The almost imperceptible state of happiness.
I ran into the sun at 6.30am this morning with the unlikely heat bearing down on me, as the 30ºC heatwave engulfed every recess of my cool British consciousness. Suddenly, my face cracked, revealing a wry, understated smile, a knowing expression of the feeling that things were OK.
My old singing teacher would reccomend a wry smile as the ideal facial expression when singing certain notes and I liked that idea, because it’s a smile which doesn’t give too much away. Yet this morning, before long, the facade of the wry smile fractured and gave way to a full blown grin, as my smiling pooch sprinted past with his tongue flapping in the wind, before diving his head into the cool, dew encrusted grass.
I was happy.
Being happy doesn’t come easy. Most people will tell you that. Some people keep themselves busy to avoid being happy or sad. Even when I am happy, expressing it doesn’t come easy. A compliment, a serendipitous conversation, a smile, a nod of acknowledgement are all things that I often try to carefully assess, analyse and deploy with defensive aplomb, meaning their unique moment can pass, by the time I complete that analysis. This is an unnecessary analysis which simply gets in the way of being.
When someone first said to me “fake it till you make it”, I thought it a shallow comment. It reeks of trying to be someone that I’m not, of lying to the outside world whilst betraying my inner world. That simply isn’t the case. I believe the natural state of humans is happy, but we create manifold reasons not to be, which dumb it down, pushing it out of view with learned behaviours, life stories, traumatic events and societal pressures.
Therefore, “fake it till you make it” is a simplification of “take a risk, drop the mask, drop the story, just be yourself”. It’s suggesting that all the crap can begin to fall away, if you simply dare to be happy.
I always believed that a big house in an affluent area, a beautiful wife, kids, a dog and a well paid job would make me happy. I expected to achieve all of this during my thirties, as I would boldly state to my friends, drunkenly, in my late twenties, when I was engaged, owned a nice flat and was running a small company.
Today, I’m thirty nine and two fifths, live in a 2 bed flat in a ‘deprived’ area of London, I’ve been single for eighteen months, have no kids, although I do have a dog, and my earnings last year were the lowest they’ve been in nearly 20 years.
Yet, I find myself happier than at any other point in my life.
When I say happy, I mean genuine happiness and not joy, hedonism, bacchanalian gluttony, or drunken revelry. They’re not happiness, but temporary states of arousal, induced by a very specific event, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs, eating food or bunjee jumping.
Happiness is much, much more subtle, like a gentle cushioning from the world, not created by a single event, but a feeling which rises on the inside, in spite of everything on the outside. It trickles constantly like a tiny freshwater stream, slithering through a forest, so small it’s almost imperceptible in the wider scene, yet upon inspection, it’s beautifully formed, calming and perfect in it’s shimmering, fluttering presence. Despite it’s relative insignificance, it defines perfection.
That tiny babbling brook is happiness to me. Easy to walk past, easy to overlook. But it’s there if I look for it.
You might ask, why am I happy, when I have so few of the things I believed would make me happy?
Well, a big house won’t make me happy, because they’re expensive, they cost a lot to heat, have large bills, large renovation costs, they cost a lot to clean and they need a lot of furniture. The larger the property, the larger the burden. The smaller the property the smaller the burden. QED. I love having a little two bed flat. I have a lodger, whose rent is more than my mortgage payments, so I live rent-free in London.
This was intentional and I made a compromise to achieve this. I could live more centrally, but I opted to move to an affordable area of London and minimise my burdens. It also happens to be the friendliest area of London I’ve ever lived in. I’ve made more neighbourly friends than anywhere else and there’s a burgeoning creative community here, plus amazing green spaces for dog walking, and great transport.
It reminds me of a story from many years ago, when I asked someone where they lived. The guy said “I live in the best place in London”. Excitedly, I said “Oooohhh, where’s that”, expecting an insight into the next hip destination I should consider moving to. He simply said “my flat”.
It doesn’t matter where you live. Location, location, location is irrelevant unless you are a property investor, which most people are not, regardless of how much they think their property has gone up in value. If you live there, it’s your home and that’s all that matters.
It’s very easy to say I’ve simply not found the right life partner yet. However, that would be blaming other people for my own situation, which is an avoidant lie. Everyone is individually responsible for their own place in life, I can’t say it’s someone else’s fault, or even the lack of someone else.
I prefer to turn the phrase on it’s head. My belief is that I was not the right person. I cannot have a successful long term relationship until I am the right person to hold that place in life, which I have not been in the past.
Whilst writing my morning pages at 6am today (411 days straight, so far), I realised that I have begun to let go of my attachment to seeking a partner. A dawning understanding that it’s OK to just be me, on my own, as I am, that I don’t need someone else to make me happy.
Intellectually, I’ve understood this for a very, very long time, I could have advised you of this fact back in my twenties, when I sought partners, compulsively. But there’s a very big difference between understanding or knowing something and genuinely feeling or acting on it.
Work. Yes, I don’t earn very much money, but life is overwhelmingly awesome, regardless of that fact. I do WHATEVER THE HELL I WANT. I get up at 5.55am, 7 days a week. I get to my desk by 7.30am every weekday and begin work, some of it paid, much of it unpaid. I write stories, I take photographs, I sometimes waste an hour on social media. I read, I watch informative or educational videos. I close everything down by 5.30pm, unless I have an urgent deadline to meet.
On the balance of time, I’m working more hours than ever before. Almost every single one of those hours is more enjoyable and focussed than the ones spent at any other employment I’ve ever held before. I’m doing what I love doing, I’m creating things that I want to create.
I’m also studying, doing a master’s degree, which is giving me fulfillment on an intellectual and surprisingly, emotional level, that I’ve never experienced before. When I studied at school, I was aloof and uncaring about my achievements. I consistently underachieved. My grades were relatively low on average, especially for my school and amongst my peers.
The first year of my MSc finished in May, and in hushed tones at an event recently, my tutor informed me that my last assignment attained the highest grade in the cohort. It’s the first time I have ever achieved so highly, ever, ever. It’s also one of the most shame-banishing moments of my life, to be told that I, meek, unassuming little Gavin, can actually achieve. It showed me that if I simply do what I feel is right, follow my own thoughts and act on them, then people really appreciate that and will even reward me for it.
Kids were part of my life story, the one I learned a long, long time ago. They’re part of the societal script of wife, big house, kids, dog etc. The unquestioned fallacy of contemporary suburban living, the mould that society sets for so many people - Look! Tick these boxes and everything will be OK for you!
Being conventional is not something to be proud of and certainly will not bring happiness for me. I’ve attempted to have kids in the past, however the will of something other than myself meant I don’t have any. Frankly, I am thankful for that, because it’s only recently that I genuinely felt I want children. Perhaps it’s too late, but that’s OK as well, I’m certainly not going to look for a partner with the sole intention of having kids. Again, whatever happens will be OK, I’m happy with that.
Which raises a succinct point to close this piece with. I spent much of my life as a contradiction, extolling a can-do attitude, whilst inwardly feeling I can’t-do. I always wanted to say “look at me!” whilst not wanting to be seen.
I’ve learned that life isn’t can or can’t, because everything is OK, regardless of whether you will or won’t do something, whether you shall or shan’t. If you live or die, marry or divorce, run the world or are unemployed. Any of those states are fine, all of them are OK.
Just being you, is OK.
A few months ago, I heard a line in a song which had travelled clear above the background noise like a guardian angel and hooked straight into my consciousness, despite the fact I wasn’t paying attention to the music.
“How can I love you, if I don’t love myself?”
It’s a good question, and I know the answer, finally.