Happiness, like so many things in life, exists on a spectrum. For example, if Happiness is the red colours, then Fear would be violet. Everything in between can be said to be shades of Anxiety. Most of us will slide from side to side as we go through life. Some days we will be in the orange, full of joy and pleasure. Other times we will literally have the blues.
“That’s life”, as the song says, “riding high in April, shot down in May”.
And as Dean Kay’s lyric suggests, you really aren’t in too much control of which way you slide, nor how quickly. External forces dictate how good you feel.
The sun is shining? Great! Traffic jam on the way to the office? Awful! Just seen your child’s first steps? Amazing! Rumours of redundancies at work? Oh, no! Unexpected phone call from an old friend? Wonderful! But they tell you they’ve got cancer? Disaster!
While your happiness obviously depends on others, it is worth remembering that their happiness depends on you. And the relationship isn’t straight-forward. If I’m happy, it doesn’t follow that you are. There is an enormous amount of Relativity at play.
Humans have an amazing facility for comparing their lives with others and a surprising knack for feeling that their lives are worse. Study after study has found that we tend to think that our friends have things much better than we do. They have more friends; in fact, they have better, more interesting friends. They have better jobs. Their better jobs earn them more money and so they take better holidays. Their relationships are better than ours. They have more sex. They have better sex. They laugh more. They have more shoes. They have better shoes. Their interests are more interesting than our interests. And so on. And on. And on…
If only we were like our friends – then we could be happy, we tell ourselves.
But guess what? Your friends think exactly the same way about you. Your friends think you’ve got life sorted out. They wish they had your range of beguiling stories, your understanding of modernist architecture and grasp of international affairs. They watch you deal with life’s challenges with grace and dignity. They see how you greet strangers with warmth and generosity and their one aim in life is to give a dinner party with the same calm insouciance as you.
They also look enviously on your shoe collection. Not all of them, of course. But that pair you wore to the office last Thursday – now they were really nice.
So whether you derive pleasure from providing your friends with a dining experience that you know they simply couldn’t muster, or if you are sent into apoplectic shopping-frenzies by their choice of footwear, there is balance. The happiness and anxiety you derive from your friends is exactly equal to that which they derive from you. If this weren’t the case then you simply wouldn’t be friends. Friendship must be balanced.
In fact, this balance can be extended to include not just your friends, but the whole world. While you may worry about the latest geo-political upheaval somewhere in the world there are countless acts of kindness going on around you every second. The internet is full of cute pictures of kittens because there are also some pretty bad things going on in there, too.
Now, it takes practice to achieve balance in life. It is very easy to allow yourself to be dragged up and down the emotional spectrum by the smallest of things; reading a news story, your kids being too noisy, that swine cutting you up in the queue of traffic, the soulful look in they eye of a kitten – they are all tempting you to make a judgement and shift your mood accordingly. After spending a lifetime learning to shout and shake your fist or go “awww!” and click retweet, it is difficult to learn that it is all part of the equilibrium and to let it wash over you.
Once you have found that balance, though, you can do something that is quite remarkable. Once you have stopped washing up and down the emotional spectrum, you can find stillness. In other words, you can look at the emotional possibilities and choose where to position yourself. And once you are in position, there is no reason for you to move from there. So where are you going to place yourself? Fear? Anxiety? Or Happiness?