Powered by LiveJournal.com
The Happiness Project
I'm interested in happiness.
I mean, everyone is, I guess. But I've been reading discussions like this
, and this
, and this
. And I was thinking about the cheese and pickled onion sandwich.
The thing about the cheese and pickled onion sandwich is this: provided it is the right
cheese and pickled onion sandwich (that is to say one with crispy white bread, big, sour pickled onions, and cheese sufficiently mature enough to come to well-reasoned, sensible decisions about its own tragically brief life), it's a surprisingly good medication. It makes life seem that little bit better. It promotes a feeling of warm comfortableness, of everything being basically OK. I guess this must stem from eating a lot of them at a comfortable, optimistic part of my life (probably when I was in 6th form?). There is a sort of contagiousness to happiness, whether it exists in ones own past or in other people's stories.
I was also thinking about websites
which focus on only good news
. I have sought them out in the past for the purposes of cheering people up, but they tend to be a bit, well,"8-year-old boy, who is currently losing his battle with an excruciating, disfiguring form of cancer, goes to Disneyland!",
or"Crippling recession slightly less bad than thought!",
or"Study shows survivors of genocide still able to laugh from time to time!",
which tends to leave me feeling a bit depressed, all things considered, and in possible need of a cheering sandwich.
So here's an experiment. Tell me about a time when you were happy. Fiercely, wonderingly, comfortably, paradoxically, disgustingly or miraculously happy. In awe of the awesomeness of the world, or in spite of its incredible suckage. About knowing that life was basically OK, and that the bad stuff didn't matter, and that there were good times still to come. About being secure and loved and welcome. Whatever happens to float your boat. I thought about applying some rules, to stop the risk of it getting all my heart swelled with the fierce joy of revenge as my hands finally closed around my enemy's throat
, but on reflection that's part of the whole glorious messy mix, too.
NOTE: this is a public post. However, anonymous (or anonymised) comments are perfectly welcome (like postsecret
, but with less pictures and more happy, as it were).
 "A vote for me is a vote in favour of happiness, kittens and lining up to punch immigrants in the face", as some of our political worthies might opine.
 Happy from a great height, even.
|Date:||May 5th, 2010 10:28 am (UTC)|| |
Walking the Roman Road a couple of weeks back. Glorious sunshine, a long walk, the good company of someone I love who also loves the outdoors, birds and bees and butterflies and flowers, and *maps* and gadgets, and a lovely picnic lunch in the shade. Absolutely brilliant!
I have the same problem with Daily Good News Type sites! They are a bit cheerful in miniature but really reinforce how HORRIBLE AND AWFUL the grand scheme of things is.
This is more complicated than I thought! I'm trying to figure out if there is a distinction between "being happy" and "having a good time", which probably means I'm over-thinking it.
I'm quite a grumpy person by nature, so I tend to find that I'm happy in spite the the incredible suckage of the world, and there's probably a bit of "I don't want to be happy, I want to be in picturesque melancholy!" about my attitude, I'm afraid. That said, I'm pretty often surprised by joy (ty, C. S. Lewis), and i think I get happy moments a lot. They often seem to involve plants/nature somehow. For example, I strongly remember lying in our garden in Denmark the summer I was 15 and having a strong, powerful feeling of serenity infused with thoughts about the interconnectedness of everything. It probably wasn't that profound but it *felt* profound, and I'm sure it was a huge influence on the development of my pagan identity.
I get little bits of that feeling very often. I've been positively thrilled lately when I've gone and looked at all the blossom in our garden, particularly on the little baby trees which are just beginning their life, as it were.
Being horribly soppy, the most common feelings of intense happiness/joy/relief are usually when I hug alextiefling
, particularly when one or both of us is feeling tired, ill or otherwise upset. I am always surprised at how powerfully soothing that feeling is (we both talk about it a lot, but that doesn't seem t alter it much). As a cynical romantic, I probably oughtn't to be too surprised at how big the impact of love is, but I still am, a little bit. Maybe it's hard to believe in good fortune? At any rate, I definitely see that as the most intense and consistent form of happiness I experience.
Oh, and animals. I get intense squeeful moments when I see or think about lots of different animals. Seeing a bee can cause me to behave just like an enthusiastic toddler, for example, and well, if pigs are involved then I'm on cloud 9!
Yes, I get the animals thing (I think). Some of it for me I think is beauty and variety, and some of it is uncomplicatedness; a sense that nature doesn't particularly care whether or not I exist, has no secrets it cares to hide or ulterior motives, it just is.
Yes, this, though for me it tends to be looking at trees or the sea or mountains rather than animals.
Specific memory: last year, in the middle of a rather horrible lot of stress about deadlines and procrastination, standing looking at the blue sky through the new green leaves, feeling the sun on my face and knowing that none of it really *mattered*.
In Generation X there are stories that people tell to help them remember earth clearly, not necessarily happy, but when I was a teen, this memory was one I thought might help me remember earth clearly. I can't remember it as well as I could then, but I'll try anyway..
I was 15 and at a Venture Scout and Ranger Guide camp in Essex. I had woken up early that morning, in an orange tent, which I had borrowed. It was glowing brightly as the sun was shining brightly outside, and I couldn't sleep any longer. Outside was quiet, so I presumed everyone else was still asleep. I think I may have been experiencing my first slight hangover, but I no longer can be sure of that. That camp was definitely the first time I had drunk alcohol though. Anyway, I laid there, in my tent, basking in the orange glow, and listened to a Radiohead cassette tape that I was lent the day before, on my walkman. I remembered the night before, how everyone seemed so happy then, and we walked up a hill, everyone stumbling, a bit tipsy, and being surprisingly nice to each other, and we looked out over the bright lights of Enfield.
This was half my life time ago now, and it doesn't sound particularly happy or even that memorable now, but I woke up that morning, and felt happy. I wasn't happy very often back then. Maybe the alcohol had partially lifted my depression, but maybe I just realised that my life would change and I wouldn't be stuck in the village forever, and that there would be more bright city lights to look at late at night, with friends, and I would escape, eventually.
|Date:||May 5th, 2010 11:21 am (UTC)|| |
I have shoes with cats on (these
) and every time I look down they make me happy.
Another specific memory: January 1998, when I lived at the top of a tower in Gonville & Caius College. I was very, very busy that year in all kinds of ways (umpiring the Assassins' Guild, singing as much G&S as I could get my hands on and anything else that came up, being in the third year of a degree course, Sheila and her Dog and so forth). But I remember that day as being rather lazy, in a slightly ritualised way. I read fiction (I was in the habit of regularly re-reading The Lord of the Rings at the time). I sat at my window and watched the glorious pale-gold sun of winter stream over central Cambridge. I'd just discovered Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, and I was listening to it on repeat, lying back on my bed in an island of calm sunlight and thinking yes, there is beauty in the world.
|Date:||May 5th, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)|| |
Fantasia is about the most beautiful thing ever!
|Date:||May 5th, 2010 12:24 pm (UTC)|| |
I went to summer camp as a kid; not something that exists out here, really, though from what I've gathered most Brits know the gist of it. The camp I went to was called Eagle's Nest, and it was way up in the Pisgah Forest, in the Appalacian Mountains. One day we were taken on a random hike; I'm sure I could wander the Pisgah Forest for years and not find the spot we ended up in. After a while we were let loose to run around (within reason) and explore. I found myself walking up a hill covered in small, small trees, I could've wrapped my hands around the trunks, possibly even just one hand. Very thin tall trees, but lovely, with a canopy of leaves above our heads so you couldn't see sky, just patches of light. I walked up the hill amongst them and then suddenly, I was at the top, my hand was above the canopy, I was standing on the hill and looking over the treetops. A sea of treetops, as though I were somehow hovering above the whole forest; nothing but treetops for miles, and me miraculously above them, but my feet were still on the ground too.
There's an animated movie version of the Hobbit which I grew up knowing and loving (Chris couldn't sit through it, sigh, and its flaws are many I suppose, but I love it, I've always known it and it was my first introduction to Tolkien). There's a moment where, after ages of wandering lost through Mirkwood, the dwarves send Bilbo to climb a tree and see if he can get their bearings. After wandering in the dark and in fear, he suddenly breaks through into sunlight and an unexpected moment of wonder that's so great it feels closer to grief, because it's changed him forever. It felt like that. (if you want you can see it here at about 2:10-3:10, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9uaOqLHR9c&feature=related
...actually that's less happy and more profound. I'll come back later with a happy one. This memory is at the core of me though, and is made of joy. =)
|Date:||May 5th, 2010 12:32 pm (UTC)|| |
Actually, here's another one. Chris and I had only been dating for a month or a bit more, and I was both smitten as all heck and somewhat wary because what in the hell did I know about dating or anything. It was late at night and we were waiting for my train and killing time in a rather loud bar, because it was warmer in there and we were thirsty. Couldn't hear a thing over the music. Chris was a little tipsy and I was glad to be off my feet and we were just moving from the painfully shy and awkward stage to being more comfortable with each other.
He started finger breakdancing to the music. I don't really know how to describe this; he pretended his fingers were breakdancing. It was incredibly silly. I hadn't known until that point that he could be silly, and my own tendency towards the absurd and whimsical was something I'd been trained over the years to hide during affairs of the heart (it could be shared with friends, but clearly was not compatible with romance). And this was the most amazing revelation, that love could be silly, that it didn't have to be True and Eternal and Serious and all that other stuff, that instead it could be fun.
Best epiphany ever. =)
Oh hell yes. ghost_of_a_flea
and I are madly, outrageously, insanely silly together, and it is pure bliss. I never used to think that romance could be prancing about wearing nothing but a silly hat. That hat has meaning
, I tell you. It's a very cheap version of one of those hats with earflaps (we later saw it being sold in Edinburgh Bargain Stores for £2.99) which a relative had given him for Christmas. He refused to try it on until I said, "I'm not looking at you until you put on the hat," at which point he came into the room wearing the hat and the most hunted expression I've ever seen. It was ghastly on him. However, we discovered that it's rather cute on me, and it turned into a running joke. If he needs cheering up, I'll put on The Hat and do a little dance. (I can't dance to save my life, I just stand there and wiggle, really.)
I don't know if I'm thinking of the right sort of things but I can think of a few moments which have been made of nothing other than glee, about where I am and who I'm with and what we're doing, usually when I'm doing something that I know if I wrote it down would sound like a very strange thing to be doing. One was on a diving holiday in the Isles of Scilly last year. It was such a beautiful place generally, with masses of flowers and unusual succulents everywhere, and even more beautiful underwater, with walls covered in crazy neon jewel anenomes and seals coming and biting your fins. There is also basically no crime there; no-one uses bike locks, for example, because if you leave your bike somewhere, when you come back it will still be there. We'd got up and made our way to the boats for a morning dive and I realised I'd left my dive computer back at the house, which was about ten minutes' walk away, although longer in a drysuit, which tends to restrict your mobility a bit. Someone else on the trip had hired a bike, and said I could borrow it to make things quicker. So I cycled down to the house and back, wearing a drysuit, grinning at everyone I passed, because it was such a stupid thing to be doing but such a good reason to be doing it and such a nice place to be doing it in.
|Date:||May 5th, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC)|| |
Last November, after a good meal in a nice pub, looking at the lights.
Walking in the Jerusalem forest with my family as a child. Sunshine and wildflowers and the warm smell of pines. It's still one of the most beautiful places I've been to.
Playing piano duets with my best friend all the time as a teenager, bashing hell out of Beethoven and Schubert and getting far too many notes wrong but having the time of our lives. We used to attempt the finale of Don Giovanni
together, me playing the piano and singing Elvira, him singing the Commendatore, and throwing the other parts back and forth as needed, which is amazing, hectic fun.
Going to North Berwick for a week in October with ghost_of_a_flea
, the first romantic holiday either of us has ever been on. (For context, I'm severely disabled with ME and rarely manage to get out of my flat, so just getting close to a tree feels like a miracle for me.) The weather was unexpectedly glorious, I got out of our rented flat every day. Most days we'd manage a walk along the beach (which was practically on the doorstep), and one day I even got as far as a bit where we ended up climbing over rocks and I probably squished several unfortunate molluscs. Even when I was tired, I'd sometimes just go and cross the road and stand and look at the sea in the evenings, when it was dark and you could hardly see a thing and suddenly the rushing of the water was so much louder. We got through books and played board games and watched Farscape (which is wonderfully daft) and snuggled. I'd brought some quilting with me and had a design wall to pin the blocks to for the first time in my life, because the little hallway between the bedroom and the living room was covered with cork on one side. I still remember that holiday when I look at the quilts made from those blocks.
And you know, I'd say I'm generally pretty happy. Sometimes stressed to pieces, but overall, happy. I have a fabulous partner, and wake up every morning with an absurd grin on my face while we snuggle before he goes to work. I've discovered quilting, which is a source of pure joy to me, and get to listen to wonderful audiobooks while I'm sewing.
I asked her if going to an all-night Japanese movie marathon was a stupid thing to do after an art gallery and a three-hour opera.
She said Sounds like a challenge to me.
Good grief, those "happy news" websites you linked to are seriously depressing! The best I can think of is finding one of the BBC's cute animal videos
and then following links to more and yet more of them. They're addictive, be warned.
Bonus points for the Stoppard reference, I did like that.
|Date:||May 5th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)|| |
drunken moonlight on the Verde
I was fifteen, on a spring break trip with a bunch of students from my private high school, led by one of the art teachers. We went to Arizona and camped out in the most beautiful places he could find. We spend a few days camped on the beach of the Verde River, across from the hot springs. Crossing the river to the springs involved very cold water, sharp rocks underfoot, and fast currents; the springs were worth it, though. After crossing the river you had to hike up an incline to a cliff where the hottest pool was inside a concrete shelter with psychedelic paintings all over the inside and the slightly less hot pool was outside, lined with rough rocks. The rowdy boys with my group would soak in the outside pool until they were sweating, then jump off the cliff into the cold river, swim to the base of the incline, and come back to repeat the cycle. I didn't partake of that sport myself but it was amusing to watch.
One night, when the rest of my group was exhausted from horseplay on the river and didn't want to face the sharp rocks and fast current to get to the springs, some nearby campers offered me a ride across on their rubber raft, and a share of their bottle of Southern Comfort. Without my classmates and teacher as witnesses, I felt comfortable stripping naked for the spring as the people around me were doing. We soaked and drank in the moonlight until a few hours before dawn, then they gave me a ride on their raft back to the beach. I staggered up the beach feeling ecstatic. Every stone in the moonlight, every weed, every tree, sang to me in shades of light. I was happier then than I had ever been before and happier than I have ever been since.
Years later I realized that Very Bad Things could have happened to me that night. I am grateful that they didn't, grateful that those generous people weren't predators -- I would encounter some of those when I was a little older.
I was lucky. That night was a gift.
I am rarely swept away by happiness, because my brain keeps watching the world and carping at things, but...
On Saturday, I was walking in Norfolk, along the road from Great walsingham to Binham Priory. There was no traffic, gently rolling countryside, and the sound of a multitude of songbirds. It could have been a summer afternoon in 1910 as easily as 2010. There wasn't a sound out of place. I had the glorious feeling of existing entirely myself, in the moment, and aware of the extraordinary pleasure opf being in this place at this time. Despite the birdsong, is made me think of A Book of Silence
. Part of me wanted to have someone with me to turn to and say "Isn't this wonderful?", but a larger part revelled in being absolutely alone under the sky.
Driving up Mount Washington on our honeymoon into a miraculously clear sky, feeling like I could see forever in that beautiful sunlight.
Many years before, rowing with sundry family members over Höytiäinen from Kontiolahti back to the jetty at the family summer place.
Dancing to the Planet Wilson at the Adelphi Club.
Other occasions will no doubt come to mind next time I think of this :)
|Date:||May 5th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)|| |
Rolling on the grass in the sunshine the other weekend, listening to the birds sing, smelling the earth and the grass, the sky blue, the sun shining and all was right with the world.
As a child going for walks with my dog. Teaching him to play 'fetch' and other tricks.
Painting a picture.
Being Totally and utterly IN the moment, with no space for outside thoughts or angst, utterly involved in a calm perfection of doing.
Climbing over gates as a student or climbing trees, because we could.
Dancing in a forest full of music and strangers under a full moon, nobody watching, no body caring, completely free to enjoy the moment. Carefree.
Watching a bird I looked after whilst wounded fly away.
Galloping over Exmoor on Ren, her leaping a black peat path as if it were a ditch, tail in the air, wind streaming past us both.
The first time Oli touched my face, exploring, lovingly, that tingling sensation.
Singing with others.
Playing Beethoven, with the doors and windows open on a balmy day in the countryside.
Cuddling up in bed in winter with my dog by my side and my cat at my head, keeping each other warm.
Lying on the ground in the south of france, at night, watching shooting starts as rocks fell from the heavens, talking quietly with friends, by the swimming pool.
Losing my French rabbit, aged 10, and running to look for her, getting puffed out and stopping to catch my breath, then having her hop past me from behind, also panting, before turning to sit and look at me, as if to say 'I've been chasing you for ages!'
Lying in the clover (with said rabbit on a string, briefly (she'd eat through it), reading a book and finding four leaf clovers, and the odd 5 and even one 6 leafed one.
sitting by a warm fire when it's cold outside.
About ten years ago, sitting on a knoll in a pine forest, eating ripe cherries from a paper bag, with the sun slanting through the trees, and no-one in sight for miles.
The scent of pine needles is one of those reliable sense-memory triggers that makes me feel happy, now.
I'd finished Year 12 (last year of high school), I'd been accepted into my first choice of university, due to start in a couple of weeks.
I was at our holiday house, for some reason just my parents and I. Each afternoon I put some grapes and a bottle of water into a bag, went down to my favourite, quiet bit of beach (and as school year had started, there weren't many other holidaymakers left anyway) with the dog.
The prettiest place ever.
We'd have a bit of a swim then lie around in the sun. On the way back home each evening, through the foreshore campsite, we could smell the smell of barbequeues wafting through the air.
Oh, I kept meaning to add to your collection of happiness, but have no epiphanies about nature or relationships to share - however I was very happy indeed last week cooking a pie for my flatmates while singing along loudly to a tape of nineties indie music. I am probably very shallow.