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Barriers to happiness

snake_oil

I bought a writing bureau the other day.  It was a last minute purchase, full of heady desire, urgency and opportunity.  It appeared in a Facebook group for pre-loved goods and I fell in love with it straight away.

It isn’t pretty, not in the way an antique should be. It’s an old, worn, dark brown workhorse of a bureau covered in scratches and the circular stains of someone else’s coffee cup. It smells of years and incense, seeped permanently into the grain. The seller found a prophylactic packet from the 1950s hidden in secret compartment of the joinery.  It closes up on itself and sits tucked away against the wall, useful and efficient.

It’s not an expensive piece of furniture. It has no prestige or special design. You wouldn’t pin it on Pinterest or find it in a magazine article about writer’s desks but I love it. It’s not for show. It’s for getting down to business and for writing.

The reason I love it so much is because my mother often said that she would write if she had a writing desk. It took her a long time to get one and she did eventually but even so, she did not write.  My mother said she needed a computer because typing would be quicker, once she learned how to use it. She took lessons and found the computer too complicated and distracting. Even then, she did not write.

There was always some imagined, perfect condition under which writing would blossom and reality was forever holding her back.

There are obstacles to achievement and happiness everywhere, but many of them are simply part of the human condition we all share. To have arms and legs and a tummy of a certain shape is simply human.  To have wounds and lost dreams and hopes is simply human.  To act out the unlived lives of our parents is part of the inheritance we all get and a very human task to work through.

Happiness is not found at the end, once you’ve overcome your tummy or got the job or written the book. It’s not waiting to give you a great, big hug and a congratulations. Happiness is a traveling companion who drops in once in awhile and falls into step with you as you enjoy the challenge. It is the entertainment of overcoming.

You see, the end doesn’t justify the means. It’s a common logic failure that ruins our chances. We think happiness lives at the end of our labours, but if we don’t enjoy striving, then all we have is the struggle to get there (if indeed we ever arrive), perhaps a brief shining moment and then the awful struggle it takes to stay there.  All the while, we’re training ourselves in the habits of struggle, not happiness.

If it takes a writer’s desk and a computer and a training course and feathery pen and a  … well whatever… then I train myself in the habit of looking and feeling like a writer, while never actually being one.  To be one is to sit at the plain and functional workstation and write day after day because it’s within me to do so and happiness comes visiting with a pithy turn of phrase and some unexpected insights.

Lifestyle! Productivity! Success!  We look to movies and books and listicles to show us the shortcuts and cheat sheet to happiness. Surely there’s a genius three step process that we can wave at our problems, but we may as well be chanting THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS THEE and throwing holy water at it.  

If you would like to be happy, then your target is not the thing you think will get you there. Your target is the feeling, which only comes visiting in brief, precious moments as you go about the tasks that make you the happiest.  

It may only flit by when you wish it would stay for good, but the longer you keep practicing that which makes you happiest, the more it becomes like an old friend that you trust will come around tomorrow for a time and again the day after that.

The good thing about this approach is that failure is only ever temporary.  It’s simpler to train yourself in the habit of happiness by conscious choice than to train yourself in the habit of struggle on the baseless assumption that there will be happiness at the end of it.

There is no imagined, perfect condition under which your happiness will blossom. Reality is not holding you back. Happiness will come visiting while you create what’s within you and by bringing your unique self to the task of the human condition.

No-one else’s steps, lists, products, promises, diets, plans, programs, apps, religions or retreats can do this for you.

To try is to chase nothing more than a new form of snake oil, a cure all to the human condition. We all have problems and the curious, gnarly, frustrating, creative act of finding your way through them is, at its very core, the joy of living at all.

“Ordinary men, Schopenhauer wrote (and we can include the ladies too), are intent merely on how to spend their time; a man with any talent is interested in how to use his time”

Derren Brown summarising Arthur Schopenhauer

What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially
become irrelevant?”

Elizabeth Gilbert

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One comment on “Barriers to happiness

  1. Pingback: Things I miss about religion | Muchness

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This entry was posted on October 11, 2016 by in Happiness, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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Department of Words

Department of Words

Thinker. Writer. Dancer. Not necessarily in that order.

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