Le capitaine is an old, bearded man that walks around the 6th arondissement of Paris with his captain’s hat and fancy cane. In the mornings he drinks his coffee in the corner bistro, talking to the waiters and reading the newspaper so he can tell everyone what's new in the world.
Then he'll go for his daily walk, greeting everyone he passes, raising both his cane and his hat if he really likes someone. Anyone who knows him will promptly greet him with a "bonjour le capitaine," and watch his eyes sparkle a little brighter as he waves back.
He might not have a ship (that I know of), but he's definitely in charge of this area of Paris.
In the afternoons he plays pétanque, a French national sport, in the neighbourhood park. He'll play with regulars and strangers alike; what matters is enjoying the game.
Some days, when he doesn't feel like playing, he'll just sit on his favourite shady bench and watch life pass him by. If you watch him sit there for a while, he might tell you about the beautiful day he's just had or give you advice on where to find the best painting supplies.
Whether you meet him on his walk, at the bistro or in the park, you're bound to notice him. Not necessarily because of the hat or the fancy cane, although they do play a part, but because of the bubble of happiness around him.
Le capitaine isn't just in a good mood, he seems completely and utterly at peace with life and himself.
While people might shake their heads at him, they do so fondly and sometimes with a look of something resembling jealousy. How can someone be so blissfully happy?
The answer is surprisingly simple: he does the things that make him happy. He embraces his daily walks, his pétanque and his regular sessions on the flipper machine.
For a while I thought I couldn't be as happy as him because while he was retired and seemingly without a care in the world, I was just starting out, looking for a way to make a living.
When I looked a little closer, I realised that work wasn't technically stopping me from taking his approach. It all came down to a single question that I had to ask myself before doing something.
Will this make me happy?
If the answer was no, and there was a way around doing it, I stopped doing it. I left a group of friends that used up a lot of my time and always made me feel stressed and worried; they didn’t make me happy at all, I was just meeting them because it felt disloyal not to.
It immediately felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I could breathe again. I had given these people far too many chances but my idea of loyalty had somehow seemed more important than my own happiness.
On the other hand, if the answer to that question was yes, and the action involved wasn’t completely reckless, downright dangerous or likely to have serious consequences, I would just do the thing.
Maybe I couldn't walk around the neighbourhood all day, but I could definitely come and watch the pétanque in the park, bury my nose in a book and spend some time appreciating how lucky I was to be there.
I hadn’t been doing it because I felt like I should be busy, rushing to buy groceries, finish another article, get some more work done and generally build a life.
While work is definitely important and building a future should not be put aside, it’s important that we don’t forget to make time for our happiness. If the answer to “will this make me happy?” is yes and the “this” involved won’t seriously endanger the life you’re working on, why don’t we just do it?
For me, the reason why I don’t usually give in to these sudden thoughts and wishes is often that they feel childish and whimsical. Like I’m trying to distract myself from the things that really matter by giving in to things that will make me smile for a minute.
It was only when I was sitting on my parkbench, feeling the grin spread across my entire face, that I realised how completely wrong I had been. It might be silly to take a detour just to see the fountain I like, but it took a grand total of 5 minutes and filled me with happiness for the rest of the afternoon.
That happiness then motivated me to finish everything on my to-do-list in a much more productive way, which made me feel even better.
Asking yourself if something will make you happy also serves as a reminder that your happiness matters. If we tell ourselves no without even thinking about whether or not the happiness involved is worth some extra effort or time, what does that say about how much value we attribute to our feelings and our mental health?
Is our business really more important than our happiness?
I don’t think it should be and in the end it really does come down to that simple question; does it make you happy?
If it doesn’t make you happy and it will not improve your life in some way in the future, it’s okay to let it go.