The pursuit of happiness

Not so long back, I backed my car into a skip. Well, in fact I backed my husband’s car into a skip. I can’t even claim that I didn’t know where the skip was; it was on my drive, where I’d left it. And it wasn’t all that tricky to see either, being bright sunshine yellow and about the same size as the car I was driving, maybe even slightly bigger.

(The truth is, I backed into the skip because I was all of a fluster – I had just lost my iPhone. Well, I say lost it. I had left it unattended briefly, on my shopping trolley and someone had claimed it. I had donated to the needy, effectively. His or her need for my iPhone was apparently somewhat overwhelming. I hope it brought them happiness.)

Well anyway that was a pretty difficult phone call to make (on the land line of course – how primitive!) to the Long Suffering Husband, about the donated iphone and the damaged car juxtaposition. He did say in a hopelessly optimistic way, ‘Did you just damage the BUMPER?’ – one can only assume that he misunderstood the word ‘skip’ to mean ‘shallow tea tray’ or something of similar height.

So it was that I found myself in a Bodyshop, where nice men in boiler suits looked at my dented rear end and tutted in a convincingly distressed manner, although nothing like as distressed as I was when I received the quotation.

The next day I returned to collect the car. The boiler suited man was unrecognisable from the tutting headshaker of the previous day. He snatched my hand and skipped me outside, with a look of ‘WAIT! Just WAIT till you see THIS!?!?!’

And there was my car, gleaming and glistening in the late afternoon sunshine. The bouncing boilersuited mechanic was grinning and nodding in a slightly manic fashion. He waved his arms in a gesture of great significance towards the rear of my car.

‘Ta da!” he said. More or less. His eyes flicked to the car, to me, to the car, back to me, like a very short rally in a dull tennis match. If there was a soundtrack to this moment, there may have been a drum roll. Or possibly a mariachi band.

I was a little taken aback, because this was something you don’t see every day in the twenty first century. In fact you rarely see it in my experience.

It was PRIDE – pride in a job well done. Justified pride. And boy did this man look happy.

I left his workshop feeling a little envious. God, I thought, that must be nice. To do a job you are REALLY good at. To feel that mariachi band moment every day, maybe even several times a day.

Pride and satisfaction in a job well done.

Doesn’t that sound jolly?

Way back at the beginning of the summer I blogged about the nature of happiness and in particular the survey funded by that nice Mr Cameron into what made us happy. Cuddling, I seem to remember featured highly. And hugging. And chocolate brownies. And village life. (SNORT)

Well I’ve been giving this some thought ever since and I think that survey wasn’t really asking the right questions. I don’t think hugs can really bring happiness. Nor chocolate. These things can bring very great pleasure and satisfaction but happiness? Well happiness surely must come from something more substantial. Something deeper. More long-lasting.

I think that happiness comes, most of all, from finding something that you can do really really well. Something that, in the words of Omid Djalilli, we are all looking for something that makes your soul sing.

Like the bouncing boiler suited man; his soul sings when he does a really really good repair.

I am not sure that this fairly obvious truth – when you come to think of it – is all that well understood. Did you? Did anyone ever say to you – find a job that you can do really really well, that will make you happy?

Do we teach our children that? I don’t think we do. Nobody told me and I don’t think people work it out for themselves all that well, because the cultural norm is that work is:

If you’re smart, work should be Important and Worthy. Like being a doctor. You might not enjoy it but it Needs Doing.

If you’re not so smart, work is A Bit Dull, but necessary to buy the essentials in life, like food and beer and handbags. Just grit your teeth and get through it and wait for the weekend, when you can live your real life. And count the days till your retirement.*

And I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to passing on the gift of happiness to my children either. When you have a baby and te baby grows into a child you fret about all sorts of things. Making sure they eat the right food, that they get enough sleep and exercise and ballet lessons and should they leanrn the violin and blending and phonics and are we spoiling them? And we say, don’t we, that we just want them to be happy when they grow up. Like it is just an accident of fate, like there’s nothing we can do about it, que sera sera and all that.

Well sorry SparklyDaughter. Sorry GothicDaughter. I shall turn over a new leaf and try to talk to you about what I know about being happy. That you shouldn’t look for happiness in the shops, or in a bar, or in the fridge. That you CAN find deep happiness in other people, but investing all your stock of potential happiness in one person is reckless in the extreme. Like putting your cash in Greek National Bonds or some fly-by-night currency like the Euro.

Love *can* bring happiness, sometimes for about five minutes; then love can kick you in the teeth and shove you bum-first out of the window. But while boyfriends and hair and waistlines may come and go, your work – if you can take pride in it, if it gives you a sense of purpose – brings satisfaction and contentment and joy that lasts and lasts and lasts, even when we’re old and ugly.

So yeah that’s today’s thought – don’t give up on love, but remember that work is what makes you really happy. Well that and the pursuit of the perfect chocolate brownie.

So go to work with a bounce in your step today. Try to find passion and pleasure and purpose in what you do. Even if it’s flipping burgers. Flip those burgers really really well, and people will notice.

And, failing that, take in some really nice cakes for break time.

Be happy, and have a nice day now.

*if you are under 45, I would actually recommend that you STOP thinking about how many days until retirement. It will only make you a little gloomy, frankly.

About number6

I am not a number, I am a free woman. More or less.
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