I don’t know what you think, dear readers, but happiness can be an elusive concept at the best of times, never mind a year into a pandemic. It is easy to get stuck in a rut or suffer from ongoing low mood, if not depression. We can forget what makes us tick, who we are and what we used to enjoy.
As a born bookworm, you would think that books would be my natural escape or respite from the grey clouds which sometimes tug at the edges. Alas, I often fall into the instantly gratifying habit of losing a few hours in Netflix. I don’t have to think. I just lie on the sofa and let myself be swept away in sickly-sweet, mass-produced Hollywood plot. Even if I have never seen the film before, I already know exactly how the characters will behave, what will happen. It is easy. It requires no effort. And my brain is turning to candy floss.
Last Sunday morning I could feel the clouds hovering around the horizon, so I decided, finally, to do something different. I decided to do what I wanted to do, not what I thought I should do. (Difficult concept for us former Catholics!) I pulled a book off my shelf which I had bought in New York City Library in 2015. The memory of buying the book was a happy one; my sister and my best friend and I exploring The Big Apple for a few days in the Springtime of that year.
The book is called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben. It is the story of how she tackles a different area of her life every month for a year in the quest for happiness. As is typical of any non-fiction book I buy, I had read a few chapters, then put it down, then moved it to the bookshelf. (This never happens with fiction!) On Sunday I lay on the sofa in my pjs and read for nearly an hour. I finished the chapter about friendship and social connections, which inspired me to message my best friend from uni and see if he was around for a chat.
That evening we hung out with a video chat: ranting about politics, discussing psychology and laughing as we shared anecdotes of the half-life we’ve all been living this last year. I had needed that for a long time; to ‘be’ with someone who really knows me, and vice vera. We know each other’s loves and hates, passions and heartbreaks and we can say anything and know it will be alright. I told him about the chapter I had just read, and how the writer quotes Voltaire, ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’ (I might need that tattooing somewhere prominent). This reminded us that I had studied Voltaire’s Candide at university, which in turn provided a confidence boost as I started to remember some of my achievements.
By indulging in some self-care (reading a book, just because I wanted to), I helped myself to start climbing out of the energy rut I had fallen into. I reconnected with the world via an old friend, reminded myself of what I have achieved, what I enjoy and what I need in my life. Of course, if you are suffering from depression or other serious mental health problems, you need to seek professional help. But if you are feeling a bit low and lost, it can be tremendously uplifting to reconnect with something you used to love, whether that is reading a book, walking in nature or having a laugh with an old friend. You never know where it might take you.