I once stole a self-help book

“I just want to be happy”. It’s a pretty familiar sentiment, and one that seems so achievable, so modest. Surely everyone has a right to be happy? There are countless articles, both scholarly and otherwise, tracking the paths to happiness, studies devoted to it, books promising it, inspirational quotes urging towards it. But most of us know that happiness is fleeting, if anything. It’s certainly not a permanent state of being. In fact, it’s probably just about as lofty a goal as one could imagine. But is there any harm in aiming for it?

As it turns out, yes. I once stole a self-help book (the irony is not lost on me) from Berkelouw books in Leichhardt (the shame). It was called The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris, and it encourages the reader to stop struggling towards something that is so difficult to achieve, so elusive and so dependant on external factors (it’s very good – I’ll happily lend it to you if you like). It made me hyper-aware of those that plan to be happy upon the completion of a task, the marrying of a partner, the buying of a house, the changing of a job. Happiness, it seems, is always in the future, always just out of reach.

There’s also a certain serendipity that we humans yearn for. People always want the timing to be right, and for the stars to align, but what if they don’t? It’s a risky business, waiting for the gods, particularly if you don’t believe in them. Mindfulness tells us to live in the present moment, not to be constantly pursuing a state of being that is not here, now. One must be comfortable in their discomfort, which is almost as tricky as it sounds.

Reaching for happiness is costing us our sanity, but what is the alternative? Perhaps it is realising that life is what happens in between, and a contented life involves acknowledging these moments and celebrating them. I believe that you will be happy when you want to be, when you have made a conscious decision to be so.

Claire Wineland is an 18 year old woman from the USA. She has cystic fibrosis, which is a very nasty disease that is always fatal. Her prognosis is never more than five years ahead, and at 18 years old one would assume that that would be a terrible cross to bear. But Claire doesn’t buy that, not for one minute. She refuses to believe that she can only live life if she’s healthy or perfectly content. In fact, she recalls that some of her happiest memories have been when she was causing a ruckus in hospital. Rather than hoping to feel better before she started living, she made the most of her life here and now. I don’t think I have ever been so inspired as when I heard her being interviewed on my favourite podcast. Because sometimes things don’t fall into place, there is no right time. By refusing to wait for life to happen to her, Claire created something that can only be described as extraordinary, and happiness had nothing to do with it.

by Penny

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