The morning dawned a perfect August day – none too hot, but warm, slightly breezy and with bright sunlight under the ridiculously blue Stockholm sky. And, sitting in the view of an open balcony door with my huge mug of coffee (I ingest the holy-bean beverage in half-liter installments, including loads of full-fat milk), I came to think of how sometimes people do not appreciate moments (or days, or times) of happiness when those happen – and that it is not necessarily due to the lack of such moments. And I came to think of the fact that many people, despite not starving or being abused, and in generally having a decent life, are not happy – simply because they do not know how.
You’d think – “easy for you to say, lazy blogger, I have problems…“, but before you say that, remember that said lazy blogger is also a human being, and, by definition, too, has had problems. In fact, I’ve had scores of them, some brought on by my own stupidity, and some visited upon me by misfortune and other people – in short, I’ve had a normal life, problem-wise speaking. I still have problems, too. What I have also had – and still very much do – is a happy life. And though, like anyone, I’ve had times when I’ve wanted to whine and been miserable, that makes it no less so.
Though, it has taken some effort, and time.
The quest for happiness, for me, started years ago. Like any teenager, I was searching for a place in the world, and it was then that, in my incessant reading, I came across the quote “Two men looked through prison bars – one saw mud, the other saw stars.” I no longer remember where I’d read it, and chances are that it was not even the original author, as a search on the net suggests the author is either unknown or one of a number of 20th century self-help quacks who attribute it to themselves (yeah, right!).
Being teenage and even more impressionable at the time than I am now (hard to imagine I was even more so!), I took the words very much to heart, and have decided that I will not waste my life being unhappy – and to such end, that I will make sure to notice the proverbial stars, and all other beautiful things around me, day in and day out. And I’d promised myself that I will not stop noticing the beauty of everyday things, no matter how dragged-down by aforementioned problems I’ll become.
It hasn’t always been easy keeping that promise (I’m human, remember?), but it has certainly been worth it, for in all the places I’ve lived and all the problems I’d gotten into, I refused to stop seeing the sky, the flowers, to stop enjoying the new and interesting food found there, and to reject the good things about the place (however many or few they have been).
This philosophy has also translated into my love of food, which, considering that my teen years ended in the ’90s – heyday of the starving models – was unintentionally rebellious and against the common trend of problem and difficult relationship with food and weight, and the fact that having an eating disorder was in vogue among the trendier of my classmates.
Along with the refusal to hate my body, food, the universe and everything, I also decided that I will not be afraid to pick myself up and move. Why is this important? Because moving around, in many ways, has made me who I am today. Moving between countries since I was quite young, and between houses and apartments before and after that, and then moving to another continent and then countries on my own has taught me that there was actually no reason to have been afraid – and that there is far more happiness to be had from going to where you want to be, than from staying where you do not wish to stay (and complaining about it).
Another large aspect of learning to be happy was, and is, the willingness to embrace what is simple and silly – the colors I love, squeaking and hopping when I am happy (ok, maybe not in formal settings, but any other time), and not being afraid to ask for what I want (if you don’t ask, you don’t get) if I want something. It may sound silly, or simple – but that is because it is. It is also rather great to feel happier just because there is something purple, or orange, or red (or whatever colors make you happy) around. This led to not being afraid of bright colors – in one of my previous apartments, my bedroom walls were painted a medium purple color just because I liked it that way.
I grow orchids. Not professionally, the way some collectors do, and not any difficult sorts of them – just the regular run-of-the-mill supermarket Phalaenopsis hybrids. Why? Because they are large and showy and beautiful, and because seeing them come into bloom in my own home (rather than buying them that way and then disposing of the plants when the flowers have faded) makes me happy. They aren’t actually difficult to grow – but I think that in a way, they symbolise one of the most important things I’ve learned on the way to being happy: the fact that in order to be happy, one should first learn to not be afraid.
In the case of orchids – one should not be afraid to get one and try to keep it alive. It’s a learning process, but if you don’t try, you’ll never get there. And, to reflect on things I’ve mentioned above – one should not be afraid of surrounding oneself with bright colors. One should not be afraid of moving from where you don’t belong to where you do. One should not be afraid of food, and of other pleasures in life, or of seeking them out. And, most importantly, in order to be happy, I think one should learn to not be afraid to seek and keep happiness in whatever form it comes to you.
In parting, I will share a Jewish joke with you: There was once a good and pious Jew who prayed to God over and over so that he may win the lottery and become rich. And because he was such a good Jew, one day the clouds parted, God looked down at the Jew, and yelled: “Yes, yes, I will let you win the lottery – but do me a favor, and at least go buy a bloody ticket!”
Those who do not seek, will not find. And gods help those who help themselves.