I am interested in a lot of things. Clearly, there are also a lot of things I couldn’t give a toss about. But as things go, between history, music, art, travel, literature, film, crafts, cooking, writing, journalism, media and popular psychology, I seem to have far more in the way of interests than I do in time, and in trying to pursue them all, I teeter dangerously on the edge of that well-known backhanded compliment, ‘Jack-of-all-trades, master of none’.
And that’s putting it politely – in my desperation to try and learn more about everything I find interesting, I barely feel I’m managing the ‘jack’ part, never mind ‘master’.
My longings may require funds that I don’t have but this is only incidental; I hardly ever lust after possessions – I lust after experiences and feelings – such as wonder, intrigue, satisfaction, and, ultimately, though often elusively, contentment.
For example, while a trip round Italy – hey, why not an entire year in Italy? Or two? Or maybe, why not, a trip round Europe; teaching in Europe, writing in Europe, why not, I ask you, why not!? ‒ may require money and planning and time, I wouldn’t go just so that I could ‘say I had’, or visit the best hotels or eat the best food simply because I could. I’d want to go so that I could experience that art, culture, landscape, weather; taste the food, learn the beautiful language, feel the freedom of travelling around, being alive.
It sounds cheesy as hell, but I’m like this about everything I find interesting – like a hounddog, I get a whiff of something, and I’m off, dreaming about what that could be like, without any real idea of how to achieve that dream, and more often than not feeling disappointed at my lack of wherewithal to just pick ONE THING and make any of it actually happen.
Apparently, you have to make money in this world, and can’t follow every whim you may have. Sigh, and double sigh. As the famous song goes, ‘they may say I’m a dreamer’, and while I may not be the only one, I often feel like the only one unable to actually make a go of anything.
When I grow up
Maybe it’s a symptom of being young, but as every year goes past, I feel less and less young, and am still haunted by the sense of depression and inertia that only seems to come from a seemingly incurable desire to do everything.
I’m twenty-four now (I swear I was only just twenty-one), and rather pathetically quite a large percentage of my thoughts start with the words ‘When I grow up/start my real career/get a boyfriend/find a flat/learn that language/do that course/get out of here/move there/figure out what I want to do with my life, I will…’.
Oh holy hell, this can’t be good.
Generally, I am always half concentrated on the task in hand, half dreaming about something else I want to do, something else I’d love to pursue, something else I’d love to know more about had I more time, money, energy, support.
As is often the refrain heard from people who know about these things when describing people like me: I end up wanting to do everything so much that I usually find myself completely paralysed, not knowing which way to go, and ending up doing next-to-nothing. This sets the vicious cycle in motion once more, and I get nothing done, yet accumulating more and more ideas of things I’ve love to do, if I had the time, knowledge, skill, money or, crucially, energy.
Crucial, because sometimes, having such a vast array of interests but no real idea of which to actually favour, can provide me with the fuel I need to get up every day, the mental animation to an otherwise inert, grey day; the motivation and inner dreams; the sugary syrup to life’s otherwise bitter fruit (otherwise known as commuting, rain, alarm clocks, and the terrible chasm between how good that chocolate fondant tastes vs how bad you know it is for your health).
But, sometimes, the feeling of always chasing some new idea, some new thought; interest, desire, tidbit of knowledge and interesting fact or concept you didn’t know before but which might just hold the key to unlock the door to your own inner understanding and peace, can be thoroughly exhausting, and leaves me wanting to do nothing more than turn over and go back to sleep – something which, in itself, isn’t conducive to getting a whole lot done, and helps drag me listlessly into a deep depression of inertia and black self-doubt.
Ultimately though, this much I know: in my crazy pursuit of all things ‘interesting’, I am really only after one thing. Happiness and contentment. Everything else is extra.
Happiness, as far as I can tell, is a state of mind. In my more peaceful moments, I can convince myself that nothing else matters: as long as I can sit quietly for a while, I can be happy. But it seems to be more than that and must be, I reason, at least somewhat related to what’s important to you. While pursuing achievement in itself can be a toxic ambition, happiness can’t be just good breathing and sitting still – but at the moment, I’m feeling utterly overwhelmed at my inability to put my finger on what else it is.
Could helping myself understand how to be happy also help me understand how to stop my thoughts and desires running away from me in a depressive maelstrom of tangled, half-formed, half-baked ideas?
‘Happiness’ has become a pretty big deal in the past few years. Blame it on the recession – I don’t know – but it seems that just as I myself ‘grew up’ (ha), graduated from University, needed to figure out my own way in the world and realised that the pursuit of money, possessions and fancy jobs wasn’t what was going to bring me happiness, a whole community of people saying the same thing suddenly became popular as well.
Maybe it’s just how it looks to me, but in the past few years, this ‘pursuit of happiness’ has seemingly exploded – there are now internet sites, blogs, podcasts, books and online courses, among booklets free with newspapers, or magazines such as the wonderful Psychologies, which go beyond traditional, cheesy ‘self-help’, and actually seek, often without much, if any, financial sacrifice, to help you re-train your brain, master your thoughts, question the status quo; reject the capitalist, consumerist society that always demands that you buy more, want more, without ever giving anything back to your own piece of mind.
There are now mental health courses based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy available on the NHS – I mean, you could hardly get more mainstream, and rightly. Finally, the barriers to mental health, the stigma surrounding it, and the enormous and nebulous question of what it actually means to be happy – rather than just ‘successful’, i.e. rich ‒ in today’s world, is finally being asked and tackled, by thinkers, doctors, philosophers and writers far more erudite and qualified than little old confused me.
But while this all sounds fantastic, unsurprisingly, given my preponderance for indecision (see above for further details), I find that this in itself can be a double-edged sword.
Just another thing to think about?
Because in some ways, searching for what will make me ‘happy’; this ‘pursuit of happiness’ ‒ wondering about the best way to meditate or do yoga; which philosophy to follow, if at all, what motivational thoughts to learn, whether to embrace meditation or mindfulness (or both; are they the same thing?), what to write in my daily ‘journal’, whether by podcast, by newspaper, by magazine, by book, by online course ‒ looks dangerously like another swirling Aladdin’s cave of ideas and unhelpful but dazzling red herrings that I don’t need in my overloaded brain, which, as I’ve mentioned, is already groaning under the weight of things undone, languages unlearned, weight unlost, foods untasted, books unread, blogs undiscovered, roads untravelled – not to mention the crushing, ever-niggling guilt I feel at having such middle-class, first-world problems in the first place.
Is there really room in my life for discovering how to be happy, as well?
Well, I would contend that, with a little help, there is.
You may have guessed that another issue I have on a daily basis (add that to the to-do list) is not updating this blog enough, and often, it’s because I’m not sure what to prioritise, what to put, what tack to take – not to mention not physically having enough time to actually sit down and write in the first place.
But woefully unloved though it may be, this blog is if nothing else, a space for my thoughts. And since a good deal of my thoughts focus on a) how to be happy b) how to achieve what I dream about and c) how to deal with having so many thoughts in the first place, I will be cataloguing, as much as I can, my journey through happiness, my attempts to grapple with the overload of information in which I currently feel I may drown.
This may include ‘happiness’ book reviews, snippets of inspiring sentences I’ve found; new avenues out of the frequently-deafening mental din that I, usually entirely unnecessarily, make around myself, and, tiresomely, keep finding myself in almost as soon as I thought I’d found a way out.
It will document the new, free ‘Big Leap’ course that I’ve signed up for (entirely the work of the brilliant and scarily-inspiring Suzy Greaves, who I’ve been lucky enough to chat to in person and who is as genuine as she is enthusiastic), as well as the meditation ‘Headspace’ programme by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe.
A quick Google will reveal that I am by no means the first to try and do this; there are countless (literally, countless, it’s pretty overwhelming) other blogs out there focusing on these subjects; many other ‘happiness projects’ where fantastic, organised and eloquent bloggers deal deftly and regularly with these issues with humour and style – but rather than seeing them as competition, or as evidence that I shouldn’t even bother, I’ve decided to see them as fellow ‘happiness seekers’ – all trying to find the definition of the word that works for them.
At the moment I’m making none of the rigid promises that other successful bloggers on this theme have done – e.g. ‘happiness tip of the week’, or ‘inspiration of the month’ ‒ because frankly, I don’t trust myself to keep to that schedule nor feel remotely qualified to offer up any real advice.
All I’m trying to do is keep track of my own attempts at happiness and what that could mean – and maybe, through this, anyone who happens upon this blog (hello, if you’re reading, thanks and congrats on getting this far) might start thinking about their own meaning of happiness too.
Because after all ‒ despite my always wanting to be doing something else, being somewhere else, discovering, learning, trying, experiencing something new – no matter who you are, what you want, what you believe in, what drives you ‒ isn’t happiness all there is?