when I’m walking through the city alone and thinking of the days I’ve spent in this new land, that’s not so foreign anymore, making decisions that are mine and nobody else’s. Not expecting from anyone else to hand anything to me, forgetting about envy and all the troubles it’s caused me in the past.
Looking for happiness quotes, I found the one above by Maxim Gorky which seemed to sum up my sentiment exactly. Only I don’t interpret his words as realising what you have when it’s in front of your eyes. I’m so wary of wishy washy warm and fuzzy feelings that happiness hits me with a lag every time, like a train on a track. And it’s only for a minute or two.
Then I go about my daily life avoiding to even consider the pursuit of happiness and other similar impossible undertakings (like the pursuit of skinny calves). As Dara O Briain succinctly puts it ‘there’s only so much serotonin to go around’.
For the most part, if I had to answer a poll about happiness, I’d probably go for two of my favourite Irish expressions: ‘Ah now. I’m grand‘. And I’m finally happy with that.