I have felt very content lately. I still get dreadful bouts of sadness and profoundly irritating days when it seems that the very effort of stringing two thoughts together is just “too hard” but I have worked at being mindful, even in these times, of a realisation that I am, in general, content.
I sat in my dining room last night and watched a large mob of kangaroos graze within metres of the windows. I watched two young males “boxing” and trying to get the hang of sitting back on their tails so they can kick with both feet at the other. I have previously watched older males going at each other pretty hard and could see that while the younger ones were trying to land blows, it was more a play-fight. The other ‘roos just ignored them and munched away on the grass.
While I was watching, I voiced the thought that “This doesn’t suck”. Wild creatures right next to my house being.. well.. wild. How cool is that? I have the same thought when I stand on my driveway and look over the Dandenong Creek valley towards Port Phillip Bay – a view of up to about seventy kilometres. Even if the sky is too hazy to see the water of the bay, and the hills of the You Yangs to the west, the phrase, “This doesn’t suck” often springs to mind. I use this view during times of mental duress – my logic being that although the mind is sad, this provides immediate visual stimulus to create a deeper feeling of contentment. It works.
Is it enough to be content?
The U.S. declaration of Independence contains a famous phrase to the effect that humans are born with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Arguably, the inspiration for this oft-repeated expression derives from many sources – Robespierre’s “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, or perhaps in part from the words of John Locke – “”the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness”, but it stands by itself as a laudable ideal. In particular, when the pre-eminent conditions of “Life and Liberty” are assured, there is a persistent undercurrent in everything we do and everything presented to us via popular media; we are all constantly engaged in “the pursuit of happiness”.
Lose weight and you’ll be happy. Apply this moisturiser and you’ll be happy. Use this deodorant, drive this car, or wear these clothes and life will be a joyous parade of smiling, beautiful people against a backdrop of blue skies and bright sunshine. Eat this cereal and your husband will wear a suit and look suave and trim, your children will become animated, adoring pictures of blissful youth, and your kitchen will be spotlessly clean and tidy. Pursue happiness!
Look, maybe buying that cereal will create such changes – I’ve tried them all to no avail – but I somehow doubt changing my brand of Weet-Bix will ever keep the kitchen bench clear. However, check out the next set of ads in front of you – and they are everywhere, not just on the telly – and you will see that the theme always revolves around an end result of smiles and blue skies. It’s really daft but it is what we all want.
I worked to attain my High School Certificate. I worked hard to achieve my Bachelor’s degree and then Postgrad to work as a teacher. I worked with youth in urban areas, on rural camps, as a basketball and a football coach. These were busy years and I had a clear goal in mind; I sought out as many experiences as possible so that when I would finally be a professional educator, I would be happy and competent – and to a large extent, I always have been. The actual job (or, at least, being in the classroom) has never been a problem.
Later, Pauline and I bought a house in preparation for starting a family. She worked an obscene number of hours in pretty ordinary conditions and I juggled three jobs as we built our common financial equity. We wanted to be happier about owing a bank so much money. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the notion that debt is acceptable so long as it is manageable – I was brought up to fear debt as a dark monster that would consume me whole the moment I signed that paperwork. Home ownership was the goal with happiness as the end product. I have now been the joint mortgagee on three houses – and owned the last one outright for a number of years – but severely and clinically depressed during the majority of the latter circumstance. Home ownership does bring a sense of happiness – but only in that the alternative – renting – is horrible. Shelter is a basic need – and it may as well be on your own terms as much as possible.
Then, we had kids, moved to Queensland, and an entirely new range of challenges rose before us. Full disclosure of this would require a lot more space so, as all parents would attest, I will simply say that the boys’ early years consisted of lessons learnt, furrowed brows, and many moments of purest, unadulterated joy. This changes a bit as they get older – but only in intensity.
Then, the mental struts within my brain gave way and my mind collapsed around me, along with the majority of my personal goals and aspirations.
There are other experiences after that but somewhere along the way I stopped trying to pursue happiness. I realise that if I replace the word “happy” with “content”, and then “happiness” with “contentment”, I am, ironically, much happier. I have re-read what I have written so far and when I engage in that word-replacement exercise, I see greater truth in my endeavours – and more achievable goals.
There is more I want to write about this – I’ll come back to it – but I am mentally tired and flat today. Pauline encouraged me to write and so I did. In some ways, it is yet another way I am pursuing happiness. When I post this, I will be somewhat content.
Please treat this as scribbling. Draft-y versions of incoherent threads of thought. However, please keep reading my stuff – I cannot write to a vacuum of reception.