Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Running Up That Hill

Well, not exactly running, as such. Far too old and semi-decrepit for that sort of nonsense these days. Although there was, alas, some inadvisably-rapid, near-vertical descending of a repetitively joint-jarring nature - in order to catch a bus, to catch a (different) bus, to catch a train - the consequences of which are still causing minor niggles in the vicinity of my left knee - I curse the biological inevitability of the ageing process.

You see, about three weeks ago, I managed to escape for a couple of responsibility-free days to my favourite place in the whole country of Englandshire, Keswick. This involved a minor frenzy of walking-up-hills, serious digital camera abuse, and dealing with unseasonably-hot-sunshine-induced blisters - but then, that's what Compeed and ibuprofen were invented for, right?

The trip itself was great, if a little rushed, and mostly served its purpose, which was to let my mind try to sort out where I might be heading, and how I might get there, without the constant mundane domestic crises of single parenthood, (oh, right, I see, you've managed to bang your head on the table - again. Dearie me...), getting in the way. Hell, I even started humming some musical ideas to myself while tramping through the delightful scenery of Borrowdale, some of which probably leaked into the first bit of recording I've done in nearly 7 years (!) - currently available as a *free* download here.

It did, however, also lead to many enticing thoughts of unethically-selfish behaviour on my part. Hauling myself onto the bus back to Penrith was harder than I'd expected - and not just because of the previously-mentioned muscle-crunching exercise. No, this was more of a reaction to the lingering, "Without prior consultation, someone decided to take a unilateral decision regarding my future, confounding all/any plans and expectations I might have had - so why shouldn't I behave exactly the same way?" thoughts that were meandering around inside my head. I am, of course, far too boringly responsible to act on any of them...which brings me, (quite smoothly, I reckon), onto the question of "Happiness?" I posed in my last (yeah, I know, almost been a month, ho hum) blog entry - and I'd just like to thank everyone who responded via email & ArseBook, (I didn't seriously expect any comments here, to be honest!), especially for the depth and sincerity with which they addressed the issue. You're all lovely, brilliant & perfectly wonderful in every way.

What I found most interesting is that no concensus whatsoever emerged. Indeed, people who, (according to the type of social statistics I used to bury myself in at university), might be expected to be very similar, were diametrically opposed in their responses. It was quite sad, in fact, to discover that while one of my friends felt that it would take one specific thing to make them happy, it was an absence of (and no desire for) that very same thing that contributed directly to another friend's enjoyment of life. On a less serious note, there was a fairly even split between folk who saw themselves as generally "contented", with sporadic outbreaks of "happiness", and those who said they were "happy", but not "contented" - the latter either because they were still having fun while making the best of a 'less-than-ideal-but-improvable' situation, or they felt that "contentment" would mean they had lost the drive to develop/challenge themselves sufficiently.

Being aware of what changes to make, how to bring them about, and having sufficient control over these factors certainly seemed to increase most respondents' optimism, however happy they thought they were presently. (Yep, what a surprise, "uncertainty" is a b@st@rd...I'll be mentioning 'the defecatory habits of ursine mammals with regards to thick collections of growing trees', next...)

Coincidentally, the May 24th edition of "New Scientist" had some interesting snippets on the topic of "happiness", including a nice graph illustrating the finding that, in spite of differences in income and era, the proportion of people who self-identify as "very happy" remains virtually constant (about 30%). Personally, I reckon they've asked the wrong question when it comes to money - if they'd looked at who was "(very) unhappy" instead, then I think they'd have easily proved the old (yesterday lunchtime) dictum: "Money can't buy you happiness, but it sure makes misery a damn sight more comfortable. Now pass me the 21-year old Springbank and the cigars...".

(Some articles supporting this assertion can be found here. I know they're from the New York Times, but they are still capable of being right once in a while...)

Trouble is, obviously, there's no easy definition of "happiness" that we'll all agree on, nor is there really a satisfactory method for measuring it. Which possibly defeats my original purpose in asking the questions, (not to mention rendering all this even more meaningless than usual)...?

As for me, well, to be brutally honest, apart from brief happy interludes (playing with the kids, music, etc), I'm pretty miserable - not that I'm letting-on to the kids, naturally. It's a modestly comfortable kind of miserable by western standards, sure - sitting here in a nice wee broadband-enabled flat, with plenty of food in the cupboards, hot and cold running electricity, and two great-when-they-want-to-be healthy children. My essential problem is that I'm very much a hard-wired team player. I like sharing the good stuff - which made the Keswick trip, great as it was, ultimately unsatisfying - musically I'm more of an accompanist (with occasional flashy bits), than a screaming lead egomaniac. That sort of thing. I'm also, unfortunately, stuck in a horse-and-a-half town with no real opportunities to change my current singularity, and no forseeable escape route.

Ho hum.

Still, could be a hell of a lot worse. I'm not a woman, born into an authoritarian, theocratic culture. And for that I'm unbelievably grateful.