Immediate Happiness With Little to No Effort
August 2, 2013
It takes an awful lot of reframing to recognise that happiness can be gained with very little effort. Being young is being at your most vulnerable. The things you have right now you’ll probably never have again. The question is: do you know how good you have it?
Growing up in England is, as I imagine, the same as growing up anywhere. It’s fraught with distraction, grass is greener like thinking and general cynicism. It’s only until we get older, when we venture away from our childhood lands and return back, that we realise just how happy familiarity can make us.
Home is an intriguing concept. Perhaps it’s not a physical construct but, as Pico Iyer suggests, more a spiritual one. If you’re lucky, and you can find and define a sense of home for yourself, then you’ll see, as I have, just how much revisiting it can bring hope.
This evening I’m reminded of that. As the sun sets and the clouds hang over the Cotswolds, I feel an innate sense of joy at being alive. Grateful to breathe, live and laugh. All in a country that I’ve so often been willing to throw on the scrapheap before.
I’ve cursed and sworn about it more than I can count. I’ve sullied it in fettered conversations with world travellers. I’ve evaded it like a white elephant.
Because of all that I’m undeserving of it. Yet it always welcomes me back. Immediate happiness with little to no effort. Even when you damage and fight it.
Nowadays of course the fight seems to be in full swing. For many it seems almost unfashionable, this notion of clinging to home. Sinful or trite to belong to something you’re rooted to through history and nature.
Given the global access we’re granted, or the education we have that allows us to make something of ourselves wherever we choose in the world, it’s easy to forget home or stop any search for it.
With so much available to us we also tear apart the things from there that steady us. The constants. The friends who always pick up the phone. The family who love us unconditionally.
It’s a bitter irony that we go in search of deeper meaning abroad, when everything that can help deliver a better understanding of ourselves await us in the places we already know. It’s almost as if we’re spoiled by too much shelter. Ruined by comfort and security.
With the next adventure further and further away, we put off the the most rewarding one of all. Thoughts of embracing home and all the fruits it might offer suddenly becomes terrifying. We’re not ready to live the lives of our parents, despite all their successes and joys. And we’re told it’s dangerous to be too comfortable.
Stopping and looking around though? Measuring what you have and what’s available? Sometimes it’s not such a bad activity. The answers often surprise too – if you look past the prejudice and derision that you gather from a miserable job, relationship breakdown or that intangible feeling of emptiness.
Being young I always dreamed of living in more exciting places with different, more fantastical people. Life in England was dull and dreary I thought. Almost like a punishment or a jail sentence, albeit one that had certain comforting delights. Like conkers in autumn or football stickers at the start of every new season.
Unlike most other kids I got to travel a fair bit. I’d seen half the world by the time I reached my teens. Had visions and memories that those who could only live in dream from books and pictures would no doubt have laid down and died for.
In some ways it blighted me. Made me less appreciative of where I came from. I saw what was out there and wanted to keep going. Fearful of missing out on something else, something more.
Home for me was the boring place I grew up. The town and the people. The shopping centre on a Saturday. The ice rink on Sunday. Roller hockey, football and cricket in the school playground. The tough kids you knew about but never talked to. The early jobs that kept you in loose change. Supermarkets. Roads. Railways.
I travelled and saw the same places. Similar infrastructures albeit with a sheen of newness. You wouldn’t know what was around the corner, but you could bet that it was probably another row of shops, restaurants or whatever else all conurbations around the world have. People need the same things after all. As long as you travel the earth that won’t change.
Strangely though those places became, in my mind at least, better than the place I most knew. They lived in my memory as exciting, pulsating hubs of life. Leaving before I could find out otherwise, they stayed entombed in an almost perpetual shining light.
After experiences like those, being homegrown, from the environment you’ve been raised in, is a drag. When you’re young, almost anybody else, and every other place, is an appealing draw to get the hell out of dodge.
On reflection? Hardly a fair assumption.
It takes getting older to better appreciate home. It takes greater honesty and a lessening of the ego. It takes knowing more about yourself. Exploring and discovering that there isn’t much else out there. Only places slightly different.
With age travel begins to matter much less. You crowd into one new environment and it stymies the senses in the short term. Later it wears off and the loneliness worsens. You move again before the solitude becomes too disabling.
Then you eventually come home again after a long exile. You notice things that were there all the while but that you never much cared much for before. You notice how your family and friends age and that you too are also decaying.
Instead of shirking home, now you welcome it with more enthusiasm than ever before. You recognise it as something unique that makes you who you are. That separates you from someone else the next time you wander far again from it.
You realise that there’s greatness at home. And happiness too.
England could be anywhere but birthed I could not. History and time make it part of who I am and myself part of it.
It requires zero effort on my behalf. Asks for nothing.
Just a mere opening of eyes. And now, at an older age, a broader opening of the heart.