lifestyle

It's the only life lesson that really matters. And I'm still struggling with it.

Bec (pretending to drink tea)

By BEC SPARROW

When you experience an event that brings you to your knees – it’s supposed to irrevocably change the way you live your life.

Actually, even if you don’t experience a life-shattering event, just the mere act of getting older is meant to do that.

By the time you turn 40 you should be able to cut through life’s froth and trivialities and see what truly matters.

Right?

And for the most part it’s been true for me.  At 41,  I don’t tend to sweat the small stuff. I completely and utterly understand that love and being with the people you love is all that matters.

And yet.

I’m never happy. I’M. NEVER. HAPPY.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, obviously. I am happy. I have plenty of happy moments (just seeing the new Offspring Season 4 sneak peek made me happy last week. Or maybe it was just seeing Dr Patrick … Oh God I have missed you Dr Patrick Reed.). But, in all seriousness I live my life always sort of wishing for the future,  thinking  “I will be happier when  …”

– When we’re no longer renting and we can finally have our own home.

– When we have a spare room and I can have my own study (right now I’d settle for my own desk …)

– When our credit cards are paid off.

– When my next book comes out.

– When we can have a cleaner.

– When we can afford a 7-seater car.

When when when when when.  Or, you know, NEVER (if I could write that in 72 point, I so would).

Because it’s a Groundhog Day style trap I’ve repeatedly fallen into for most of my life. The-I’ll-Be-Happy-When Trap.

Logically I know that pegging my happiness on future goals and (let’s-be-honest) acquisitions means that you are failing to understand that today is all that matters. Today. Now.  This moment is when you must make the choice to be happy.

And it is a choice.

I know that. I do. So why WHY FOR THE LOVE OF DR PATRICK REED can’t I lock it in to my thick head?

And it seems I’m not the only one.

Irish author Marian Keyes

Last week beloved Irish author Marian Keyes wrote a piece for the Daily Mail on why she thinks the pursuit of happiness (or at least the quest to  be HATT: Happy All The Time) is over-rated. Keyes has famously and openly struggled with depression and alcoholism throughout her life. And what I’ve always loved about her – aside from her glorious humour –  is her willingness to be real and vulnerable with her fans.

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So last week  Keyes wrote a compelling piece on her doomed quest for constant never-ending happiness.   At 25, Keyes convinced herself  that happiness would be hers if she nailed the triffecta: the good-looking boyfriend, the glamorous job and a mortgage on her own one-bedroom flat.  Naturally, her life at the time was the complete opposite of all of this.  She writes:

So there I was, on my 25th birthday, convinced there was a secret formula that would guarantee I’d be HATT (Happy All The Time).

That was the promise of movies and ads and magazines — get everything in place emotionally, financially and domestically, then put that happiness in a shoebox … and put that box on a high shelf where it would never be disturbed.

But I just couldn’t find that secret formula. I seemed to be perpetually on the outside looking in, watching as others got their lives together.

Up until then, I’d been thinking of being happy as the ‘right’ way to feel; in fact, the only way to feel. But now, as I near 50, I accept that happiness is simply one of thousands of emotions any person will experience in a life.

One of thousands of emotions. I love that line.

But is Marian right?  I’m not sure.  Is is about the fact that we need to accept that it’s impossible to be HATT (happy all the time)?  Or is happiness always within our reach if we simply change the way we view our lives? If we stop attaching happiness to big ticket items and instead focus on the smaller daily joys?

The great irony for me, is that in a weird, weird way I was happier in the year after my daughter Georgie died.  How?  Because in that year I kept a gratitude journal and I forced myself to find the blessings in my life every day.

The cups of tea made for me by my husband. The floral handkerchief posted to me by a faraway friend.  Turning the TV on one Sunday afternoon only to find that my favourite movie The Goodbye Girl was starting.  Walking through the shops holding Ava’s hand.  My life felt full simply because I focused on everything I still had to be grateful for.

Small stuff.  Little moments. But then isn’t it the little moments of joy that actually make up that big mosaic of a happy life?

But nearly three years have passed since Georgie died and – unbelievably – I’ve gone back to pegging my happiness on big ticket items. A bigger car!  A cleaner!  Our own home! Sure I’m kinda happy now but I’ll be really, REALLY happy then.

Except, I won’t be.  Because life doesn’t work that way.

It’s taken writing this post to make me realise I need to start up a new gratitude journal.  As hokey as it sounds, it saved my life back in 2010.  And it serves as a daily reminder that my life is actually overflowing with goodness.  That happiness is an active choice I get to make today and that happiness and gratitude are inexorably linked.  And a new 7-seater car isn’t going to change that.

Finish this sentence:  I’ll be happy when …

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