The other day I was listening to Sam Smith’s, “Too Good at Good Byes”, and weird as it sounds, placing myself in his heartbreak. Ironically, all my relationships have ended somewhat amicably, and even more importantly, I’m in a happy one at the present. It made me wonder: why did it feel so good to pretend I knew Smith’s pain? Was it the gospel choir that chimes in mid-way? Or something much deeper than this?
I know what you’re thinking: what’s deeper than a gospel choir, right? Well, it turns out there is one such thing.
Another good 7am morning, I was listening to a podcast (note the theme here: next I’ll declare Snoop Dogg a valid source for life lessons). Now, if I remembered who was speaking, or the title of the podcast, I’d link it. But I don’t. So I’ll do my best to articulate those self-revealing words he (or she – women say valuable things too) expressed in such a way that I remember them weeks on.
This individual spoke about sadness. But not in the typical way one would assume. He or she did not discuss falling into some hole of darkness, or even the part where we scramble our way out. What this podcaster was interested in, was the time we take to dwell here.
Much as we may struggle to admit it, some (senseless) part of us actually enjoys sadness. There is something counteractively pleasurable to be found in the experience of pain.
Initially, I would hear these words and pay no attention to their implication. I was running along the waterfront at the time, and so I presume I was distracted by some dog, likely praying that it wouldn’t run in my direction. I was probably also cursing at the wind, and wondering, as I do, where certain people are going; what made them rise this early; if they like the mornings as much as I, and other such questions which occupy my mind when I run.
As every good story goes, the words came flooding back when I began to read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Now I’ll be honest, I’ve only read so far, but for as much as I can gather, Rubin knows a hell of a lot about happiness. More than this, she knows how and why we experience the amount we do.
According to Rubin, happiness is not the opposite of depression. Depression is not the opposite of happiness. For this sake, what I speak about now is not depression either. What resides at the other end of the happiness spectrum, and what I’m about to discuss, is unhappiness.
Rubin’s happiness project follows her own journey along the spectrum. She doesn’t so much as wish to alter her circumstance, rather, her attitude towards it. And what’s most intriguing about Rubin’s journey is the fact that she’s actually not in some terrible, life-threatening state of dissatisfaction. She’s not even unhappy. She simply believes in her – and other’s – ability to be happier. Rubin argues that for all we have, we are not nearly as happy.
And so I thought: if according to Rubin, we ought to be happier – and this has nothing to do with circumstance, but how confront it – then maybe this podcaster was right, after all.
Perhaps we like pain. Maybe, just maybe, we enjoy to wallow in our sadness. Dare we admit that we find happiness boring? Far too easy? Unwarranted for sympathy? For attention? For friendship, for support, for.. well, anything?
Before we go on, I feel I should reason why I cared so much.
There are multiple justifications. The first is old news. We all know I’m a reflective so-and-so, which, to an extent, explains why this blog exists – and I, with my tiresomely evaluating head, continue to find something to talk about.
I know, I know.
“Have you really had shit to say?”
“Couldn’t you – oh, I don’t know – have said it two weeks ago when already, you hadn’t posted for two weeks?”
Bare with me. There’s an explanation for this too.
I’ve had things to say. Bloody hell, if I ever don’t, that’s when you really should check up on me. I’ve simply been too caught up in stress, life, ups and downs, good moments and bad, to dabble in their articulation.
And you know what? This seems to be all too repetitive for me. How many times have I come on here just to talk about stress, busyness or overwhelm?
Now, I could discuss the way we grow from it. But what seems more poignant right now is the way I seem to repeat similar mistakes. It is like I enjoy to stick my head in a well and to fall to the bottom. The real issue though: I still perceive it to be full of water each god damn time. And by the time I realise it’s empty, I’ve already jumped in for a swim.
On falling to the bottom, someone or something will eventually lean in to offer me a rope. This tends to be extended with a clause: for example, that I must wait for an hour before lifting myself up.
The catch is this: I can’t actually see the rope or the clause. No one can. That’s the power of time. We’re supposed to assume it will go on. And too, that it will heal things.
Instead of trusting it though, I’ll sit there and I’ll stress for the next hour. I’ll try to figure out the best mechanism for getting out. I’ll grow angry at the walls around me; at myself for being caught in their arms, and finally, at life for having let me fall in the first place. After all, I’d only desired to swim.
When a hand eventually tugs at the rope to pull me out, my stress has been unnecessary. Wasteful. Laughable, even. I realise I could have spent an hour showing thanks – to the god-like hand who extended the rope, to the walls who gave me endless support. Most importantly, I regret my ignorance towards anything else but the fall. I had no respect for its importance.
If my well reference has confused you, let me clarify things. This conversation, after all, is about mindset. It’s about attitude. And much as these two things may seem of the most difficult in the world to understand, to interpret, even to alter, they are also of the very few.. that we can actually control.
We control them each and every day.
If to dwell in sadness or disappointment was once satisfying, I’m now sick of it being the default. Of assuming positivity is not possible without perfection. Of only seeing the good on reflection of the bad, and not amidst its very experience. I’m sick of falling into the well and even for an hour or a day each week, refusing to see any light above it.
The same way Rubin demanded sense of appreciation, consciousness and respect of her own happiness, I am about to demand the same of me. As pleasurable as it may be to vent, to assure others that we know pain and life and experience, at the end of the day, these actions do not lift us from darker places. Not momentarily and not indefinitely. They only ensure we continue to circle their confines.
To accept the rope out? This is to whole-heartedly submit ourselves to the good, even in such states we feel devoted to the bad.
Here’s how I’m doing it.
In an unusual sense, I’m a materialistic person. I like material goods to represent pivotal stages, to paint memories or to evoke mindsets. This why I’m so fond of fashion, after all.
The first year I moved away from home, I crossed my body with a brown satchel from The Leather Satchel Co. To me, this depicted the authentic person I wanted to be, and the journey I would undertake whilst staying true to her.
Now, a near two years on, I have started to wear a Hamsa hand, courtesy of Michael Hill. In the Middle East, the Hamsa Hand represents the Hand of God. I’m not about to preach devotion to a particular God, but to whoever continues to extend that rope. To he or she who has done so in spite of me. On countless occasions, I have failed to give credit to time and the way it heals, to people and the way they help, to life and the way it works.
This hand is said to protect; to bring happiness, luck, health and good fortune. On me, however, it offers a simple reminder. Not necessarily to avoid being sad or stressed, but to allow myself to be happy in spite of these things.
In case I do not see the hand on my heart, I will look at the ring on my finger. These created white and blue sapphires are said to depict wisdom and purity; confidence and faithfulness.
With that, I will endeavour to be faithful to myself, and to my own happiness. I will place confidence in time, and in knowledge. I will respect that my own may be limited.
It is not in my hands, after all, to grow significantly wiser or more experienced by tomorrow; to suddenly know an empty well from a swimming pool. It is in my hands, however, to respect how wise I am now. How human. How McKenzie.
I do not mind being her. And I do not mind that clumsy as she may be, she finds herself stuck momentarily in these wells. It is easy to be patient, to be calm, to be happy above-ground.
Every now and then, we ought to fall just to remember how long we have walked. Too, that we will walk again soon. If the things I wear shall act as a reminder, then they shall never be trivial. They shall be an idea, until one day, they are a state of being.
Stay well, and stay happy.
Featured: Michael Hill Hamsa hand necklace, Michael Hill ring with created blue/white sapphires in sterling silver