What is happiness?

I have a problem when I go to Donegal.  The sky is so vast, the colours so complex, the sea so mesmeric, and the landscape so wilder than I will ever be, that my camera just will not take the right picture.  I’ve tried cameras, I’ve tried iPhones, I’ve tried filters, I’ve tried wide angled lens, but sometimes I just end up putting the contraptions down and staring at the vista to take a mental snapshot that clicks in my mind and the image then is developed inside of me and imprints on my soul.

I like to take the photos on my phone anyway and post on Instagram and Facebook just to try and share the glory, but it never tells the real truth (do Instagram and Facebook EVER tell the real truth?)

And so with life… sometimes you just can’t put a frame around it… the truth is always bigger than the picture inside.

I’m reading a book on Happiness at the moment – not for myself, but for research for a new book. (Honestly….it’s for research. If I have learned anything over the last 46 wonderful, turbulent, life-affirming, life-whipping years, it’s that I don’t need a book to tell me what happiness is….. I’m very aware that happiness is an ice-cold sparkling G&T sitting in my garden swing chair as the evening sun melts; it’s sofa spaghetti on Saturday movie night with my girls, our legs entwined in harmony, our hands entwined in hostility as they grapple in the popcorn bowl; it’s a stolen moment to read a great book when nobody wants me; it’s a sweaty mum sandwich in my bed on a Sunday morning eating chocolate spread on toast and watching funny cats on youtube, hearing the giggles of my girls; it’s the exhilaration of writing a gut-happy sentence; it’s the buoyancy of walking away from a writing event knowing my dreams are coming true; it’s the thrill of the fear of a blank page; it’s any form of dark chocolate in any situation but particularly a Butler’s Salted Truffle at the end of a long hard day; it’s the end of a long, hard day; it’s finding out John Snow is alive in Game of Thrones; it’s every moment I spend with my friends; it’s sitting on the bench in my garden that I used to sit on with my mum, gazing in peaceful pain at the incredible blossom of the rhododendron my dad and I planted in her memory, and knowing beauty will always grow back; it’s knowing those moments when my tears of frustration and overwhelming exhaustion hit, they will be over at some point, and all of the above are always possible.) 

Isn’t it funny that ‘unhappiness’ is all about big words – grief, loss, abuse, rejection, fear – yet ‘happiness’ is the small things, the details, the bits of living in life?

So I’m reading this book and it’s all about how happiness is only within yourself. It’s not another person. It’s not about being thin. It’s not about everything we think happiness is, it’s only within ourselves. But like the Donegal landscape, you just can’t frame ‘happiness’ in a soundbite. Because, like the colours of the sky on a Donegal evening, it’s just too complex.

Happiness is definitely not relying on anyone else for your happiness.  Oh how I have learned that.  It’s not my mum, it’s not a husband, it’s not my children. Over the last year and a half, I have taught myself to have date nights with myself…. amid all the nights alone, I now allow myself the odd special one where I don’t give in to the wicked witch voice in my head telling me all the things I should be doing, and all the things I haven’t done. I leave dishes in the sink, I pull my bra off down my sleeve, I let out my belly and I seduce myself with wine and chocolate and I sing to myself as I walk around my garden smiling at the beauty of it all, and I read or I write or I shut down words completely and I wrap myself in the memory blanket I had made of my children’s clothes, and I snuggle with myself on the sofa and watch The Good Wife, and Game of Thrones, and First Dates.  

Busyness is the modern currency of kudos – we all list how busy we are, we complain how busy we are, we compete with how busy and manic our lives are, but I’ve decided that occasionally I’m going to bring in my own currency of slovenly laziness. Sometimes (not enough, not nearly nearly enough) I do nothing. It might be just a few moments in my swing chair in the sun, it might be a cheeky snooze on my kitchen sofa before I collect the girls, it might be a few minutes with a G&T on my garden bench but I am going to admit to them.   There. I just did. (Quick, quick Alana, reaffirm quickly just how busy you are.. running my own business, carving out a writing career, single mum, caring for dad, busy social life, entertaining, quick quick, list your busy-ness) but I am teaching myself to be a lazy arse too. Happiness is about both…. being busy and being lazy.

And like the book says, happiness is about finding peace within yourself but it is also very much about other people too. Making time for friends, engaging, being loved by good people, shared moments.

Only you – and some good people – can make you happy. Of course happiness is not reliant on another person – I know how UNhappy another person can make you – but it takes complexity and simplicity to make us happy. It takes peace and solitude AND love and friendship; it takes busyness and discipline and creative stimulation AND laziness and slobbyness and spontaneity; it takes date nights with yourself AND date nights with others.

As a single mum, time alone is the currency of sanity.  But like chocolate, too much of it has disastrous consequences. Time with enriching people is the currency of life. I am lucky. So lucky I have incredible and enriching people in my life.

Today I fly off with my girls on holiday – a eurocamp in Croatia. It’s going to be warm and beautiful and manic and loud. We’ll be sleeping in a  mobile home and eating breakfast on the balcony. I’m optimistically taking 3 books with me but suspect I won’t get a moment’s peace to read them.  I suspect the soundtrack to the week will be a constant loop of “Look at me!  Look at me!  Jump in the pool! Look at me!” And that’s what we need. A nourishing fun week together with none of the pressures of everyday life. I don’t get that much with the girls any more – good quality time. So it’s going to be glorious, if not exhausting.

The following week, I then fly to the Andalusian mountains for a writing retreat where silence is the order of the day.  I will be alone, and every day I’ll walk in beauty and write in solitude. I will miss the girls but welcome the head space.  In the evenings, the other writers and I will congregate for dinner to talk and share and suck up some company.

And that is happiness to me. A little bit of everything, happiness with myself, AND happiness with others. The little things that make up the vast picture that can never be captured in a photo frame or a sound bite. 

We’ll be heading to Donegal again in the summer and I know happiness is just looking at that sky and because of it’s beauty,  knowing that life will always be ok.


About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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1 Response to What is happiness?

  1. Meabh Hyland says:

    “Busyness is the modern currency of kudos”: this is so apt Alana. I have thought the same thing for a long time but haven’t been able to capture it in a phrase. Thank you for doing it for me!


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