It’s taken me 31 years, but I can confidently say I no longer believe that true happiness is attainable. And the irony is, once you realise this too, you’ll instantly feel more content by default. ‘Content’ – that’s the key word here. My brain keeps reading as ‘CONtent’ because that’s all we ever think about now. As in, is this gin-in-a-tin I’m drinking on the train right now good Instagram content or nah. But no, I’m talking about contentedness – ‘being in a state of peaceful happiness’.
So, what’s the difference? For me, I can feel when I’m content – it’s a far more tangible emotion that happiness. It’s sitting on the bus listening to a new album you haven’t had time to listen to till now. It’s a glass of wine on Friday evening, drunk standing at the kitchen worktop while chopping veg. It’s the feeling of the sun on your face after days of frizz-inducing grey rain.
No-one craves contentedness, but we’re all forever hungrily chasing happiness. Working our way down a list, ticking things off that we believe are bringing us closer to ‘happy’. If social media is to be believed, that list looks something like; go on holiday. Buy a new car. Drink lots of fancy cocktails. Get a house. Get married. Have a baby. Have another baby. The danger is that when you get to the end of the list and feel no different, panic sets in.Embed from Getty Images
My own list-fear set in about a year ago. My boyfriend and I decided it was time to move up the property ladder and sell our flat so we could get a house. A proper house! With loads of rooms to decorate! And a garden – I could finally get a chimnea and one of those outdoor corner sofas! And while I know I’m fortunate to be able to have a nice house, it was quite shock to realise it didn’t automatically make me feel settled or like I was suddenly ready to start popping out babies. Perhaps I’d subconciously subscribed myself to the life to-do list I’m always slagging off… It also made me realise that I’d never been happier than in our old flat – suddenly it dawned on me; hindsight is the only real way one can know true happiness.
So, now we’ve collectively shattered all our illusions about the meaning of life (no biggie), where do we go from here? I’ll be honest – for a while my happiness ‘epiphany’ left me treading water in a ‘well-what’s-the-point-of-anything-then’ kind of headspace. Combined with a lot of shit things happening to several people I care about, the timing of my new mindset wasn’t ideal. And then came clarity.
All I could do was take things a day at a time; a cliche I’ve always loathed. There really is something in all that ‘living in the moment’ shit everyone keeps going on about. I realised I was so guilty of trying to plan eternity in my mind – it’s when you hold yourself to a lifetime of uninterrupted bliss that things will never measure up. But in small moments, you can be happy – everyone can, even in the darkest of times. I believe that Yin and Yang is an actual thing, so when said dark times feel unsurmountable, it can only mean a peak is to follow. So indulge in the little things – when you add them up, they’re worth so much more than a vanilla life unpunctuated by highs or lows.