“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?” ― Albert Camus
More and more I wonder – why keep battling uphill when there’s an easier way?
I once worked with a young man in a film production office who was disorganised, unreliable and scattered. When we transferred the same person to work with a different department on set, he – and there’s no other word for it – blossomed. He was so brilliant that he was promoted twice on the same project. An office environment had made him foggy, but dealing with crowds of people and being literally on his feet all day made him thrive.
Similarly, I have a friend who spent years trying to decipher the cryptic codes of an industry that wasn’t his natural playground. He eventually came back to a more rough-and-tumble, lower-voltage milieu and made a much bigger success of it.
Sometimes we become accomplished in a particular field of expertise through years of hard work, and believe the time will be wasted if we switch careers. The way I see it is that we develop our sense of selves as much as we hone our skills, and we can apply that sense of self to whatever we choose to do next.
I’m someone who believes that with enough effort we can conquer anything. As I’ve written before, I am all for graft. There is much that is rewarding when we put in the time and energy towards our goals.
But sometimes we aim for certain targets for the wrong reasons; we know this deep down, which is why it can feel as if we’re wading through mud.
But when is it worth applying graft, and when is it better to just cease altogether? This simple test never fails: is it energising or draining?
Ask this not only of the results, but the process too.
It’s true of emotions
It takes twice as much energy to resent someone than to forgive and move on.
It’s stressful calculating how much the other person is contributing to a relationship and trying to match them exactly for fear of exposing our vulnerability, instead of relaxing and showing our love.
Getting angry at someone who didn’t live up to our expectations is more tiring than understanding that accepting that people act out of their own best intentions – that may or may not equal ours.
Negativity is simply cumbersome. We exert less effort by dropping this weight.
It’s not always easy
Difficulty has little to do with the equation. The most demanding challenges (and for me, I count writing among them) are often astonishingly energising. My mind can’t stop buzzing, I want to stay up late and wake up early. I’m a bit terrified, yes, but nevertheless persist, because my heart soars and the right synapses are fired in my brain.
Exercise is one of those things that frequently feels too annoying, but once started, the energising/uplifting components take over, putting it firmly in the right camp. (That is, the right kind of exercise. I will never be a runner, for instance; the mere thought of it prompts phantom knee ache.)
This test applies to people too. There are those who stimulate us, make us feel excited and impatient to spend time together. And sadly there are others who simply drain us, making our spirits wilt when we even think of them.
The burdens of obligation
Sometimes obligation muddies this otherwise clear arena. We “ought” to visit elderly relatives, for instance. And I actually think we might as well. Somewhere further down the line, we may regret not doing so. A bit of short-term discomfort that brings genuine pleasure to others won’t kill us.
What does ruin our sense of self is when we act out of fear. The regrets we have in life are the things we do out of fear. We want status, for fear of what others think. We work hard, for fear of losing our jobs. We chase external validation, because deep down we don’t believe that we are enough.
The antidote to fear, as ever, is love. We never regret the things we do from love.
We naturally gravitate towards what we love. This is the path of least resistance. It is fear that distracts us.
The unburdening we feel when we walk away from the wrong relationship, the mean boss, the toxic environment is palpable. It is as if we are finally able to breathe deeply and freely.
Sometimes it’s not other people we’re trying to please, but a mythical version of ourselves. When we use our inner compass as our guide and get out of our way, we feel a click of alignment within. This is a most bearable lightness of being.
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” ― Rumi
A slacker living in his mother’s basement feels a bigger calling. Being a gem of an indie film, this delivers with more heart, humour and poignancy than all the big bang manipulations of its Hollywood counterparts. Watch Jason Segel and Susan Sarandon in Jeff, Who Lives at Home, written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass (familiar to fans of The Mindy Project as the alternative doctors upstairs).
When I’m feeling frazzled, I soothe myself by turning to the reliably delightful “gentle women’s novels” of the 1930s, like the hilarious and charming Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson, re-issued by the ever-relevant Persephone Books. Knowing there are two more in this series just adds to the pleasure.
Sharp comedy, humorous analysis and witty banter is why I love NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Last week, host Peter Sagal placed the American panic over the Ebola virus in context: “It’s 24/7 on cable news, even though two times more people in this country have been married to Larry King than have come down with Ebola.” Hee hee! Listen and chortle.