I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness recently. I consider myself a pretty happy person. Not in the sense that I’m happy every second of the day – often I’m unhappy… My kids are grumpy, sad, or mad; I’ve not slept enough; I’ve forgotten to do something; endless things make me unhappy. But in the bigger picture of my life I’m happy. I like my life, I like where it has brought me, I’m at peace with the choices I’ve made, and I’ve had the opportunity to resolve and confront a lot things that held me back.
I don’t use the word “happy” lightly, often I’m severely depressed or anxious, and I don’t think there’s ever a time when my mental health scores “happy”. I’ve struggled with my mental health since I’ve was about 8. I’m OK with that. It is what it is.
I have learnt a lot of tools to deal with my mental state over the years, and that gives me optimism that I can learn to meet the challenges life brings me. I feel I am a happy person even during those times when I am depressed, I don’t find my depression a bar to a wider sense of completeness and fulfillment. Battling and accepting my depression is one of those things that has brought me meaning and a sense of happiness and peace.
The world says, you have to be perfect before you are happy. You have to be mentally balanced. You have to be eating 5 a day. You have to be working out. You have to be a mum who’s got it all together. You have to be well informed. Whatever your interests are, there’s a way for you to be told that you are not “enough” yet. But I look around and I think, those things aren’t coming for me anytime soon. If I’ve got to the end of the day, and we’ve all eaten enough, we’ve enjoyed each other a bit, we’ve expressed love to each other, then we have all that we need.
Even if what we have eaten is pizza and fish fingers, we are still allowed to be happy, we are still allowed to feel complete.
Even if our child has spent an inordinate amount of time watching some awful cartoon containing awful fighting, we are still allowed to be happy, we are still allowed to feel complete.
Even if we have lost our rag, even if we have been late, even if we haven’t fought against injustice in the ways we would have liked, we are still allowed to be happy.
One thing I find about Facebook is that I come on, and everyone has their causes, we share all this information all the time and that’s great, I love it. But in amongst that it is easy not to feel enough, it is easy to feel like everyone else is doing more to improve the world, it is easy to feel lost about where to direct my attention and energy, because I want to fix all the wrongs all at once. And then it’s easy to get into this mindset that I can’t be happy until they are all fixed.
And there are all the people who think phones are ruining our world and relationships and while I use the Internet as much as I do I definitely shouldn’t be happy, so while I’m on my phone I always have this nagging thought, “am I enough? Can I be happy?”
My parents are both activists in different ways, I was brought up with an understanding of environmental injustice and the ways in which we are concurrently being robbed of a future while we also rob our children of our future. And you know what, it really did my head in for a really long time. I felt trapped and miserable and unable to change anything.
And the truth is, I can’t change very much. The – sometimes quite crushing – belief that we have the power to change the world is, I think, quite possibly a particular uniqueness of our moment in time, encouraged by the notion of democracy and by social media, which both in theory give everyone a voice.
It’s a lie. There are around 7.5 billion people in the world and even if I am someone capable of wielding a great deal of influence, I won’t change very much. And I’m not one of those people.
To be honest, I wouldn’t very much want to be one of those people, with great power comes great responsibility and all that.
So what can I do, with so much to change and so little platform with which to do it?
I can be happy, I can allow myself to appreciate the things I have. It can feel trite and even selfish to allow ourselves that, when we are so aware of how others are suffering all of the time, thanks to 24/7 worldwide news. But what do we think? That the people who die unfairly all over the world every day want us miserable?
With what energy will we love the world if we are miserable?
How can we fight for others, if we don’t think that what we have is worth fighting for? If we don’t think what we have is a good thing to be shared?
But to allow myself to be happy, that I think is revolutionary, that I think could change things possibly as much as I am able.
If we are radical enough to allow ourselves to enjoy what we have, then we cannot help but change the world around us… It spills out of us from our wholehearted engagement with life.