Our son Mike married Paula a couple of weeks ago. It was a wonderful day. The ceremony was on the bank of a river in remotest Northumberland. The sun shone (amazingly!), Paula was radiant, Tom remembered the rings, and we all knew we were part of something special.
There were three great speeches during the wedding feast. Lots of fun stuff, and a dollop of wisdom too.
Mike told us how he and Paula first met, in a pub in Newcastle. They talked about all sorts of things that day, he said, “but most importantly, about the thing that would come to define us ever since then. I can't remember why we were talking about it, but we both agreed that in life, it was OK just to be happy. You didn’t need to worry about lots of stuff, or feel guilty about being happy. Being happy was just OK."
This is such a great message, I’ve been thinking a lot about it ever since.
Life isn’t always fun, not by any means. It can be tough, unbearably so at times. It would be foolish to think that we can smile our way through everything that happens. Of course we can’t.
Fortunately for most of us, most of the time, things aren’t that bad. But we are very good at finding reasons not to enjoy life when we can.
Here are four bad reasons not to be happy, and some answers to them.
1. I have no right to be happy. There is so much suffering in the world, if I’m happy that means I am not taking all that suffering seriously. It means that I don’t feel enough for other people. I’m being selfish.
a. How does your being miserable help relieve other people’s suffering? If you’re happy you’re probably also more creative and energetic, so more able to help where you can.
2. Only stupid people are happy – they just don’t realise how complicated the world is, how easily things can go wrong, or how meaningless the universe is.
a. I used to believe this one, I’m sorry to say. It’s patronising rubbish. Happiness does not derive from our understanding of the world, but from our reaction to that understanding. Go gather some more rosebuds.
3. I haven’t time to be happy. I am too busy doing stuff, sorting out my life and all the things I have to do, to stop and enjoy it all.
a. You can enjoy the busy-ness. Getting immersed in things, to the point where you stop worrying about how you are feeling, can be a profound source of happiness.
4. If I’m happy, it means I’m not trying hard enough. Life is all about achievement, success, making the world a better place. Allowing myself to be happy means I think I’ve done enough, and that can never be true – there is always more to be done.
a. Another one of my own mental torments, coming from my protestant work ethic background. And maybe one I haven’t fully disposed of yet. Time to re-read my post ‘The best is yet to be’!
Desiderata, that famous poem that was on walls of many student homes back in the day, ends with the command: ‘Strive to be happy’. Sorry, but that sounds too much like hard work to me.
We don’t need to strive. We can simply allow ourselves to feel good. We can give ourselves permission to be happy.
Really, it is OK.