As I was coming out of sleep, and in that place where the mind starts working and it can often take you by surprise what emerges from it, I thought about what I've been writing on this blog. I realised that I can easily find words to describe my pain and suffering; all the emotions attached to difficulties in life, but that I've never written about happiness. So I began thinking about whether I've actually been happy and how I would write about it. I thought about the time when I was in my poetry stage and remembered very clearly my son saying to me, “Mam, will you ever write a happy poem?”
At that time I tried, I really did, to sit down and write a poem about my happiness. I found myself unable to find words that expressed happiness that felt genuine. I could really relate to and had a whole ream of words that expressed my sadness, but nothing seemed to come into my writing that said I could be happy. In fact, I remember starting one poem with the words; “There are no words for happy...” And so, lying in bed earlier I started to try and think of ways to express my happiness. Blank... nothing entered my head. OK, so let's think of this a different way. How about I look at the word “happiness” and use each letter as a starting point for a descriptive word about happiness: I got to “H equals humour; A equals...” and then I stopped; nothing, nothing at all came into my mind – I began to get really annoyed at myself! Come on... you know you have had lots of times in your life when you've been happy... bloody think about it!
I thought of the many times I have sat curled up on the sofa with my husband watching a movie together and realised I know happiness. Of the precious times spent with our grandchildren and I realised I know happiness. Of watching my children grow and overcome hardships to become the adults they are now and I realised I know happiness. Of the times spent with good friends (often with alcohol included – but not every time) and I realised I know happiness. But yet, that felt quite clichéd – whenever you hear people talk about happiness the thing that seems to just roll off the tongue is, “time spent with family and friends makes me happy”. Now, I'm not saying I disagree with this at all, but I wonder whether there is happiness outside of that; and if so, what would it look like. How would it be to move away from the 'Facebook philosophy of happiness' which is measured by how many 'likes' a person receives on their status and into a happiness that isn't only splashed on a social media App, but which shines from within. Which lights up a room and makes others want a part of it too.
And then it began... I realised I was very much in my head at that point. Forcing myself to think and chastising myself when no thoughts arose, or when the thoughts seemed clichéd. So I stepped out of that and began to 'feel', settling into my body and feeling the warmth that surrounds happiness. A small smile lifted the corners of my mouth and I knew I have been, I am and I will be happy! I realised that happiness is often found through the small things in life; or perhaps the things we can, at times, take for granted. When trauma or disaster strikes it often feels like such a huge event that it can leave a deep and lasting dent (crater even) in our mind, body and soul. (At this point I have to be honest, I started going off on a tangent and writing about the catastrophic impact of trauma; filling the page with descriptive words about how much we can be affected by it and found myself back in the comfort of writing about pain and suffering. As I was reading it back, I realised what I was doing and so I've deleted what I wrote and I promise, I'm back on track with writing about happiness!) Perhaps the reason why I find it difficult to describe my happiness is because I don't always acknowledge it. The purpose of therapy is to talk through the pain and suffering experienced; to give it a voice and the attention needed to release the anxiety surrounding it. So, having gone through many episodes of therapy I have a way to express the sadness. Thinking now, I realise I have never spoken about my happiness in therapy. What would be the point, that's not what therapy is about – true – but where do I voice my happiness then?
During a conversation with my son today, he said something that really made a lot of sense to me; and which could be a reason why I, and perhaps many other people, don't talk about my happiness. He said, and I don't quote but it was something along the lines of, sometimes other people can make us feel ashamed when we are happy; people rally round and can say things like, “Oh that's awful for you” when life is tough and we're feeling down. How often do people say, “Wow, you've got such a great life, well done, I'm really happy for you”. Is it jealousy? Perhaps. Or is it that we don't know how to celebrate our own, never mind other people's happiness. I guess it can be easier to say how hard life is because we expect (and often get) people's sympathy and acknowledgement. For me, it feels much harder to say to someone how great my life is. How do I know if they are having a hard time, might they feel I'm rubbing their nose in it. Will I come across as being “greater than thou” and so I find myself playing my happiness down. I become ashamed of my own happiness. As I wrote in a previous blog about vulnerability and shame, the way to reduce shame is to talk about it. What might it be like to share my happiness with others – could it actually help make that person feel better to?
And so, yes, I am happy. I do have all the clichéd things in my life and they really do bring me so much joy, love and light. I cherish the moments spent with family and friends and, from this moment forward, I intend to tell them how happy they make me on every occasion they make me happy! Why not – I tell them every time they make me angry or sad so why can't I tell them when they make me happy!
I realise I am at my happiest when I give myself permission to be happy. Recently I found myself with time alone in our home and while I was preparing lunch for the family I put the TV on and clicked on to the “Clubland” music channel. A club classic came on and I ran out of the kitchen, wapped the volume up and started dancing like I was back in our favourite nightclub (my husband and I were quite the 'ravers' in our day!) and yes, I did keep looking in the mirror to check out my dance face – still got it! But I tell you what, I felt a multitude of happiness; I had time on my own and I was doing something that brought back such happy, fun filled memories of times spent with my loved one doing something together that we both really enjoyed doing. And then I started laughing at myself, and I realised that these times were far too few – that at 52 years old I can still go crazy to my favourite tunes and dance like I was 21 again! And the happiness I felt continued when the family came home, I danced with my grandchildren and watched as they laughed and spun around the room.
Just one example of the many times when I have known happiness. And as I move forward I intend to share my happiness, to acknowledge it and give it a voice. To allow myself to feel happy and be happy. And I challenge you to do the same. There is no shame in happiness; energies are lifted when happiness is shared. Own your happiness as I intend to own mine. We were born to connect with others, and, as I've said before, we are both light and dark but to connect with the light in all of us might just help that light shine for a little longer.
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About Alison Walker
Hello...I've been writing some blogs and thought I'd publish them here in the hope that they will encourage others to self-reflect and seek professional help if needed.