Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

 

Transporting Happiness

 
By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker.  With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is www.hone-mercure.com/index_hone_en.php.

I’m sitting in the waiting room of the physiotherapy clinic enjoying the reprieve I’ve been granted by the announcement that the therapist is running a bit late.
 
I pull from my bag the latest TNP “Bits and Bites” article written by my friend Alberte, just back from a vacation in Barbados. I read about a tropical island with temperatures in the 30s, full sun, warm sand and a turquoise sea in which to cool off. In contrast, I am suffering from a frozen shoulder and all around me is gray: the walls, the chairs, the carpet, the skies, the snow on the ground, the cars covered with salt. My mood is being contaminated by the surrounding colour and with my gray hair, I am at risk of completely disappearing into the monochromatic decor.
 
Alberte’s theme du jour is happiness, a subject that I’ve always enjoyed writing about.
 
In fact, many years ago, when I was a young university professor, I ventured to write a peer-reviewed article entitled “Tolerating Happiness” or something to that effect. The article was eventually published in one of my university’s journals, but not before one of the reviewers took me to task for my inability to define “happiness” in scientific terms!
 
Today, I am hopefully wiser so I leave the task of defining happiness to my readers. As the old song went, “Happiness is different things to different people”, so let’s not quibble about the nature of happiness.
 
In the article, I shared observations from my practice as a family therapist. I had noticed quite a few times that some people seem to be uncomfortable with happiness, to the point that they may more or less consciously sabotage their own efforts to attain that state. For example, they will give themselves permission to save up for a vacation, but they will “forget” to check the expiry date on their passport. They are left on the quay waving goodbye to their dream, and all this of course is so very sad, but paradoxically they may feel somewhat relieved. For years, they have been living accordingly to the instructions they were given as children: “To be accepted by others, you must work hard, strive to be a better person, behave responsibly at all times. Think of others rather than yourself.” When they are about to fulfill their dream, they may feel somewhat guilty for having “disobeyed” or perhaps angry for not waking up earlier to the fact that as adults they can redefine their role in life and play it as they wish.
 
The first step in the physiotherapy session is a period of grace. All I have to do is lie down and relax while heat is applied to my shoulder. Today, I let my thoughts wander lazily around the subject of happiness. Where does happiness come from? Is happiness part of the charter of human rights? Can people be happy but not know they are? Apparently my brain is relaxing as much as my shoulder is, because just before I fall asleep, I am informed by said brain that humans have been created by Happiness as a way of transporting Itself! Yep! Happiness existed before mankind. Happiness wanted to travel, so Happiness invented creatures with two legs that could carry It to the end of the earth. I’m informed also that it is mankind’s collective duty to transport happiness.
 
My heat induced happiness ends rather abruptly as the physiotherapist wakes me to begin applying her method of dealing with cold shoulders. This woman is the gentlest of souls, attentive, caring and empathetic. But she knows her stuff and her stuff involves pulling my arm, twisting it and pushing it to the limit of its range of motion. Within minutes I am totally unhappy, as anyone who is being dismembered would be. My body, probably in some kind of twisted effort to give support to my shoulder, hurts from top to bottom, I kid you not. I am going through the worst possible pain.
 
Suddenly, I’m struck by the words I am saying to myself: “totally unhappy, hurting from top to bottom, the worst possible pain”. With a sigh, I recall working with clients who described themselves as “totally depressed”. Of course, I acknowledged that they felt that way and I recognized that depression is a serious and very painful state. But I also felt the need to challenge their self-definition. My clients were alive, they were breathing, they were courageous, they were fighting to regain their health. There was more to them than “totally depressed”, I thought. So I would ask: “Would you say that your popliteal fossae are depressed?” Most clients were startled by the question and had to admit that they didn’t have a clue as to the state of their fossae. From then on, they could no longer affirm with certainty that they were totally depressed! There was room for hope.
 
So here am I at the clinic, convinced that I have every reason to feel miserable. I have forgotten that I am blessed to have the time, money and energy to get good care. I have forgotten all the people and things that contribute to my happiness: a warm home, a loving family, caring friends. So I administer myself a dose of my own medicine. “Are my popliteal fossae in pain?” I ask myself. Well… no. “And my greater omentum?” Er… not that I know of. “And what about my epiglottis?” I continue this silly game for a few minutes till I calm down and realize of course that my arm, shoulder and upper back are the only parts that are truly hurting. For a while I have stopped recognizing the blessings in my life. I have forgotten that I can be happy despite pain.
 
Leaving the clinic, I reflect on the title of the book that Alberte has referred to: “Spontaneous Happiness” by Dr. Andrew Weil. I haven’t yet read the book, but the title is intriguing. Can happiness really be spontaneous? Or does it seem that way because the happy person has practiced long and hard to embrace happiness? I often marvel at the agility of good pianists who let their fingers fly so gracefully over the keyboard. Is this the fruit of natural talent? Or the result of very hard work, years of discipline and personal sacrifices? Could the same be asked about happiness? Is happiness a function of talent or of discipline? It may be both, but I would put my money on discipline.
 
Yes, some people seem to have a natural talent for happiness. They were happy babies, attracting strangers with their lovely smiles. Growing up, they were willing to try new things, curious about life, and with proper support and encouragement, able to face setbacks. Maybe they were born with a talent for happiness, but I suspect it’s more than that. They were encouraged to unwrap the gifts they were born with and use these gifts as building blocks for their happiness. They were taught to look around them and spot beauty in things and people. They learned to be humble and grateful for the gifts from Life. They worked at discovering their unique way of sharing their gifts with others, because that is how Happiness is transported. In other words, they applied themselves to the task of building happiness. It has often been said that “Practice makes perfect” but happy people know that perfection has nothing to do with happiness. I hear they have invented a new idiom: “Practice makes happiness.” I rather like that!

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