Are we trying to anaesthetise anguish from our lives?
August 14, 2012
Despite the smiling face accompanying her column, Angela Mollard isn’t always happy. Photography: Scott McGale Source:Sunday Magazine
Angela Mollard, The Sunday Telegraph
REMEMBER when ‘happy’ was just something you were? Or weren’t. Good days, bad days, happy days, sad days – all jumbled in a life you lived rather than thought about too much.
Today happiness is a commodity; a ‘goal’, a ‘revolution’, a ‘project’. It’s what we want for ourselves and our children. “Yes, please,” we’d say to the doctor if she could vaccinate against sadness, along with the usual measles and mumps. Anything to immunise ourselves against pain and unease.
I write this because I’ve had an awful week – made somewhat worse by the book I’m reading (for work, not pleasure) called The Happiness Project. Ironically, as my world filled with woes, I read chapter after chapter about one woman’s attempt to “lighten up”, “be serious about play” and “keep a contented heart”. “I am happy,” writes Gretchen Rubin in her mega-selling memoir, “but I’m not as happy as I should be.”
More helpful, I think, than having an articulate and much-blessed woman tell you how to find happiness, is having a flawed and down-in-the dumps columnist recount the details of her weekus horribilis. (Shall we start with my appalling Latin?)
I may be guilty of over-sharing, but my argument is this: we live in a culture that propagates the notion that happiness should be a constant state of mind and perfection our universal aim. To that end, most weeks I write jaunty, optimistic and ‘wise’ missives underneath a photo that makes me look 10 times prettier than I really am. “Great life, lucky cow,” you probably say to yourself and, yes, sometimes it is and sometimes I am.
But if I neglect to tell you the bad stuff – the hard, horrible, trying times – then I’m as guilty of perpetuating perfect images as those ads where mums are always smiling.
So here goes. I returned from India with a bug that’s eating my insides. I’ve had to pull out of a 100km charity walk, and I hate letting people down. I’ll be fine, but it’s hard slowing down a life that’s stuck on the fastest setting.
One of my children has a medical issue, which can be remedied, but I should’ve detected it. “I wish you’d noticed this two years ago,” said the specialist, shooting arrows of guilt into my already tender core.
Furthermore, I can’t drive for three months. Stupidly and carelessly, I accrued 13 points on my licence when the demands of my manifold responsibilities made me less attentive than I should be.
Some nights, I watch my sleeping daughter and believe I’ve failed her. Other worries – a complicated work project, an unexpectedly large bill and being the worst player in my hockey team – have left me feeling flat.
All of this is small stuff compared to people suffering real problems, and I’m not seeking sympathy. I’m telling you this because it’s normal to feel unhappy occasionally; metabolising sadness and disappointment is human. You simply have to live through it.
There’s lots of sound good sense in Rubin’s project, but I’m concerned we’re trying to anaesthetise anguish from our lives. Psychologists are observing a new generation suffering “a discomfort with discomfort”.
“Please let them be devastated at age six,” implores Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. I hear her. Last year, my eldest didn’t practice for a music exam and received a correspondingly poor result. It’s been the best lesson in her charmed life.
Anyway, back to my tea and tissues, safe in the knowledge that this, too, shall pass.