A full heart

A former colleague stopped me in my tracks with a post on social media yesterday.

She wrote: “Happiness is an elusive thing. Searching for it, finding it, tending it, watching it slip away, beginning the cycle again. I can’t remember the last time I was truly happy: that sensation of a full heart, a soaring spirit, a freedom from care and pain and grief.”

I was surprised by her candor. People usually pretend their lives are non-stop unicorns and rainbows on social media.

And I was shocked that she couldn’t remember the last time she was truly happy.

While I didn’t feel a fullness in my heart and a soaring of my spirit yesterday, I know my joy and sense of wonder will return soon.

My day was a long, hard slog with a soundtrack of relentless rain. I worked relentlessly from 8am, took a brief break at 7pm to pick the youngest up from skipping and stir-fry some noodles, then it was back to the grindstone again.

I felt sorry for myself, but I didn’t slide into abject despair because I can remember the last time I was truly happy.

It happened during a walk earlier this week when I looked up at the briefly blue sky and saw a flock of white cockatoos fly over. “This is Australia!” I thought delightedly to myself. It’s such a unique, beautiful place. I felt so lucky to live here.

I also remember how elusive happiness can be.

Back in 2011 I wrote a blog post called Al’s On-Line Therapy Service. It went like this:

Are you happy? Are you unhappy? Are you sure? How can you tell? I think there should be a pill that people take – just once, mid-life – that shows what true happiness feels like. I don’t mean blurry alcohol or drug induced euphoria, with its subsequent hangover and regrets. I’m talking garden-variety, no-frills happiness. It would give people perspective. I reckon most people have forgotten how to recognise happiness/unhappiness. Popping a garden-variety happy pill would give clarity. Depressed people would understand they needed counselling/medication. Non-depressed people would recognise that their life is pretty damn good, all things considered.

What I didn’t realise back then is that if you can’t tell whether you’re happy or not, you’re … not.

For me, finding happiness was about letting go of all the rules I’d made for myself. It was about opening my eyes to the beauty and experiences around me. And it was about being brave enough to seek love again.

When I emerged from the howling distress of my marriage breakdown I was like a charred gum tree after a bushfire. Green shoots of joy started sprouting from inside me. I began to revel in the natural beauty around me. I rediscovered live music and comedy. I fell in love with the ocean and DD.

Then along came menopause and toxic bosses and COVID-19 and life got pretty challenging again.

Like many others, I’m reassessing what balance looks like in the new normal.

Helen Trinca noted at The Australian yesterday: “A changing attitude to work has been amplified during the two years of lockdowns, remote work and, for many people, extended time away from the office.

“Work still matters – and not just financially – but for many people it’s beginning to lack the addictive quality that defined professional careers in the past 20 or so years. Work remains a key element of identity and a source of meaning as well as money, but the Great Love Affair is waning.

“Call it what you like – the Great Resignation, the Great Vacation, the Great Reshuffle – but it’s not easy to ignore the way many people across age groups and labour sectors are wondering if it’s possible to be part of the Great Capitalist System while retaining mental health, family relationships and the right to work without anxiety or fear.”

I think we have a looooong way to go before we bed down this new way of working.

But I agree with Helen, retaining mental health and family relationships matters far more than professional success now.

As for my former colleague’s social media post, I’m not quite sure what to say or do. I don’t want to write platitudes and I don’t have any magic solutions.

My key to happiness might not fit her lock.

But I hope she finds a way back to having a full heart, because it’s a precious, beautiful thing.

Song of the day: Vance Joy “Riptide”

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