Over a year ago now, before all my health problems took centre stage, I did a little straw poll on Facebook as to what makes people happy. Mostly, when I put stuff out there on the dreaded socially media platform of doom I feel like Martin Luther, nailing his 95 ideas to the door of Wittenberg church, except I doubt I’ll get excommunicated for pointing out how so many people seem to spend their time acting like spoilt, overgrown children, well… socially excommunicated maybe. When I shared this particular post I got masses of responses and all of them positive, which was nice. What seems to float people’s boats mostly are people and places, which I found heartwarming. What was interesting was that nobody mentioned things, there were no material goods on the list which I found rather heart warming. What confused me though is how an answer like that came come across in the thing centric world in which we live. Perhaps all the stuff worshippers were too busy to reply, coveting their wares i guess…
What I am particularly concerned with right now is how what makes one person happy can make someone else miserable. Communal living is particularly difficult for this very reason. I have some lovely neighbours, thoughtful, kind, happy to help each other out… And then some that really aren’t. They aren’t evil or anything, but the things that they do for fun are antisocial in the extreme. They are perfectly aware of this and the fact that they do the things that they do with no regard to how it affects others is the thing that I find rather appalling, worse than the actual acts themselves.
It’s sadly very common, that lack of basic human kindness or politeness and more sad because, unlike the great problems of the world like poverty and hunger, it is so easy to fix. Every now and again I catch myself starting to act like a right old fart but I really do blame the parents. Having a modecum of empathy is such a simple thing to teach if you get to someone young enough, just explaining to someone that they are not the only person in the world and that their actions have consequences for other people around them. I’m not just talking about children or young adults here, I regrettably know people well into middle age uncomprehending of the basic concept that their actions actually have consequences to themselves, let alone other people. Perhaps it is something about the town I live in or maybe it’s a generational thing but there seems to be a very noticable trend for people old enough to know better to persue extremely attention seeking and self indulgent behaviour, often at the expense of other people. If that is what seems to be the general trend of people of my age and older, why should I expect any better of any of my younger neighbours? Maybe it’s just me, maybe i have unreasonably high standards of people and that is the hell that I live in….
I’m getting ahead of myself here but I’ve been pondering the notions of heaven, hell and happiness. How one person’s idea of a perfect day can be someone else’s personal hell. What can make one person happy can make someone else miserable and the only way we can find true happiness is to find a way of being happy in ourselves without the reliance of an external influence to do it for us. It’s easier said than done though. In my own experience a lot of the stuff that has been suggested to me to be a happier person sounds a lot like giving up. If the only way to be truly personally happy is to give up any sense of personal aspiration and just sink into a little life with limited horizons then that certainly isn’t for me. So without jacking it all in and becoming a Buddhist monk how can I maintain the happiness I have fought so hard to get and how can I build on it in the future?
So what makes me happy now? Quiet, calm, the absense of worry stress and fear, a full belly, warmth a good book to read… Good friends are vital, and I mean GOOD friends, bad friends are a terrible source of misery. Putting pressure on you, destroying your confidence and self esteem, sucking away your time, draining your resources. Friends who give you bad advice are the worst, people who have axes to grind and do it through someone else’s relationships are particularly appalling. Good friends are priceless, you don’t need many, so long as those you have are wonderful. Having a loving relationship is even better but the fallout from the wrong one can be severe and cause more harm than good. Stuff can give you a fleeting sense of pleasure but it doesn’t last. What gives me greatest joy, the nearest to my idea of heaven, is the making of beautiful things, things of worth, things of meaning, things that will be here after I’m long gone. Be those things an image, an idea or some tangible thing I have made, knowing there are some good things of me in the world gives me a lot of comfort. A lot of people get that comfort from having children, knowing something of them is out there in the world, being childless, the option of living vicariously through my offspring is not open to me, I don’t think it is one that I would ever have done should I have had it. That can massively misfire though as not every child will grow up to be a wonder and an inspiration , although giving them that shred of empathy for others that seems to be so lacking now would be a really good start. We can only really live for and through ourselves and any other choice seems to ultimately lead to misery.
I’ve been pondering my idea of hell and you known what? I’ve probably already lived through it. Poverty, check! Beaten up, check! Soul sucking jobs, check! Abuse, check! Horrible illnesses, check! Someone has even written an award winning and tear jerking film about about one of the situations that I have been through twice, that tells you something. The sad thing is with horrible situations is the speed at which they become normalised and how quickly everyone else can forget. The thing that is even worse than that is when clueless middle class people decide to take what you have been through on as their cause of the month, having their little meetings and waving their silly placards before losing interest and swiftly moving on to the next cause celebre. The thing about hells is the lack of hope, the despair at how far your chances of a better future slides out from under you and how far behind you have fallen in life. Knowing how little of what others take for granted is allowed to you and even that is soon snatched away. For me, hell is just around the corner if I handle my life badly or indeed if some faceless beaurocrat or computer somewhere makes an arbitrary decision and wipes all that I have achieved so far out with a simple keystroke.
My idea of heaven? You could boil that down to a single word really. Choice. It would be nice to have a choice as to where I live so that I don’t have to deal with the aforementioned product of poor parenting skills that make such a bloody nuisance of themselves. The choice to go where I want and do what I want without it leaving me without food or the ability to pay bills before the harassing phone calls start. It’s not just about money though, it would be nice not to have to knock back half a dozen pills a day to keep me alive and relatively sane and it would be lovely not to have to cope with all their various side effects. In the grand scheme of things, none of those are that unreasonable are they? The only moon on a stick I really want is a life partner. Someone who, truly ‘gets’ me and accepts me for the person that I am and doesn’t try to force me to be a person that I’m not. Someone who would be as supportive to me as I would be to her. Is that really too much too ask? The answer seems to be ‘yes’ sadly… Granted, it would probably help if I went out more often…. But that is the problem of being an introvert, if I were to do the sad and desperate things that so many do to find someone, the endless hanging out in pubs, the joining things, or, God help me, go on a dating site, I would only find people who would happily do that sort of crap, who would be the exact sort of person I wouldn’t want to meet. Granted, it works for some but for a misfit like myself, I would just fail miserably. The sad thing that I am slowly coming to terms with is that and match for an oddball like myself would probably be as equally strange and therefore any notion of a functioning relationship would be doomed to failure. There is a whole world of sadness, misery and pain out there, frankly, I would rather stay in with a book and a nice cup of coffee.
The really strange thing about me (and this will probably flag up some major reasons why I’m still single) is that I look at dystopian films like I am Legend and read books like j.g Ballards The Drowned World and I think to myself, ‘that actually seems quite appealing’ I mean let’s face it, as a species, humanity has well and truly muffed it. We’ve overbred, overexpanded, we have a small proportion of brilliant thinkers and scholars, artist, writers, scientists and inventors doing wonderful things and a mass of bloody idiots. The moment I think I really realised that we deserved the future that it looks like is heading our way was when I saw one too many inarticulate morons mumbling incomprehensibly into their iPhone about their child’s maintenance payments and the not paying of them. The iPhone, a computer in your pocket, designed by a genius, operating system created by a team of geniuses, filled with semi conductors designed by geniuses, used to record complete fools lighting their own farts or gurning like loons on their drug binged nights out. We have asked for our inevitable extinction. I could see myself quite happily wandering though the twilight years of a doomed planet, as the trees and plants reclaimed the streets. Rummaging through the remains of supermarkets for the last edible packet of twiglets, using only Jeffrey archer and Dan brown novels to heat the fire through winter as I swan around whatever palatial home I have claimed as my own whilst wearing the British Crown at a jaunty angle, prancing about in looted adidas gsg9 boots that I could never justify buying in pre apocalypse Britain…. Bloody hell! I’m really getting into this, I could go on for hours.
This tells me, and you, absolutely nothing about anyone else’s ideas of heaven, hell and happiness but an awful lot about mine and the rather strange workings of my head. Fortunately, I have neither the means, nor the inclination to bring about the decline of civilisation, nor would I do it if I did. I wouldn’t even fill someone’s flat with smoke or their airspace with unwanted music or noise. What does that say about me? What does it say about them? Who knows?