This post is inspired – and partly lifted from – an email I sent to the Scotsman, which I found while sifting through my inbox for electronic paperwork. I’m about to make some pretty major changes: the decisions have been made, and their consequences are waiting to become reality. If you read some of my forthcoming posts for Manawydan, you will find out that I am moving away from the Wirral, from the shores which have been such an inspiration to me these past few years; the estuary of the Dee with its tidal islands, the heaths with their red sandstone paths and rock carvings, the springs and the marshes. I will miss it all so much. But it is time to move on; these aerial roots need a loosening of the soil around them… a bit of a conundrum, because so much of my idea of happiness is centred on the hearth; on a grounded idea of ‘husbandry’; on living the good life.
Being mostly bed-bound this week has given me plenty of time for reflection. There’s a famous quotation, attributed to John Lennon: “When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” Some psychological studies (which I read but misplaced – links to be added later!) have shown that people whose life goal is “to be happy” often, ironically, grow to be less happy than those who have more clearly defined goals – goals such as, I don’t know, becoming a train driver, or living on the Isle of Skye.
Of course, clear-cut achievements work well in this kind of society, where wealth and status still count for a lot, and work forms a large part of our social identity. It is hardly surprising that people who follow less clearly-defined or socially-sanctioned paths might find it harder to attain happiness. But I have started to wonder whether there might not be more to it than that… Happiness means something so different to each of us, and is experienced so differently. Perhaps the vague, ill-defined kind of happiness expressed by internet-meme John Lennon is an irresponsible kind – perhaps the more we define it, the more responsibility we take to create it. When effecting change in conformity with will (which is, after all, one standard definition of magic), intention is everything.
My ambition has always been to live a good life; happiness, to me, is a feeling and not a fixed state. But even the idea of a good life can be unhelpfully ill-undefined. Over the years, I have fallen into the habit of following the path of least resistance; sometimes good, in that it kept me open to opportunities I might have overlooked; but also bad, in that I had no overall sense of where I wanted to be, except that I wasn’t there yet. Things came to a head this summer, not so much because of my depression, but because of the physical/psychological hangover it left. I had done all the groundwork – facing the shadow, embracing the darkness, uprooting the depression – but still didn’t find it any easier to cope with everyday life. So I started thinking about what I had to cope with, and why, and whether I could (or should) start to change all of that.
I often joke that my life is one long experiment in determining the exact extent to which it is better to be poor but happy. This is not strictly true, because a proper experiment would require a period of outrageously high earnings for a full comparison… But one thing I have learned is that budgeting – for me, at least – is not just linear and rational; it’s elastic and emotional. The happier I am, the less I need. There is a fine art to striking that balance, but I am finally in a place where I feel ready to tinker with it, to get it better than it has been. For the lack of happiness in my present situation, I really need much more money than I currently earn – money to call abroad, to buy train tickets for visits to friends, to buy treats that make the long hours in the office-like environment feel worthwhile. No more money is forthcoming, so the only part of that equation I can change is the happiness.
From that perspective, the only way to change my life is to find more ways to do the things I love.
So I applied, speculatively, for a job that involved doing everything that had made me want to become an archivist in the first place. I didn’t expect to be successful, because the employer was notoriously picky, and anyway the wages were so low that I went to the interview with the attitude that I probably wouldn’t accept the job if offered. But the interview was an eye-opener. People are willing to give up so much, and travel so far, just for a chance of doing something they love. And I was lucky enough to be there with relatively little sacrifice. Needless to say, I fell in love with the place and its collections, and remembered my deeply-buried ambition to work in curating (“you’ll never do that, it’s too competitive, it pays too little…” etc – part of the reason I went for archive work is because nobody understood it well enough to tell me it was hopeless). The job that I was offered, and accepted, is curatorial.
I would say I had accidentally stumbled into fulfilling a dream, but I don’t think it was an accident; it just took a bit more work to clarify my intention, because I had forgotten how to describe what I wanted, after giving up hope of ever getting it.
On a more mystical note, this time of year is always particularly good for me, in terms of taking stock and checking whether my efforts are tending in the right direction; not so much because of the symbolism of the harvest, but because the rowan berries are ripe. They sing. I can hear their note, and I can feel whether or not it’s in harmony with my own; if it is, I’m heading in the right direction, if it’s not, I know I need to make adjustments. And each adjustment has its own pitch, so I can listen for its harmony or discord with the rowan berries as I consider it. This is something I’ve been doing since before I consciously identified as druid, and I’ve never been open about it before; I suppose it’s a very specific, very personal form of divination. It’s one of the reasons why autumn is my favourite time of year.
Hail to the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness /|\
n.b. What makes you happy? Comment below if you like – it’s something I find interesting to read, and figure others might enjoy as well :)