I know this sign was meant to make me smile. As it was for sale, I assume it was a piece of rueful wisdom I should want to pay for.
It did make me smile but it didn’t make me reach for my wallet and by the time I was reviewing my photos for the day, I realised that this sign unsettled rather than soothed me.
I’ve always seen happiness as an occasional gift in my life, something inherently ephemeral rather than a state of being I should try to sustain or even pursue.
So this sign should make me smile, nod and give me the pleasure of having my cognitive biases confirmed. Except, recently, I’ve been finding happiness a more difficult gift both to give and to receive.
The current political environment depresses me on a daily basis, flooding me with impotent anger and pushing towards a choice between belligerent bloodymindedness or despair. Neither of those allow for much happiness.
It’s been almost a year now since my wife and I returned to the UK to build our lives here and it sometimes feels as if everything in that year has been a struggle where apparently simple things become complicated and every piece of admin needs to be done more than once.
So I’ve been wondering if happiness does need to be worked at. The problem with that being: if happiness is a work product then not being happy is a result of my own lack of productivity. That seems like a self-destructive fallacy.
This morning I realised that happiness doesn’t have to be worked at but you do need to be ready to accept it when it comes your way.
When I woke this morning, Johnson was still on track to become Prime Minister and is still trying to drive us off the Brexit cliff so the rich can be richer while the rest of us crash and the same admin tasks sat ahead of me.
So I went to the supermarket. That way I could feign usefulness and stay busy.
Then I discovered a little piece of happiness.
The supermarket is built on a meadow next to the River Avon. This is land that was once cheap because of the flood risk and is now protected because it’s one of the few green space we have left.
Even at 08.30, the day was already warm. I parked under the trees to get the benefit of their shade and when I stepped out of the car, I found my attention snagged by the dappled shadows on the asphalt. “Pied Beauty” cued up and in my atheist head and I heard: “GLORY be to God for dappled things” . Then the breeze carried the scent of the water to me and instead of going into the supermarket, I headed out through the gate at the far end of the car park to the river.
Within a few paces I was in a tunnel of green that opened out on this:
It needs no explanation except to say that the picture doesn’t do justice to it. With the sun-gilded wood of the punts as my focal point, I stopped and let myself take in the light and shadow, the cool breeze, the damp scents of growing green and slow water and the quiet that has so much more life in it than silence.
I was happy.
All it took was walking through a different gate.
I walked along the river path, past the old bathing station, currently being restored, and up onto the wide swathe of the meadow unfurled below Beacon Hill and its houses of honey-coloured stone. I passed dog walkers and people carrying bulging shopping bags and ear-bud-insulated runners who seemed to have slowed their pace to take in the sun. They all looked happy to me. Happiness was being dispersed wholesale today.
Then I did my shopping and came home, bringing the moment with me.
So, I won’t be turning being happy into a challenge but I will keep my eyes open for other gates to walk through.