Recently I have been thinking a lot about the universal drive to find happiness. There are happiness tests for kids, happiness scores for whole countries and in any self-help section of the book store you will see a whole shelf of various guides to happiness. We are becoming a little obsessed.
It was only when I read ‘The Antidote – happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking’ by Oliver Burkeman that I considered that perhaps we should not be looking for happiness, but rather contentment? Happiness, like sadness, is an extreme in the spectrum of emotions. It is something that we pass through, and it can often be triggered by external factors over which we have no control. Is it natural, or even possible to be in a state of happiness all the time?
For the first time in about 15 years I am in a place of contentment with my work. I enjoy what I do, it challenges me each day, and I get to mix with a lot of intelligent and friendly people. I don’t bound out of bed each morning with joy in my heart and a song on my tongue, but I don’t dread the alarm and prey for traffic congestion on my way in either. I am content, and I have to admit, I like it.
So I decided that contentedness is something we could strive for instead of happiness. Having reached this conclusion I thought my pondering could come to an end and I could move onto the next big question in life… Until Monday.
Sunday night for me is usually mellow-out time, but last Sunday I wrote a flash fiction story from start to end. I went straight into editing it, and by bed-time I was pretty pleased with what I had produced.
Then Monday morning came. I was doing the same work, with the same people, but I was restless. Really restless. Achingly restless. Each time I walked between meetings, or as I watched my lunch spinning around the microwave, all I could think of was that I’d rather be writing.
I really like my job, I do, but I think that drive for happiness is what makes me sit down, turn the computer on and write. Writing does make me happy, even if only fleetingly, but it is a wonderful feeling that you can get addicted to.
I know several writers now who have ‘made it’ and were able to give away their day jobs. I’m under no illusions that these writers are happy all the time, or even any happier on average than I am now, but I’m sure they get those moments of happiness when a cool idea hits them, or they write those magical two words ‘The End’ –and I would like to feel that more often.
So really, what’s the harm in chasing happiness as well as contentment? I think I’ll try for both!