Saturday Live

Is anyone else listening to it? Happy place. Where’s your happy place? Ahem.

For some of the panel it was round a fire with friends, or on the west coast of Scotland. I missed the last few words but I think it may have been ‘finding treasure’- or half way up a mountain in a hut ( I might have made that up). Whatever – a lot of places featured and I felt my hackles rise and gave it some thought, drank some coffee.

To be honest, there was a comment that meant something to me – happiness was about manageable hopes  and realistic expectations…

But I still want to explore the ease with which we repeat the cliched norms. Mountains make us feel happy. Countryside improves our serotonin levels. Really? So how come there are more alcoholics and suicides in remote beautiful rural Scotland and Ireland, than in urban areas (twice the number, in fact, between 1996 and 2010).

There was a brilliant article in the Big Issue a few years ago. The author of the piece  decided to leave the pollution of downtown Glasgow for the pristine environment of the West Coast. When he got there he found Cambeltown to be the smack centre of Scotland, Oban, the cocaine mecca of the west, and in Lochgilphead skunk that would send the best of us tripping off to the local psychiatric unit a mile up the road. A few months later, he packed his bags and scurried back to Glasgow for some clean living.

So what about – happiness is to do with manageable hopes and realistic expectations. Yes, I think so. Undoubtedly sane advice, but implicit in these wise parameters for happy outcomes is a somewhat chilly  assumption around personal capacity. Who of us doesn’t harbour unmanageable hopes and unrealistic dreams for our futures. Isn’t that just part of being human? And what does it mean day to day? Today even.  Do I have manageable hopes lined up?

Well, yes, I’m planning on driving north to look at some larch trees with a view to bringing them home to plank. I hope the car won’t breakdown, the friends we plan to visit will be in – will I be happy if those hopes are met? I’m not sure.  Satisfied yes, but doesn’t happy need rather more of an emotional fix than that?  And will I be sad if my manageable expectations for today aren’t met? No. I know this because they weren’t. (There was an accident on the road so we couldn’t reach the larch and our friends were out…) But we still enjoyed the trip.

So where does this leave my discussion? Messy perhaps. But I’m ploughing on regardless. For me happy is a bit of a rush or a glow  – a moment of peace when my inner cynic and need for more are taking a nap.   And it can happen anytime.  Mostly it’s not planned or foreseen. But I would say it’s often preempted by a sense of completion.

It’s about me right?

  • When I’ve rewritten a line or a paragraph dozens of times, my stomach tight with frustration, and all of a sudden it’s there – like a birth.
  • When the log pile is high – and dry.
  • When dinner  is on the table and we’re about settle in for the evening, in front of our current series (right now it’s The West Wing, last year it was Breaking Bad or Homeland…
  • When I’m holding hands with my husband, or remembering the kids are all in a good place.

There are loads of such moments, thankfully, but there is  little connection to a particular place.  I’m not ruling out natural beauty, god no – I live by the sea, I’m forever gobsmacked by the changing light on the water, but views alone are  not enough, something  psychological has to be in the mix for me to call it ‘happy’.

It’s just occurred to me I may have described manageable hopes and realistic expectations? Oops. Messy.

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