Saturday 30 April 2011

In Praise of Happiness

I could pretend and say that the happiest moment of my life was when my daughter was born. But it wasn't. The labour was long and exhausting; when she finally arrived, I'd never seen a baby that small. I was terrified. She had a tiny body, long thin arms and legs that dangled like a little frog's, and huge dark eyes so big they looked like bottomless pools. I didn't know what to do; I thought if I picked her up, I would break her. She was born in the late afternoon; that evening, I went home and cried from shock and emotion.

I had wanted children all my life but I wasn't prepared for the shock of the transition from being an individual to being a parent. Yet something changed within me in those first few days; I firmly believe that my brain rewired itself to the new me that I needed to become. I evolved. As I learned to cope with the lack of sleep, the constant cycle of nappies, feeding, washing, changing, a fierce love grew inside me. And I learned what it was to become vulnerable to the pain of another. Even though I could not carry her inside me for those nine months before she was born, she became a part of me, truly, her laughter and tears as sharp and visceral as my own emotions.

When G was born two years later, I thought I would be ready, more resilient, but another raw space opened up inside me to make room for the love that grew for my second-born daughter. The shock was the same but different.

Fast-forward another four years and I have two children rather than two babies. And most of the truly happy moments I've experienced in my life have been in those six and a bit years and are as result of two things the girls have taught me - first to slow down and notice the world around you, and second, to be yourself. These, coincidentally enough, are two things that I've also learned as part of being in Transition, and also appear to be key elements of the Action for Happiness message. So, what have these meant for me?

I've just been out in the garden, bouncing up and down on the trampoline. The trampoline is higher than our garden wall and the whole street can see me. Would I do that if I was just on my own? Not in a million years - I'd be too self-conscious, yet I'd be missing out as it's great fun. You can't be serious or take yourself seriously while you're bouncing around like a loon. The girls taught me to sing - out loud! To dance around. I waited thirty-odd years to do these things. To be the person I really wanted to be.
They taught me to open my eyes to the world around me, things I'd never noticed before. They are full of questions and full of wonder. What is that tree? What are snail shells made of? What happens to a butterfly when it's inside its chrysallis? More recently, they want to know why polar bears are in trouble, why people are starving in Africa. I have to tell them about the world, about all the good things and all the things that are wrong.

I see the world in a different way now; I notice things more, the change of seasons, the play of light, the sounds of birdsong. Helping them see the world helps me see the world, and makes me determined to protect it for them. Not preserve a rose-tinted world that was never really there, but a real, bright, heart-pumping alive world. I'm more confident about who I am and who I want to be. I don't want to be judged by how much I earn, how much I have or what I wear. Parenthood, and Transition, have both started with a shock and then my resilience has grown over time. And I've become happier as a result.

Maybe because I'd always wanted children so much, I needed them to teach me to become truly happy. But I've also learned that happiness is a choice. OK, there are some core things you need, without which it's pretty hard to be happy - food, shelter, physical and emotional health and security - but beyond those core needs, the propensity for happiness is all around us if we choose to look. We could make ourselves unhappy by everything we haven't got, or cannot have or cannot be. Or we could look around us, enjoy the small things and the company of those we love, and choose happiness.

I choose happiness. Jon Curran

Pics: Blowing dandelion clocks in the park, April 2011; word map of this week's Happiness theme blog, from

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