The importance of being present

it is important to be alert.

 

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photo by Jan

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being alert requires us to be present in the present.

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by this, I mean we must be aware of what is happening in the present moment; Conscious of the people and things around us now, rather than always thinking about what will happen or what did happen.

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this thought is in my mind as I ride the tram into town to go to the hairdresser. It is very cold and it snowed on and off all night and day. The city is white and hushed and the river has a greenish, metallic  look.

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photo by Adelaide

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i wonder what is it about humans that our minds are so constantly yearning backwards to things that have happened in the past or forward to things that might happen in the future? Of course no matter what we think will happen, no matter how certain of it we are, something random always occurs to change our destination or to take us there by an unexpected route. The future is always out of sight which makes anything but a playful preoccupation with it almost absurd. The greatest absurdity, though, is when people spend time regretting their inattention in a moment that is now past, only to neglect attending to yet another present moment.

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i notice the way my legs tense when I step down into the icy-slick cobbles at my stop.  I feel calm as I walk but my legs remain tense.  As if the body has its own set of responses divorced from mind and will. Its own anxieties.

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photo by Adelaide

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i have always inclined to be attentive to the present.  When I am not blind and deaf to past, future and present in this world because I have retreated inside my head to attend to one of the multitude of worlds that whirl there in giddy solar systems, that is.

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it may be that the amount of time I spend in my imagination actually enables or even requires me to be fully alert to the present in the real world. Or maybe it is just the bit of me that is a writer, honed by years of conscious observation and the certain knowledge that  it is only the present moment that we can harvest for raw material, since things remembered are invariably stretched out of shape or holed or worn bland by handling, and the future is a mystery.

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but is that enough of an answer for my attentiveness to the moment?

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inside the salon it is very warm and the receptionist takes my coat and scarf, her smile stroking and soothing me. I notice her nail polish is the same colour as the fresh flowers in the vase and wonder if the painted them to match. I sit in the chair she waves me to, glancing round to see who else is here, thinking how eyes never meet directly in a hairdressing salon- glances angle unexpectedly from mirrors into other mirrors, endlessly rebounding.

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i look at my face in the mirror, wondering why you always look tired in a hairdressers’ mirror, wondering if the red is a good idea. It will make me look like my mother.

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photo by Adelaide

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i think of a fellow writer once telling me that he thought me stupid when he first met me because I seemed so happy, and surely only a fool who is blind could be happy in this (dreadful) world.  I am not a fool, though I am as capable as anyone of being foolish.  But it is true that I seem to be noticeably happy a lot of the time. So much so that both my daughter and partner utter an occasional muttered (grunted/growled/snarled) request for a mute button on my cheerfulness, which they seem to experience as a painfully bright light beaming into their eyes. Does that light interrogate them, I wonder? Does it accuse them? Perhaps it does, because my cheerfulness  seems to cause a reactive cheerfulness in other people, or anything from irritation to real dislike.  The latter was as puzzling to me as the hostility of the bullies towards me at primary school. Who knows, perhaps their hostility had the same cause, though I do not recall being overly cheerful at primary school But by the time I reached the middle of high school I had discovered a clownish ability to make people laugh, even teachers, and that those who laughed were disposed to like me. Is there a link between my cheerfulness and my ability to make people laugh with my stories and comments?  Upon reflection, I think not- after all many men and women in comedy are famously depressive.

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photo by adelaide

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i see a male hairdresser I have not seen for a while and realise I have imagined he left and that this had not surprised me. Perhaps it is because he is stocky and pragmatic looking as a butcher, though my own hairdresser once told me he is better than anyone else at applying extensions. He has a new haircut which makes him look like the victim of an experiment. The woman he is working on looks sad in that way that makes you think she has been sad for a long time. Maybe she is depressed. Maybe she hopes a new hairdo will help. Surely it will. How could anyone not feel better coming away from a hairdresser.

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Coming here makes me happy.  In truth, I feel happy a lot of the time. And perhaps strangely, though it does not seem so to me, I am often inexplicably happy , or happy for reasons that other people find inadequate or strange or idiotic or (in the case of my daughter) exasperating, if I am unwise enough to speak of them.

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photo by Adelaide

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i don’t know what to make of this except that, far from bemoaning my freakishness, I feel fortunate. Also slightly uneasy because according to the Romans, the gods did not like anyone being too happy- presumably because it made them too godlike. I do NOT feel godlike. Indeed, what I feel about my propensity to be happy and positive is lucky.  I do not think of my happiness as an affliction or an aberration or even a perversity, let alone that it is the product of dim-wittedness. Nor do I think it is dependent on my circumstances, though I have no doubt if lived in some awful situation that instinct to happiness would be constrained. But I believe it would still exist in me because I think it is hardwired.

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in short, I think I have a disposition to happiness.

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that sounds smug, but I am not alone in thinking happiness and unhappiness are not merely responses to external positive stimulus, but actual genetic propensities.

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photo by Adelaide

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my hairdresser arrives. She so very slender and fragile looking that i always feel protective of her. Her neck and limbs seem too fine and yet hairdressing is physically hard work. She is never nasty or unkind, nor even snide.  I am always touched by her grace.  I wonder, looking at her sweet face bent over my head, if she is ever nasty or cold or angry. I can’t imagine it, and yet I know there has been tragedy in her young life. Yet her smile is open and heart-whole when she directs it at me in the mirror. It is like having sunlight fall on me.

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photo by Adelaide

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someone once told me, or maybe I read, that Eskimo people consider unhappiness to be an actual sickness. A woman or man who are chronically miserable and negative and unhappy are considered to be bad marriage prospects because they are unhealthy.  To them, it is healthy to be generally happy and unhealthy to be generally unhappy.  Do I believe that?  I don’t know. Seems harsh to judge a person who is often unhappy as sick, and yet there is something in it.

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a woman in another seat closes her eyes for long slow seconds each blink- is she tired?  Someone enters in an icy gust of air but there is nothing to be done- people have to come in and out.  I brought in the cold air too when I came, and I will let some more in when I leave.

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photo by Jan

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while I feel I am genetically disposed to happiness, I can’t help but thinking that part of my ability to be happy rests upon the fact that I can be content with many circumstances.  I do not require much more than being allowed to work, a decent coffee in the afternoon, not too many appointments and people to see in the day. I am undemanding of life and people.  I don’t think the world owes me a living. I don’t think I am special or a special case of anything, so I am not bitter when my living turns out to be a bit precarious. I chose this life- to be a writer- and this insecurity is part of it. Seems like a fair exchange, now that I mention it.  Certainly better than a lifetime of doing what I hate. Also I relish tough circumstances sometimes- I like the test they offer me. I like managing with little, though not all the time. I am prepared to work hard – in fact I would go so far as to say I like working hard.  (Though I am sure I would like it less if I worked in MacDonalds) Perhaps most importantly,  I don’t expect people to make me happy, and if they are the cause of my unhappiness or discomfort, I always prefer to imagine they have injured me by accident or by chance. Another person might rage when a car drives in front of them, cutting them off  but the minute I have got over being startled,  I remember the times I have sped and cut someone else off because I was in a desperate rush for something. And I extend to the unknown driver that same excuse.

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photo by Jan

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why do you always excuse everyone for everything?’ my daughter snaps.

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‘Better than imagining they are just rude and inconsiderate or that they have deliberately been aggressive and provocative. Because if you imagine those things, you can’t help but being furious about it.  And being angry is like being poisoned.  It makes you sick.  I don’t like feeling angry,’ I say.

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i drive my mother and sisters and probably my brothers mad, with this sort of rationale. I suspect this is because it feels to them as if  I am taking the high moral ground.  I am not taking it. I don’t have any desire to preach the sermon from the mount, but perhaps one cannot help being on high ground if one chooses to step above the choking fogs of bile and anger that rest lower down the mount. I mean, why would anyone want to be angry?  And what possible benefit can be got from ascribing low motives to another person if the ONLY result is that your anger is fortified and stoked? The other person does not know they have angered you.  (Unless you speed after them, cutting off other hapless drivers on the way to stopping them, get them out of their vehicle and punch them.  In which case you would be up for assault and you would have sparked off responsive anger in the drivers you cut off and possibly in the person you punched – so much for the virtues of anger!) Isn’t it better to assume something that leaves you feeling tolerant, calm, amused and maybe even a little smug? And if they did cut you off deliberately, isn’t this the best response of all?  To render their poison powerless?

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photo by Adelaide

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a plain square woman with a crooked mouth is now getting her hair trimmed by the butcher hairdresser. They look like brother and sister. Oh wait, it is a man in the chair!  I feel really startled by this.  Now that I know the client is a man, I am struck with how feminine he looks though when I thought him a woman, I thought him mannish looking. He looks happy but slightly nervous.

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it is funny how people feel about happiness. I remember a few years back my partner heard a whisper that he had won the FX Salda medal for his book on poetry criticism The Ever Falling Jug, and I wondered why he was not more excited.  It was after all the highest award for poetry criticism in the Czech Republic. He said that he was not sure he had won- what if it was just gossip.  Better wait and be happy when he was sure.  And I asked, but why not believe it now, and enjoy the happiness, because the fact of your being happy now will not increase your unhappiness if you find out that you didn’t win it after all.  And if you did win (he did) you will have had all those extra hours of joy. This clearly confused him.  It was as if he felt that premature happiness could actually endanger his chances, even though the thing had already been decided.

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photo by Jan

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i notice my hairdresser squinting when I speak and realise she has been doing this all along,  as if she could not hear me.  She does not usually do that. People look so grimly concerned when they pass the window, glancing in at the warmth suspiciously, longingly. I think I probably look like that too when I pass a hairdresser, wishing I was in there. I love the warm, over sweet smell of them, that feeling of being enfolded.

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i remember one of my sisters meeting up with an old lover and getting involved with him again, and my mother asking how I could be happy for her and with her over this when it would all end in tears. I thought but did not say that even though the relationship was almost certainly going to go the same way again, my sister was incredibly happy. Wasn’t that happiness worth having?  Because if she walked away, seeing it was doomed, she would have been miserable anyway. Years later she told me one of the things she loved most about me was that I was able to be happy with her, even though it did, in fact, end in tears. She did not love my mother for being right.

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as I sort out a tip, I notice in the mirror that the receptionist and one of the unoccupied hairdressers stand together behind the desk, drooping like beautiful bored flowers.  I think I might go to a nearby restaurant where they make the palest green soup. My hair feels a bit damp and if I have soup, it will have time to dry.  Outside it is colder than ever and a couple passing clinging to one another, walking warily on the icy pavement. A man coming along behind them scowls and huffs, annoyed and impatient that he cannot pass them easily.

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step out, pulling up the neck of my coat, my head instantly freezing.  I see steam coiling and rising from a grate where the snow has melted.  It is like the hot breath of a subterranean dragon. I think how there is a correlation- between my happiness and my ability to live in the moment.  I am ready to take happiness when it comes  – I don’t interrogate and second guess it.  I don’t hold it off and count its teeth. In that moment when there is happiness, offering itself to me, I accept. I am present.  And when the moment ends, and happiness steps away, I don’t cling to it.  I don’t try to make it stay. I don’t reproach it for going.

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i understand that happiness – joy- delight- are fleeting, ephemeral, fragile, transient.  They occur in a moment for all sorts of reasons much less dramatic and specific than prizes or the arrival of a once beloved lover.  For ultimately, it is not the big things that cause us to feel happiness.   They are too big and complex for that. It is smaller things  – the sweet warm smile of a young woman in a mirror, a snow covered seat, the  particular creamy green shade of a bowl of soup, the comfort of re reading a book you loved before, smelling dinner when you come up the stairs after a tiring day and discover the scent is emanating from your apartment, the way the little black cat sits with delicate grace on your daughter’s narrow hip as she studies, the sound of a saxophone being practiced two rooms away. Or your daughter playing piano and singing her own song in her bedroom. Or something even more detached and slight.  The cool feel of wind lifting your hair off your hot neck; a falling leaf on a summers day; sunlight glancing on a high window; the violet shadow under a curling wave; a net of birds thrown out into they sky by unimaginably mysterious forces; the look of startled delight on an old woman’s crumpled face when a child giggles at the back of the tram.

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and if you are not present in the moment, you miss these slight, exquisite, wonderful things. You fail to notice them. Worst of all- most absurd of all- you fail to notice that you have been happy!

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i make a point of noticing when I am happy, even to a slightly ridiculous degree. I have trained myself to notice when my happiness swells.  I think, now, walking along the snowy street to the apartment, that I am happy. I cherish this feeling. And paradoxically, wonderfully,  noticing that I am happy, relishing it with all of my senses,  turning my face to that amazing benediction of a shaft of pale subversive sunlight on a grey winter day, my happiness transmutes into joy.

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13 Responses

    1. Min says:

      This post reminds me so much of a quote out of Darkfall:

      “…maybe that was all happiness ever was: moments of ecstasy that fleeted by unnoticed because you were too busy looking for the big happiness that was going to change your life and make everything right…”

      I’m an angry person, and I feel like I have no control over my emotions. Someone who I thought I could trust lets me down spectacularly, or something inexplicably unfair happens in Paul/my lives and my first response is outrage. How did this happen? How can it be fixed? How dare they? What did I do to cause this? Why do I trust anyone? I’d better not do that again. Etc.
      When you try to live good lives, and not just unfair things but earth-shatteringly unfair things happen when you’re just trying to quietly live your lives, it’s heartbreaking and there’s only a couple of responses you can genuinely have to try deal with it. Yes, unfair things happen to everyone. I don’t know how anyone can just take it on the chin. I believe if I don’t fight it those who have hurt us will just continue hurting people, because they won’t believe it’s a problem and they won’t be taught a lesson by anyone else (I don’t believe in karma – that’d be like believing in a magic man in the sky who looks down and guides us, it just doesn’t ‘resonate’ as truth to me).
      Re the point about genetics; I’ve always been told my fire is due to being half-Croatian. I don’t know if it’s true. My dad’s side of the family (the Croatian side) are more inclined to anger quickly, and speak very loudly in general conversation, than my mum’s (the Welsh side). Why is that? Is it really a genetic thing? Does that make it ok..?

      But my uncle (mum’s brother) is like you – always positive, and always sees the bright side of things, always sharing inspirational Ted talks with us all (family) on email, takes pleasure in things happening now, always encouraging. I don’t see him as stupid – he’s very knowledgeable. I don’t know how he does it (or how you do it, either). I envy that frame of mind. I’ve tried and it’s just impossible for me to maintain. I always end up saying, I have a completely different life. I don’t know what his life is like, and he has no idea what mine is like. I always wonder if happier people living my life would behave differently to me in the end, after it started weighing them down. Because I used to be a really happy, creative child. And like you said, nobody wants to be unhappy or angry. I just don’t know. The anger and sadness does feel like a sickness sometimes, but then you tell yourself, everyone else can deal with life, so I just have to. So I dive into chasing that one big happiness that’ll change everything and make life better…like the people Glynna’s musing about in the quote at the top.

      And, as I’m writing this, I’m actually raging on the inside about something that’s happened on elsewhere…and I just can’t let it go because if I do, things will never change and it’ll keep happening. Either I need to find a way to deal with it or I need to make the problem go away. I need to reason it out and find a solution. Maybe that’s a big part of it, it’s to do with problem solving / being in tech support for so long – you need to solve ALL the problems – but know that you can’t because people will do whatever they want regardless of what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ because they have a completely different gauge on right and wrong.
      It’s frustrating.

      • I love your outrage, Min. I don’t think it is anger so much as a passion for justice, which might sometimes look like anger- might sometimes become anger. So much easier to be angry on someone elses behalf, right? But I do think that passionate outrage and indignation is different. Adelaide read this and liked it before I posted it- I always show Jan and A because I want them to see I am writing about them and I would alter it if they want. She said this was me alright, and she liked what I said but she does not want people to get away with it if they have done the wrong thing. She feels angry and she wants them to know it. I think she has that same passion for justice. That, what I might call righteous anger. I think what you say abut being in tech support making you feel you need to solve everything, and what someone else said in another post about it being the eldest child thing, and someone else said about being a carer of someone disabled. My friend Rosie, who is a nurse, is the same. A need to fix things. As to our lives being different, of course they are, but what I was saying here is that our natures are somewhat hardwired. It seems to me your sadness, like Jan’s silence, are part of how we respond to the world. Maybe even our coping mechanisms. But what I do think is that when those big things weight heavy or seem like such glittering prizes, that is exactly the moment we are missing the beauty and potential of joy under our noses. Whatever is troubling you will not be fixed by this, but maybe try to stop and really be in the moment for a second. Look around you- at Paul, and your lovely place, and the people you love and who love you, and the clouds when you go our, and , fatuous as it sounds, I think you replenish your spirit, your strength- this is truly what I do, and it helps to shore me up when I feel my edges crumbling

      • Maureen says:

        I agree with Isobelle, Min. I think that most of what you describe is a craving for justice and for decency. I am passionate in the same way 🙂 I guess one thing I would say is that you have to remember that you can only change your actions and what you do directly, you can’t change everyone or everything. One battle at a time. That’s so important so never give up that battle but I think what Isobelle means is that even as we fight those battles and feel those enormous moments of love and of rage, remember to find happiness in the small things. Stop for a moment when you hear a bird sing, or when a wave crashes or when the sun comes out or at the smell of rain or at a mother with a newborn baby because those things are living too.

        When Isobelle writes “But what I do think is that when those big things weigh heavy or seem like such glittering prizes, that is exactly the moment we are missing the beauty and potential of joy under our noses” I think that is really the crux of things- momentous things (be they good or bad) make us live for the past or for the future but not for the present.

        Maybe I can share a story with you to try and clarify what I mean. My Mum was very ill in hospital last year- She has been ill since I was 15 and I have seen the inside of hospitals more times than I can count. The very sight of a hospital fills me with a depressive, black despair that I find hard to shake. Last year, some friends and I went in to visit my Mum and we sang an acapella style version of an 80s song that she likes. There were four other people in her room but we didn’t care- my autistic brother took the base line and the rest of us did various singing parts in different ranges. It was a moment of wonderful happiness in a place that for me has come to represent abject despair.

        My Mum was still very ill. I still was very worried about her. A part of me always is because she will never stop being ill. But that moment of singing was a moment of indescribable joy that was all about being in the moment. The point is that our circumstance hadn’t changed one bit. My Mum was still sick in hospital and my brother was still autistic and I was still primary carer for them both and trying to finish my degree and get some writing done somewhere which was all kinds of stressful but it’s about finding those moments of small but fufilling happiness.

        At least that’s what I took from this post 🙂

      • Min says:

        This is one of the reasons you make people so happy – you excuse our anxieties and even make us feel good about them. You reminded me of another quote, from Farseekers now –
        “But life is a fight just the same, whether you fight it with weapons, or with words. You have to fight for what you believe in, and for the things you want” — Rushton.

        Ok, so to take on board what you said about missing out on the happiness of Now…I’m going to try something. Whenever the anger rises (and Paul’s not around), I will look at pictures of red pandas. And kittens. And puppies. You could save the world with puppies. Put a puppy in front of a person and they can’t help but forget everything else and enjoy the moment.
        http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/14700000/So-cute-puppies-14749028-1600-1200.jpg

    2. Maureen says:

      This blog post is quite a timely one for where I am currently at in my life. One of the things I am constantly working on, is realising when I am happy and actually spending time being happy about it. It is something that often came up when I participated in phone conversations and camps with Young Carers NSW.

      When you are a younger carer, it is often very easy to get so caught up in the life of the person that you care for that you forget about yourself- you don’t just forget about yourself- you start to kid yourself into believing that what you want doesn’t matter. It’s not anyone’s fault that it happens but it can sometimes be an inevitable by product of constantly caring for somebody else and putting their needs first.

      I have gotten better at saying what I think and what I need from a person but enjoying moments of happiness- that can be a lot harder for me. I think I am far too much an Anne of Green Gables character. I don’t do anything by halves- I can go from the most depressive of feelings to the most euphoric within seconds but I wouldn’t change that. It’s worth it for the times of euphoric joy.

      I am getting better at living in the moment and at noticing things. I do have to mentally remind myself not to worry so much about what other people think though. I do have to admit too, that I wield some of my good memories from the past like a Harry Potter patronus- sometimes it helps when things get rough.

      On a different note, I love the photographs in this post- the one of two noses almost touching (your daughter and yourself?) is lovely. The last one of you is also very nice and actually reminds me of the time I first met you. My memory of what you wore is by now very sketchy but I do remember you were wearing bright orange stockings and I thought to myself once I got over my confusion of you looking nothing like what my ten year old self had imagined, that you were my kind of person. Seeing those stockings actually made me really, really happy- independantly of who you were to me as an author- those stockings were bright and colourful and kooky and stood out and were different. I remember that put a big smile on my face. It’s often the small things that can make you happy!

      One of the things that makes me happiest is seeing people being their own messy selves- warts and all. Colourful and clashing clothes, goth fantasy madness or vintage mixed with 80s block colours? I can’t express to you how happy I feel when I see people mixing and matching. It reminds me that we aren’t all cyborgs.

    3. Katja says:

      Dear Isobelle,
      I loved this blog, it is so very buddist of you! You write beautifully I look forward to reading more, I think they would love to see this on elephant journal! I will send you their link on FB if you want. I thank you for writing, I definitely want more!
      What is your daughter’s name? I see her all the time with her friend, she too is happy all the time giggling and free she looks lovely, I have to tell you I see them dancing together and laughing like sweet school girls, seeing her makes my day she reminds me of the fact that I live in a community that I am part of this city and that I can stop and watch girls dance and they do because they know me and I am their sense of community too.
      Anyway again, loved yr blog and will read onwards!
      Katja

    4. Marta says:

      Oh!! So many words in my head. So many things to say. OK, breathe. Breathe. One thing at a time.

      I love the fact that you can find joy in the world, and with that picture of you with your hands outstretched, smiling against a backdrop of snow; oh, I can believe it. I must admit, I don’t have that same capacity. though. Like your husband, I approach happiness with a degree of suspicion. Oh, I’ve achieved something? But, think about all the mistakes I made along the way. And, what if someone changes their mind later? And don’t forget all those other things I still have to strive for. In myself, I see an impatience and a need to perpetually prove something. I’m not sure what, or even to whom. To my father? Possibly; cliched as it sounds, possibly a desire to be what he wants me to be is at the root of many of my failings. To my friends? Maybe; in small ways, like Maureen, I take pride in the fact that I never quite belong; that I think different thoughts and march to a different tune. But it also makes me a little uneasy, and I feel that I have to keep achieving, to prove that it’s OK being where I am. To the world? Undoubtedly. I need to make up for the resources I’m consuming. So, yes, I need to prove things to all of these people, but above all, I need to prove something to myself. For that reason, I so rarely allow myself to take satisfaction in those things that go well. I’m hard on people, but I’m harder on myself. The standards I set are ridiculous. Targets so high that the chances of anyone achieving them are vanishingly small. And when I don’t, I shrug, smile on the outside and pretend it doesn’t matter. On the inside, though, I weep. And if I do achieve them? Well, I just raise the bar even higher. Say, ‘anyone could have done that’ and throw myself back into the fray.

      Knowing this, it’s not surprising, perhaps, that living in the here and now is difficult for me. I’m always planning and reviewing and, more often than not, regretting. The concept of now makes sense only if you’ve found a measure of peace within your own soul. And I haven’t. Not yet. BUT, at least I recognise that now, and if anything is an achievement, that is. As I get older; as things happen to my family and people I know, I’m starting to pull myself in. It’s important to appreciate what you have, as it happens. It’s important to love and be happy and laugh at the small things. Because you just never know what might befall you next.

      That’s not to say I’ve found serenity, or likely ever will. I don’t think true serenity’s possible for someone like me, though I get close, sometimes, when I walk alone under starlight at night, or lose myself in my garden or spend time communing with my animals. I used to be in IT, like Min, so I know that anger she describes; that resentment when people don’t live up to your expectations and that desire, that DRIVE to fix things, that creeps out of your work and into your life. Now I’m studying nursing and that’s given me a completely new perspective, because it’s going to be my job to live in the moment. I’m going to need to focus, on the things people say, on those things they don’t say and the way they walk and smile or stare past me. And I’m starting to do it already. I can see the changes in myself. You’re right: we’re hardwired to act in certain ways, but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow beyond our programming. And so I hope that, as time passes, I might become more like you: content, happy, and spending more time in the present then in what was and what will be.

      Thank you so much for letting us live your life with you. You inspire me to be better!

    5. Sionainn says:

      You have a truly beautiful outlook on life. I would say I am envious, but I am not that kind of person.

      But, anyway, to some degree, the Eskimos are right. Those that are happier are generally also healthier, though my fuzzy memories from the midst of stuffy lecture halls are not currently sure if this is due to better being able to handle stress or something else entirely, but I do remember learning that optimists generally live longer than pessimists.
      Being a particularly grouchy kind of pessimist, I find I’m not too bothered by this since this will surely mean I get to skip those nasty last few years where ones joints no longer work and will instead simply die of a heart attack some years previous. (But maybe thinking this actually means I’m an optimist!)

      But getting back to happiness, which is presumably not the same thing as optimism, I would have to share the same take as many here do and regard it with some trepidation—though not for the same reason. Having a mood disorder, happiness is not so much a state of mind as it is a fickle old friend who occasionally likes to come along and punch me in the face. It’s much safer to avoid it, lest it turn into wild euphoria.

      So, instead, my equivalent of happiness is the calmness of nothing. The feeling of having nothing to feel at all, and just to ensure that contradictive nature of the oxymoron is entirely obvious: feeling nothing feels wonderful. (But perhaps people would consider this happiness anyway) It does result in apathy towards a lot of things however, which oft makes decision making quite hard since decisions require opinions on the matters at hand, and when it comes right down to it I can’t quite care enough about porridge or toast to decide which I want to have for breakfast in the morning.

      Less generalised, I’m told this has made me cold and heartless. When those bad things happen, even to those I love, there is no anger—righteous or otherwise. I can see both sides of the story. That that crazy driver is surely in rush (perhaps even really in need to get to a toilet), but also that crazy driver is risking their life and my own with their mad dash about the road.

      But, really, it just doesn’t matter. I can’t make myself care enough to develop an emotion.

      Only when it is really bad—but probably not even then either.

      • I remember having this conversation years ago when I was arguing that hedonism did not have to be all about what is physically pleasurable, but that an intellectual could be hedonistic about ideas and thoughts. I think your thought about being an optimistic pessimist sounds like the same sort if thing. I had this fascinating conversation at 1 am this morning when a journalist from the Guardian was picked up the same time and he was telling me he had written a book praising pessimism. It seemed really interesting in the light of this post- funny how life sometimes seems to offer an answer or a response when you make a comment or statement in some form and put it out there… I felt we had to disagree, but the more I quizzed him the more I liked his ideas- one was that too much optimism can actually be harmful because it produces unrealistic expectations-

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