Yesterday morning I graduated from University. It took me a year longer than it probably should have, but I got there in the end. It was a highlight in a long weekend of highlights, catching up with old friends and revisiting old haunts. Prior to the receiving my certificate, I sat through a ceremony introduced by the vice chancellor of my (old) University, who meditated for a minute on the idea of happiness, wishing it upon us moving forwards. In reference to a Buddhist monk declared the happiest man in the world, she used him as a model.
Although not new information, and offering little In the way of motivation, she touched upon a topic I’ve been toying with for a few months now, and maybe on a less conscious level, years. Across three days I found myself telling people over and over again that, yes, I’m happy. Happy to see them, happy to have been back in Chichester, happy in general, and every single time I found myself meaning it with utmost sincerity. I’m not the happiest man in the world by any means, but I think I’m up there. There have been times in the past that I’ve told people I was happy and not meant it. Sometimes to avoid further questions, and sometimes to make myself feel better. I was often conscious of admitting to unhappiness as if doing so might make me weaker in some way, or lower me in their estimations. I didn’t want to talk about it so didn’t. These days I still don’t, but these days I’m not unhappy. I haven’t been unhappy for a long time, and part of overcoming that has been accepting that it was okay to be unhappy while acknowledging the reasons why. In doing so the impetus was on me to do something about it. I can be happy just as long as I let myself be.
I don’t have a great reason for unhappiness. I was unhappy because I thought too much about certain things and constantly saw myself from the perspective of others. I learned to accept my imperfections and try to work on them. I stopped looking in mirrors because they bummed me out. I accepted that I’ll probably never be a famous writer, but I can read and write okay. Unhappiness was discontent, and happiness was contentment. These days I am mostly content.
I think that the VP was right when she used someone else’s words to vocalize the notion of happiness. I think that those words were right, particularly given their rooting in Buddhist thinking. I think happiness is a purely internal product. It’s not something we receive from other people but find in our response to other people. I don’t count on other people to make me happy, I try to do it for myself. I wondered for a while if the only way to be happy was to aspire to what everyone else was aspiring to – a good job, a wife, a family, a house, a wide circle of friends but a small circle of tight friends. This year I think that I don’t need any of those things to be happy. They are avenues to happiness, and sometimes they are avenues to unhappiness. I’m happy being lonely, or alone, and I would like to think I’d be happy in a mediocre job. My American Dream in recent years has taken on a different dimension – happiness found in everyday living, contentment, understanding. Understanding of self, understanding of the world I live in, and understanding of my place within it. As such, I have plenty to be happy about, and very little to be unhappy about. I consider myself exceptionally lucky, all of the time.
Happiness isn’t a set mindset or a set of goals waiting for completion. It’s a minute by minute consideration of gratitude. For a long time, I was happy just so long as I could swim eighty lengths in under an hour. Happiness wasn’t always clean strokes and deep breaths, but it was easier to focus on one thing in order to keep on moving/swimming. I’ve always been better at writing sad poems than happy poems, prefer songs about death to songs about love. I find myself appreciating them more because of their confessional nature. I don’t listen to many sad songs anymore. The last time I wrote an openly confessional blog post it was about what I always figured would be the happiest night of my life. Looking back now, I don’t know if it was because there’ve been plenty of equally happy nights in the time since. That night stands apart because it was the first step towards the mindset I occupy today. I try to make everything I do a matter of happiness.
So I have plenty of reason to be happy, and everything is good. That being said, I can’t offer a definitive view of happiness. Happiness is seeing friends for the rest time in what seems a long time but hasn’t been real. If it’s seemed a long time, it’s because you’ve realised you’ve missed them dearly, which contributed to the extremes happiness found in seeing them again. Happiness right now is a Bon Iver song and intermittent glances at passing fields on a train back to Norwich. Happiness is finding decent vegan food in a restaurant. Happiness sometimes takes the shape of forty-five beers in three days and eight hours of sleep in between. Happiness is students enjoying your lessons.
Lately, I’ve found that my level of happiness general corresponds to how busy I am. If I’m on the go, I don’t have time to dwell on negative thought processes, and so happiness becomes interlinked with constant distraction. Sometimes I find myself wishing it didn’t have to be that way, but such is my mind. Give it enough time to stagnate and it’ll do so in a dark corner, and the shadows seem to lengthen with exceptional speed. It’s a flaw in my character, but I’ve grown to live with it over the last few years. Now I try to do things that make me happy, and I look forward to things that might.
Mostly, more than ever, I just want to be happy. Now, more so than ever before, happiness seems ultimately achievable as a long-term possibility. For the last five years, happiness has been incremental. The distance between intermittent positivity has gradually lessened, and it’s currently at a minimum. I don’t make time for sadness anymore. I used to make too much time for it.
- I want to have a daughter, one day. I think that would make me happy.
- I’d like to hit one hundred and fifty lengths in ninety minutes without having to stop for a rest. That would make me happy.
- I want to move to China and teach there. That would make me happy.