Is happiness a state of mind?

You know, one of these days I’m actually going to finish a post when I mean to. Recently I’ve got into the habit of starting posts and not finishing them… I’m not sure why, there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. I just don’t feel like posting them and they get put aside.

I started doing it again with this post; I started writing it on Boxing Day and only got back to it today. I needed a couple of days to clear my mind anyway, so it wasn’t a bad thing… it’s just annoying and feels too much like writer’s block to me. I have enough of that in my life already, thanks.

Anyway, I’ve found myself thinking about happiness a lot lately. What started it was when I had dinner with my parents on Christmas day. A funny thing happened. It was just the three of us as we’re never that fussed about having a big Christmas. A couple of hours before we were going to eat, my mother decided to use the good china and we spent about ten minutes trying to find the good glasses to go with them. I think they must have vanished into the Twilight Zone because we couldn’t find them, so we settled for some champagne glasses instead.

I don’t drink much, so it was just ginger ale and it probably would have been easier to have drunk it out of the bottle. But it seemed like a nice idea, so I went along with it. My mistake. I’m halfway through the meal – a nice salad; we can’t imagine a roast on a hot day – and start to take a sip. Except I can’t. The glass won’t go past my nose.

I’ve never thought of myself as having a particularly large nose, but I must have as I just couldn’t get the glass past it. Maybe my nose was broken when that sandbag hit me ten years ago; maybe I’ve been telling too many lies like Pinocchio. Either way, it wasn’t working and tipping my head back didn’t help. I had a decision to make; either admit defeat (ha!) and get a different glass, or work out some other way.

So very slowly I started to slide down in my chair. I was able to angle the glass more and eventually the drink started to tip out. Of course by this time my parents were in absolute hysterics and I’m busy studying them, trying to work out which was to blame for my humongous nose. Strangely they’re both quite normal. I guess the gene must have skipped a generation. 😕

Later on I thought about it and I realised that, in a strange way, it was a nice experience. I mean, yes, I was being stubborn, but I didn’t feel embarrassed or stupid; I was with family and it’s been a while since we’d laughed like that. Even now when I think about it, it still gives me a happy feeling and that’s something I’ll remember for a long time.

Happiness is a strange thing, isn’t it? It’s something that can feel so different; contentment and peace can give us one kind of happiness, intense joy another. The way we each experience happiness is different, as is what makes us happy. Something I find funny – a show like Seinfeld or Friends – might be annoying to someone else; likewise some of us might go through our lives without showing much emotion, but might still feel peaceful and content. Happiness is so hard to define, but plays such an important part in our lives.

What I’ve been wondering recently is, do I feel happy in my life? Am I a happy person? If I’m being honest then I’d have to say I’m not sure. Most of the time I’m probably not; I like to laugh (and make people laugh) and try not to take things too seriously, but I consider things carefully and that’s my natural response. At the same time I’m not unhappy or sad either. I actually think I’m at peace most of the time. Happiness or sadness is an emotional response for me; I’m neither all the time, I’m just going about my day.

I think a lot of people confuse being “positive” with being “happy”. Being positive is a way of looking at life; being happy is an emotional response which comes from your mindset. You can choose to be positive, but usually something happens that makes you happy. I’ve heard people say they’re positive and so they’re happy, but I’m not so sure. For a lot of people having a positive mindset is a great thing; it lets you look to the future and it’s helped sportspeople and people in everyday life. But I’ve met several people who I’ve thought are so positive that they’re miserable. They work so hard at creating their outlook that they bring everyone down, including themselves; their relations with their families and friends are strained and though they’re positive, they never seem particularly happy… they always want more.

I think having a positive outlook in life is more likely to make us happy, but doesn’t mean we will be happy. And I suppose that’s why I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been reading some articles recently that indicate if you’re happier, you’ll be healthier too. One study found that “happy” subjects were one-third less likely to develop a cold, while another found that people who thought in happier and more positive ways were more likely to increase their longevity by an average of 10 years.

If that’s right then there’s a definite reason to want to be happier. And so maybe I should make more of an effort to be happier and not let things bother me… although again I don’t feel like I’m unhappy or particularly negative. I’m content with who I am and think I’m a fairly realistic person. Plus isn’t the whole idea of what makes us happy all relative? I’m writing a new poem at the moment and like a lot of my poetry, it’s quite melancholic… some people might find it depressing but even though it’s sad, it makes me happy because it’s something I want to write. I think the key to happiness is respecting yourself, and in that way I’m at peace.

I wonder what you think? Does being happy make us healthy? Is happiness a state of mind? I’d be interested to find out, and I wish you all peace and happiness in the new year. 🙂

Are you a child of the 80s?

Are You a Child of the 80s?

I had a post planned for today but I haven’t been able to finish it yet, so I thought I’d post a quick quiz instead. This one caught my eye. I’m definitely a child of the 80s; I love the cheesy movies and the bad fashion, U2, INXS and the power ballads, and I’m just old enough to remember Full House when it started (unfortunately).

My result surprised me a bit, though; I knew I’d do well but I know more about the 80s than I actually remember. But I’ve got pictures of my mother with shoulder pads, watching Top Gun always makes me want to be a fighter pilot, I loved ET, we had one of the early VCRs in Aus, and Thriller was cool! Not to mention I know all the words to Sweet Child O’Mine, and there’s a little film called The Empire Strikes Back I like. 😉

I think I’m out of my time. I’m trying to bring the mullet back, but it’s not working… what about you? Are you an 80s tragic or was your experience totally bogus? 🙂

2000 Miles

Do you have a favourite seasonal song? If I had a favourite one it would be The Pretenders’ 2000 Miles; it’s such a beautiful, sad song… whenever I hear it it takes me somewhere far away. 2000 Miles and Joni Mitchell’s River are two songs I can listen to at any time of the year and still get shivers.

I found this video on YouTube and it’s a wonderful live performance… Chrissie Hynde has never sounded better. I could listen to her voice for hours.

I still can’t believe it’s almost Christmas. The years just go by more quickly. I don’t think I’ve felt the spirit as much this year, though. Maybe I’ve just been too busy, and I still haven’t finished all my shopping yet! But listening to a song like this brings it all back.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone, and my best wishes for a peaceful New Year.

Forever Young

I came across this photo on Stock.Xchang earlier and fell in love with it. I love how the tree spreads to fill the image and is framed against the ocean’s glare, how the ocean blends into the sky. The empty bench seems almost sad as well, like there’s no one there to appreciate the beauty… I’m a bit of an amateur photographer and it makes me feel jealous!

What it reminds me of more than anything is summer. It just feels bright and summery. I like the summer months. Well, I don’t enjoy the heat; sometimes it tops 40° C in Sydney and not many people enjoy that. But I like the feeling that comes with summer, the extra light and warmth wiping away the last cobwebs of winter. I love the fresh smell in the air; the lazy days running into one another; sitting under a tree, watching the people go by.

Whenever I think of summer it brings back my adolescence. Some of my fondest memories come from the summer months, on days just like the one in the photo. Playing cricket with my father in the school nets; watching the tennis on TV and playing on the weekends under the hot sun. Listening to Rob Thomas’s and Santana’s Smooth. Drinking a half-melted Calippo, biting into a juicy peach… walks along the beach, the sun gleaming off the ocean.

I cherish those memories but thinking about them also makes me feel sad in a way. I’m at the age where I’m accepting more responsibility and control in my life, but the trade-off is that those days are behind me. I’m happy with who I am but sometimes I miss that feeling. Not wanting to see the world through younger eyes, but to be more carefree and not let things get to me so much. In some ways I wish I could stay forever young.

I love Alphaville’s Forever Young. It was released the year I was born and it’s such a haunting song. There are a couple of lines I’ve always related to.

Some are like water, some are like the heat
Some are a melody and some are the beat
Sooner or later they all will be gone
Why don’t they stay young?

I’ve always thought the lyrics aren’t just about staying young and growing older but also about beauty…. I’ve noticed recently that I don’t look at the world in the same way as I did before. That’s not necessarily bad, but what I used to stop and notice around me now I don’t notice as often. My life has more priorities; I have less time to sit and watch the world go by. I find that sad… if I can’t find time to appreciate beauty, what’s the point of all the rest?

People say that you’re only as old as you feel inside and I know what they mean… I think for as long as I live my heart will remember how I felt during those golden summers and I’ll never lose it. But there is a danger in that as well. It’s simple to value the past so much that we become lost in it; that we’d want to spend more time with our memories and watching old TV series than experiencing the present. That’s something I never want to do; I value life and my journey too much for that. What I think staying forever young really means is holding onto the joys of our life as we move forward; if we can do that, then we are never old. And if our memory lives on, we never die.

The photo reminded me of that, the empty bench looking out at the ocean… and it reminded me again that I need to take more time to look at the world around me, its beauty. As a writer I’ve been looking at the world in terms of people, but that’s only a small part of life.

Strange how something as simple as a photo could touch me so much. But then beauty comes in all forms; it’s our job to recognise it. And I was lucky enough to this time.

Courage and courtesy

I’ve had a couple of strange experiences this week. Nothing that would make you wonder if it’s a full moon or something, but strange enough that they’ve stood out. They’re actually related and that’s part of what I find strange.

The first thing happened when I was finishing the last of my Christmas shopping a couple of days ago. I decided I’d get the bus back as it was late and I had a few things to carry. It was fairly busy and a mother and her baby sat in front of me. The baby seemed fascinated by my appearance. Maybe it’s the beard or maybe he thought I was particularly ugly but he just stared at me the whole time. Have you ever had a kid just stare at you? It’s freaky. I didn’t know where to look, so I looked out the window and every now and then glanced back. He didn’t move. I swear this kid could break someone in Guantánamo.

Anyway, after about ten minutes they started to get off, her balancing several bags and the kid in one arm and trying to pick up the stroller with her other hand. I got up and offered to carry the stroller down for her; she looked stunned that I’d offer. So I carried it down and she thanked me, but still seemed surprised that I’d want to help. I didn’t say anything but as I returned to my seat, I couldn’t help but wonder why she thought it strange that I’d help. Was it something about me that made her think I wasn’t the kind of person who’d notice she needed help? Or was she just surprised that anyone would help? I suppose I’ll never know, but no one else moved, not even the driver… I found that very strange. There were at least thirty other people on the bus and twenty near where she was sitting. Are we really so involved in our own worlds that we wouldn’t think to help a mother who obviously needed it? Or did they all think that someone else would do it? I don’t know which is worse.

The second thing happened a day later. I was out again and on my way to browse in a couple of bookshops to kill some time. A woman and I both reached the escalator at the same time; I had a little more room and probably could have gone first, but I stepped back and let her go. She looked at me with that same look on her face: half-bewilderment, half-smile, like I’d just done something very unexpected. Maybe I had but it’s actually something I do a lot, for men and women. It’s partly because I try to be polite but also because I don’t like getting bumped on the escalators; I’ve lost my balance several times when somebody’s brushed past me, so I find it easier just to let them go first.

It was only a small thing, but again it struck me as strange. Is it really so unusual that someone would do that? Are we so used to forming long queues and yelling at each other on the roads that when someone gives way, it feels unexpected?

Truthfully I wouldn’t have thought much of it, except that two similar things had happened in as many days and now it’s got inside my head. I don’t believe in coincidences and it’s made me wonder if courtesy is slowly dying. Well, not wonder; I know it is. There’s no doubt that people aren’t as polite to each other and when they are, it often feels fake. No doubt that people speak to each other more harshly and are always in a hurry; no doubt that we spend a lot of our time listening to music inside our heads, unaware of what’s going on around us… I just hadn’t realised that it had come so far as to seem strange when someone actually did a kind act. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?

What it’s made me think about as well is courage. I’ve said before that I think it’s much harder to do the right thing, to make a right decision, than it is to do the wrong thing or make a wrong decision. There are many different ways of approaching something; there might be many favourable outcomes, but I would say there are many more unfavourable ones because there are so many obstacles that can get in our way. Sometimes you need to back yourself and go ahead no matter what people say, or do something you know is right when everyone disagrees.

I’m not going to say that anything I did was courageous, but I think you need a bit of courage to perform a kind act. You need not to be afraid that you’ll make a fool out of yourself (always possible) and to believe that you can help. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and do what has to be done. And sometimes you need to stand up for what you believe in even when it might seem better to stay quiet. How many disadvantaged people have been helped because someone took the time to listen? How many small acts of kindness have changed lives because someone had the courage to say “I want to help”? More than we’ll ever know.

Maybe I’m making a big deal out of two small experiences, but I find it very sad to think that common courtesy is becoming a thing of the past. This isn’t me lamenting the death of society or how inconsiderate people my age are; if anything I think the opposite. I just think that the way we deal with each other says so much for who we are, for who I am as a person. I can go round listening to my iPod quite comfortably and not notice anything outside of it; I bristle when someone says something harsh to me like anyone else, and I can just as easily say something harsh back. Sometimes that’s entirely appropriate. But the way I behave affects other people too; carrying a stroller or letting someone go first is such a small thing, but can make such a difference. Both those women were surprised but pleased; my doing one nice thing for them gave them a good feeling. It would have been easy for me to do neither, and it wouldn’t necessarily have been wrong, but I think the world would be a much colder and sadder place to live in without those small acts of kindness. So I help where I can.

With Christmas so near it’s simple to get caught up in the frenzy and forget about the impact we can have on other people, so I think it’s important that we make the effort to be polite and helpful if we can. It’s not easy with all the noise and music and people, but a kind word or gesture can make all the difference in someone’s day. So my resolution from now until Christmas (and beyond!) is to try and do something nice for someone each day. A stranger, a friend, whoever, I want to show that courtesy isn’t completely dead. Anyone want to join me? 😉