I have a confession to make. I have a healthy appetite for reading books and articles about happiness. I also like reading books where the author argues against the pursuit of happiness. I think this obsession has a lot to do with trying to work out in my mind a problem. Why in the western world is the happiness industry of self help guides, life coaches and the science of happiness booming whilst the prevalence of mental health and people being prescribed anti-depressants is increasing? Is the very act of focusing on happiness and trying to avoid feeling the negative emotions actually making us more unhappy? Should our focus instead be on creating a meaningful life and if we are lucky, happiness is one of the end products?
I don’t really have any clear answers on these questions only some personal reflections about myself and also the people around me, in particular family. For instance, you may not be able to choose your family but you can decide what traits you admire in them and how you want to live your own life from observing how they have lived or are living theirs.
In an earlier blog post about regrets, I wrote about my Grandma and the dangers of waiting for others to share the same dreams, to be rescued out of a situation instead of taking a risk to fulfill a deep desire on your own. Grandma cared so much about the opinions of others and what they would think if she dared to leave the farm and travel. In the end, she was imprisoned by her own personal rules and sense of ‘duty’. Besides being weighed down with regrets my Grandma was bottled tight with bitterness. She couldn’t let go of what people had done to her even if had been decades ago and the person in question was deceased.
The ability to forgive and having enough courage to follow your own path, are two significant lessons I learnt from my Grandma however, it is from my Grandpa, I have learnt most about how to have a happy life.
Grandpa was a man of few words. He lived a very simple life on the farm, spending hours out in the paddocks or tending to the pigs. I remember sitting with him under the veranda at the front, not saying much, sometimes sharing a peppermint sweet, but most of the time spent sitting contently looking out across the fields or looking up at the sky. Much later when my Grandpa’s health deteriorated to the point where he needed 24 hour care, I remember visiting him at the local hospital (in Australian country towns, often the Nursing Home is within the hospital). I got the feeling that Grandpa was a favourite of the hospital staff because of his attitude. He often talked about the everyday joys of living, about the beauty of the land and the sky. He seemed so content with everything and how life simply was.
I personally think that Grandpa’s appreciation of the beauty around him and feeling privileged to be alive is the core ingredient to being happy. In the weeks, months to follow I would like to share some illustrations about what happiness means to me. Please enjoy.