There’s a show on Netflix where 5 beautiful men go into someone’s life and breathe love into it. It’s pure and joyful and will make you cry in a way that cleanses your soul. I watched an episode recently where a young widower, now a single father to two young boys, spoke about his late wife. “She squeezed every drop of joy out of life.” I cried for him, and his beautiful wife and children, but really I suppose I was crying for me, in a roundabout way. It made me think, self-obsessed as I am, if I died would anyone be able to say that about me? Am I squeezing the joy out of life?
As it happens, in the manner of some kind of mid-life crisis, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about happiness. We all just want to be happy, right? We’re told that being happy is really the only thing that matters. It doesn’t matter if our kids aren’t brain surgeons or tech moguls or whatever an impressive job title is…as long as they’re happy. But it turns out that being happy is a goal more impossible to achieve than being a brain surgeon. For no-one can be happy all of the time. Life will always be a little bit shit.
Some days I feel terrible. It’s fury, mostly. The increasingly uncontainable rage of the nearly 40 year old woman. It’s a thing – google it. I also feel exhausted and lethargic. Sometimes. But I have a seat by the window, in the sometimes sun, where the light comes in. I sit there, and I feel the fury and the tiredness and I let them sit with me, for a time. I don’t welcome them, but they are necessary, because without them I cannot sit by the window and wait for the light. So I sit with my feelings, all of them in all their messy manifestations, and wait for them to disperse, for the light to seep in through the spaces in between.
But am I though? Am I squeezing the joy out of life ? When confronted with the huge injustice of a person dying long before their time, we look at our lives anew, feeling rueful about the time wasted sitting at desks or snapping at children. It’s true that we should make the most of the time given to us , because it can be snatched away at any time, but it is also true that we need to pay bills, do grocery shopping, stack dishwashers and other non-joy squeezing activities. So it’s not about living a life of constant kitten stroking but identifying spaces where you can let joy in. It’s also about identifying what your own joy is, because it looks different for everyone, and as we all know comparison is the thief of joy. For some people joy will be extravagant and extroverted and loud. For others, like me, it might be a quiet moment of reading or a one to one with a great friend. Recently, I took a day off work mid-week when everyone else was doing non joy squeezing activities like going to school and work. I went for a walk along the seafront in the wind and drizzling rain and listened to the Dixie Chicks. That was happiness to me. After the walk I jumped in the sea and the joy I took from that lasted for days. I went for lunch alone, I read a book, I watched some beautiful men on Netflix breathing love into someone else’s life. I identified the small things that bring me joy and knew I deserved to make time for them. I squeezed a bit of joy out of a regular Thursday.
We will always have moments of tedium, frustration and pain. If we’re lucky we will also have moments of joy and happiness and calm. The trick is to spot them. Notice them. Hold them tight. Write them down. Look back at them and remember them. They will make the shitty bits easier to bear. If you are pursuing a state of permanent happiness you will be unhappy because it is an impossible goal. Seek contentment in the small things. Life will always be a little bit shit, and a little bit wonderful.