I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes me happy. Perhaps the dark nights and garbage weather have got me down – as I write this, fat drops of rain are spitting angrily against my window, the outside world is a palette of grey.
We live in strange times, do we not? It’s hard (even foolhardy) to feel carefree when scary and downright inhumane acts happen daily in all corners of our struggling, overheated globe. Plus, the way most of us earn a crust keeps up tapped in to a constant cycle of worry and stress. I myself spend most of my working hours in front of a screen, indoors, writing about the magical places found outdoors. No wonder my brain hits the panic button pretty much daily.
Modern living is odd. We try to keep fit by running or cycling to nowhere in fluorescent-lit warehouses. We’re bombarded with calls to buy rubbish we don’t need. And we all play keeping-up-with-the-Joneses on social media, day in, day out. Worrying about the achievements of others in detriment to my own is one of the most addictive drugs I have ever tasted. They say comparison is the thief of joy, and they are correct. But it’s hard to figure out what the alternative is.
I had a brilliant conversation with my friend Maria about happiness. She’s made a list of all the moments that filled her with joy over the past few years, so that she could resolve to give those things more time. She made me list a few of my own happiest moments, and what was interesting was that all the things that made me feel content were very, very simple. Swimming in the sea. Running in the woods. Walking over hills with my friends. Sitting in warm pubs. It wasn’t anything I achieved at work, or hitting any of the goals of adulthood we often define our twenties and thirties with. It wasn’t even travelling to far-flung places. It was small stuff. Free stuff. It was being in spaces and places where I was removed from computers, and social media, and the weary long race to succeed.
Perhaps the above seems obvious, but for me it was a little revelation. I’ve still got bills to pay and I can’t run off the woods and live in a tree house. But I can make sure I make space for the little things that make me feel content. We all have the time to get out into nature for weekend adventures and evening walks (if you think you don’t, consider that the average British adult watches almost FOUR HOURS of telly a day). We can all put down our phones and go off-grid for a little while.
Since the beginning of this year I’ve managed to do some sort of exercise every day, swimming laps, my head empty of worry, running before work in my local woods and watching the early morning mist cloak the trees. I’ve a conscious decision to prioritise my list of happy things. Luckily, I’ve always been good at the going to the pub bit.