Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Reflections on happiness

As is tradition, my last post of the year (or first post of the new year depending on the timing of my inspiration) is one where I reflect on the year that's been and year that will be. Truthfully, I do that all year round - my posts are rarely anything but reflection. Still, today seems as good as any to mention a little about a book (and film) that resonated the most for me this year and why - Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord.

Before I delve into that book, I will report on the highlight of my writing efforts for the year. My fifth novel, the Peithosian Gift, was released in late July to (mostly) good reviews. I also made some inroads into a few side projects that included a year of publishing poetry on Medium. I didn't get as far though in writing a stage play that was one of my other writing goals for 2018. This is okay - the play can stay on the dance card for the coming year. My main task for 2019 will be to draft the sequel to the Gift - aptly named the Peithosian Curse. I'm about a quarter of the way through the drafting of the first draft. No pressure - a promise to have something publishable by late 2020. I will also set a reading goal for 2019 as my unread books on the shelve are now well into double digits.

Now back to Lelond's book. There were a few moments when I read that book (a best seller several years ago but I'm always slow to the party) when I wondered if I had ever had real moments in my childhood when I was filled with innocent unbridled joy. I'm sure there were some; I just for the life of me could not remember them. Now, many years later, I mark a moment after reading the book when I realised that perhaps my teen and a large chunk of adult life had placed me well behind an 8-ball and, if I am content today, it is almost in spite of that chain-laden history. A symbolic "FU" finger to the past.

That is how that book made me feel. It made me realise that I had somehow found my way to being content as if I had stumbled upon that outcome by accident.

Lelond's book was written by a dissatisfied French psychiatrist who travelled the world to try and figure out why so many people who came to see him were not 'unwell' by psychiatric standards but 'unhappy'. For a specialist of this nature, there are only four real chemical imbalances and medications to address them - antidepressants when sad, tranquilisers when scared, anti-psychotics when you have a mind filled with strange thoughts and voices, and mood stabilisers to avoid the highs that are too high or lows that are too low. For everyone else, it's just a need to talk. I know - this explanation probably simplifies it too much - but it was a neat lens to contemplate one of those universal questions - what is happiness? I think I can reliably say I'm in the need to talk camp rather than chemical imbalances but I don't think anyone can ever really be sure.

The character in Lelond's book, Hector, travels far and wide only to discover that happiness for him was basically someone at home who made him fell like his life was complete. Along the way, Hector's observations summarised below provide insight into that elusive happiness. I have italicised the lessons that felt right for me personally.

Lesson 1: Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.
Lesson 2: Happiness often comes when least expected.
Lesson 3: Many people see happiness only in their future.
Lesson 4: Many people think that happiness comes from having more power or more money.
Lesson 5: Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.
Lesson 6: Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains.
Lesson 7: It's a mistake to think that happiness is the goal.
Lesson 8: Happiness is being with people you love. Unhappiness is being separated from the people you love.
Lesson 9: Happiness is knowing your family lacks for nothing.
Lesson 10: Happiness is doing a job you love.
Lesson 11: Happiness is having a home and a garden of your own.
Lesson 12: It's harder to be happy in a country run by bad people.
Lesson 13: Happiness is feeling useful to others.
Lesson 14: Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are.
Observation: People are kinder to a child who smiles (very important).
Lesson 15: Happiness comes when you feel truly alive.
Lesson 16: Happiness is knowing how to celebrate.
Lesson 17: Happeness is caring about the happiness of those you love.
Lesson 18: The sun and the sea make everybody happy,
Lesson 19: Happiness is a certain way of seeing things.
Lesson 20: Rivalry poisons happiness.
Lesson 21: Women care more than men about making others happy.
Lesson 22: Happiness means making sure that those around you are happy?

Measuring happiness (the numerous studies summarised on page 136 of Lelond's book) - if you compared yourself to others and didn't find yourself wanting, if you had no money or health problems, if you had friends, a close knit family, a job you liked, if you were religious and practised your religion, if you felt useful, if you went for a little stroll from time to time, and all of this in a country run by not very bad people, where you were taken care of when things went wrong, your chances of being happy were greatly increased.

Wisdom with age? Maybe. I know today more than any day in my past that what is inside of me (unless chemical imbalances exist) is something I can drive - even unconsciously. Happiness is what I make of it.