One of the ebooks on my iPad waiting to be read is a book called Learning Happiness as a Second Language by Valerie Alexander.
I came across the book on the author’s blog Speak Happiness (which goes to show that having a blog can sell books. Maybe I just need to try harder).
The blog is one of my favourites (I recently nominated it in my Liebster Blogger Award) because Happiness is so vital, yet so elusive. It is also one of the more challenging blogs for me to read.
Something holds me back from happiness and I don’t understand why. It stems from this fear that, if I’m happy, bad things will happen. As a result whenever I come across a great blog like Speak Happiness I feel resistance.
While walking the dog recently, after reading a post on Valerie’s blog, I randomly asked myself a series of questions, to try and understand my resistance.
“Am I happier when the kids are happy?”
“Am I calmer when hubbie is happy?”
“Do I feel more in control when I’m happy?”
“Do I want the kids to learn how to be happy, to make friends and be popular in a good way?”
“Do I want their glass to be half full and to always see the positive?”
I answered yes to all the questions in my mind. Then I asked the final question:
“Am I prepared to change, throw off the shackles of my genes and my upbringing, and learn Happiness?”
The answer, of course, is yes. And still… There’s a part of me that welcomes sadness. That sees it as a comfortable place where there are no expectations of me. I remember a boyfriend who used to say “Smile, you boring old scrote.” All. The. Time. I still hear it in my head now, twenty years later. I can’t think of anything less likely to make me smile. Yet I felt there was something inherently wrong with me because I wasn’t smiling. I was 16. Happiness is not a natural state at 16.
Now, as an adult, it’s as if I’ve decided being miserable, guilty, sorry, negative is my prerogative and I’ll damn well do it if I want to. Sometimes, of course, it’s enhanced by a dip towards depression. Lowness that I can’t shift. But the danger is it becomes a habit. Something I get away with. No one tells me to Pull it Together because they know I battle depression.
Maybe sometimes they should. Or I should.
So I want to try. I want to learn happiness as a second language – for the same reason I’d like to learn Italian. For my kids, for me. Maybe what’s holding me back is the fear I will disappear. If I learn Italian I’ll be another voice in the crowd. I’ll be expected to join in, I won’t be different, I’ll have to make an effort. If I learn to be happy no one will notice me anymore. After all, sympathy is attention. If I have nothing to moan about will I have nothing to say?
All these things hold me back. Still, now I have the iPad I at least no longer have an excuse not to read the book. I started it this week and was hooked by the first chapter. By the concept, even, that happiness can be learned, has to be learned, rather than being a natural state. As Valerie explains on her blog (and in her book):
If you did not grow up speaking Greek, you wouldn’t expect to leave home and instantly be fluent in it, so why is it that we expect to suddenly be “fluent” in Happiness if Happiness wasn’t spoken in our homes?
Wise words. And hopeful ones. Maybe it isn’t too late for me to learn.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
“Louth: Capital of the Lincolnshire Wolds.”
Claire read the sign signalling her entry to the town. What is a wold? Whatever it is, it doesn’t look like there’ll be a Starbucks.
Even though she had grown up in the area, or maybe because of it, Claire couldn’t imagine there being anything impressive in Lincolnshire, apart from maybe the cathedral at Lincoln. And it’s raining too much for me to think about driving that far.
When Claire had looked out the window after a night of uninterrupted sleep, it was to see heavy rain clouds and deep puddles. Her plan to visit the Cathedral had been driven away by a strong need for caffeine. A glance at the map revealed Louth as the nearest town and she’d set off without checking what she would find when she got there.
Claire drove down the main street, reading the names of the shops through the rain being pushed slowly away by weary wipers. Luck of Louth, Dragonfly Kitchen, Madhatter’s Tearoom. Where am I, for goodness sake? I feel like Alice in bloody Wonderland. Maybe this was a bad idea.
She came to a small square, hemmed in by charity shops and a large Greggs. Great, I can have a soggy pie or buy some paperback books. I want coffee! Reluctantly, Claire parked the car and shrugged on her raincoat. There must be a coffee shop somewhere. I couldn’t move for them in Stamford and it was no bigger than here.
Not wanting to wander aimlessly in the rain, Claire ducked into the nearest charity shop to ask for directions. She shook the rain from her hood and threaded her way through racks of clothes and books until she located the counter. A lady of indeterminable age was serving a customer with a plastic hood over blue-rinse curls. Claire waited impatiently, dripping rain onto the clean floor.
Eventually the women ceased their chatter and, with many cheery farewells, the customer left.
“Excuse me, is there a café near here, please?”
The lady looked at Claire in surprise, as if she hadn’t noticed her waiting by the counter.
“I’m sorry, dear?” She spoke in the loud tones of the deaf, even though she had been conversing normally with the previous customer.
“Is there a café?” Claire decided two could play at that game, and enunciated her words slowly and loudly.
“Of course, dear. Tina and Lynne’s is just round the corner. They do lovely tea.” She rambled on about the quality of the home-made tiffin, while Claire resisted the urge to say it was coffee she was after and it was far too early for cake.
Gradually retreating backwards towards the door, with a smile fixed on her face, Claire managed to escape the lady’s chatter. She raised her hand and a muttered a quick goodbye, then ducked out into the street, not caring about the rain or where the coffee shop was.
Sod this, I might as well drive to Lincoln. At least it’s on the way to the next hostel. Bugger the rain, I need to be in a city and soon, before I’m stuck in Wonderland forever.