I was lucky enough to visit Burma recently – a dream of mine for some years – and in superb clichéd fashion, my friend and I met a young Buddhist monk out taking his morning stroll on the U Bein Bridge, just outside Mandalay.
I confessed to the monk – I am wont to confess whenever I see robes – that I loved taking photographs of monks and my friend, who is a bit more sensitive, asked the monk if monks like that kind of thing. “Of course,” the monk replied, a serene sweetness spreading across his face. “We like people to come and see us. Our Lord Buddha taught us to lead by example, to show people the peace we have attained.” (That is not a direct quote, but it is pretty much what the monk said and, at 30-years-old, he did seem to be radiating an awful lot of peace)
That got me thinking, of course, about happiness. I consider myself happy. Daily happiness may go up and down, but I am convinced my overall happiness is based on two things; a constant awareness of my privilege – compounded by travel and journalism – and the meaning that I have in my life, which I get through writing. Even if you aren’t privileged (or you are, but you are unaware of it) I am convinced that all you really need to be happy is to find meaning in your life – be it work, volunteering, family or spending your days categorising the planet’s many varieties of earthworm. Whatever. If it gives your life meaning, I am convinced it will make you happy.
(By the way, I am very aware of – and wonder if you guys have noticed – the cyclical pattern in my blogs. In January, I have writers’ block. Spring I devote to happiness and what must be achieved in the year ahead. Summer I devote to dating and general mischief. Autumn is a whirl of life-changing panic before I finally give in to the arrival of December and become even more panicky and party a lot. Nothing like being predictable)
Anyway, back to happiness. I am really quite cocky about it. When people ask me how I find the time and energy to write my random unpaid nonsense, I reply that it makes me happy. If pushed, I will give a short sermon on the importance of meaning in life and, if listened to any longer, I start rabbiting about Viktor Frankl and concentration camps and really, there is just no need. Surely the whole “find something that matters to you” advice is a bit bloody obvious, isn’t it?
That is how I justify to myself that I probably do over-work a little though, especially when it comes to my babies, this blog included, so I was horrified recently when everything I thought I knew started to unravel and naturally it all began with a chance comment made by a Colombian I was dating.
“You know Vicki,” he said, ready to break every dating code that has ever been written. “I think you need to love yourself a bit more.” Seriously. Horrific. When dating someone you are supposed to compliment them on their hair and clothes, have gentle discussions about their family, argue politely over their politics and conceal every fear and weirdism you possess for as long as humanly possible. You are never supposed to venture into psychology. Gah! What was he thinking?
It turns out that following some, apparently careful, observation he has come to the conclusion that everything about me – from my conformist, people-pleasing friendliness to my anxiety-ridden work ethic has absolutely nothing to do with the pursuit of happiness, as I had imagined (plus a dollop of good manners and fondness for harmony) and everything to do with some sort of desperate “love me, love me” plea that I hammer relentlessly into my keyboard. I mean the very idea that someone would write a blog about their fears, hang-ups and failings so other people would like them is preposterous… right?
Of course I immediately decided there was no way I could continue to date such a person (there is that terrible violation of the dating code, for a start) which he also seemed to anticipate because he laughed, shook his head and said: “You will have to take the risk one day, you know.” (I do not make these people up. If I did they would quote Lochinvar and bake cakes. They would not say things like “you need to love yourself a bit more,” which everyone knows is a tired old cliché and has never had any truth in it, for any person, ever)
To test this theory I sent an email to a friend, mentioning only that I was struggling with jet lag, desperately editing my ‘to do’ list and that I needed a hug. She replied as follows: “I know you love to please people and you take on a lot but maybe this shouldn’t be a year of achieving stuff, but just a year for you. Maybe you should have a year without huge projects and just do what the rest of us do – sit around and moan a lot.”
So now I am kind of stuck. Not only have my treasured projects suddenly gone from being the very things that make me happy to some sort of madness I create to validate myself, I also have to figure out a way to love myself more (it’s not like I suffer from self-loathing. I mean, I have always considered my relationship with myself to be, well, fairly amiable) How do you even do that? I already buy myself chocolate. Am I supposed to be sending myself song lyrics and smileys? Am I supposed to offer myself my unswerving public loyalty coupled with gentle private counsel and all those other bits of strategic diplomacy that true love entails? Can’t I just bash away at the keyboard in peace and long for the summer, when it will be time for dating and mischief again?
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.