Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rain, happiness and The Wheeler Centre

What an evening Melbourne offered last night for a discussion on being happy.

Blanketed by a foreboding thunderstorm and teaming rain, I walked from work in one end of the city to the the Wheeler Centre in the other, thinking that Sigur Ros got it wrong in their song Hoppipolla - the lyrics of which apparently translate to beautifully innocent childhood moment like jumping in puddles. Then I corrected myself - jumping in puddles is fun; just not while wearing a suit. If I were wearing shorts and thongs I'd be happy. Instead I was in a damp suit with uncomfortably wet socks.

I adore the Wheeler Centre. It's like going back to a study Arts again, but without the exams and it's usually free. God bless Melbourne. But this weather?

Yesterday I finally hauled myself out of bed to get to the 6.00am yoga class. A sucker for a sleep in (or lie in), it also gave me a rare opportunity to take my time getting ready for work and stroll through the city in the morning sunshine feeling relaxed and happy. It set the scene for a good day.

Last night's session was the third night of the Sad/Angry/Happy series. On Tuesday night, I left the Angry session energised and inspired, and having made the unexpected purchase of Brendan Cowell's book. Arriving at the Happy session feeling like something the cat had dragged in backwards through a series of puddles, I hoped to be uplifted by it, though I'll admit to being skeptical about the choice of Catherine Deveny as a panellist. She's someone I've thought in the past to be overly cynical and judgemental but I held judgement (and tweets).

Sitting shoeless in an attempt to dry my socks out while I listened, I was pleasantly surprised. She was genuine and positive - even disagreeing with a cynical question/comment from the audience about the obligatory check-out chick's insincere "Have a nice day" - as were all the panel, despite the recurring theme of depression, which is seemingly closely (even inextricably) tied to happiness, as hate is to love.

It delved into dark, uncomfortable places: is a distorted reality a necessity for happiness? Is the active pursuit of happiness futile, and even a cause of disappointment? What is the difference between happiness and joy? Does happiness only really exist in hindsight? Convener, Sean Dooley, cited novelist Jonathan Franzen's claim that he was happiest in the process of writing his books, but left with a certain emptiness upon achieving his goal.

These are thoughts are some of the types that have troubled me in the past, triggering anxiety that demands resolution but also grows as you seek attainable certainty, becoming more susceptible to irrational, troubling thoughts until you either let go or wear yourself out.

Luckily I've learnt to let go and accept uncertainty much better, which actually gives me a greater sense of certainty.

Afterwards, the walk from the Wheeler Centre to the Flinders Street tram stop was a contemplative one. The proposition that it takes a certain level of depression to get a true picture of reality sat a little uncomfortably did demanded some thought and resolution: How can I be happy if happiness requires a level of delusion? I thinking about it in an anxious, fearful way was counter-productive though. The only way for me to manage such uncomfortable uncertainties is to accept them, and often they resolve themselves.

Perhaps people that explore the darker sides of life and reality are be more susceptible to bouts of sadness or depression. That doesn't make happiness unrealistic, just many of the ways we people pursue it maybe?

My conclusion was that happiness is an underlying state of mind that can withstand hits and set backs, while joy is something that comes in bursts and fleeting moments that can be either meaningful or superficial - the birth of a niece or nephew (I don't have my own kids..) or watching Essendon win a game of footy (AnZaharakis Day anyone?).

I've found the best way to be truly happy is to live in, and appreciate, the moment - even if I'm still mastering that approach.

So, now soaked wet, I gave up zipping through the rain from one point of shelter to another - it became ridiculous after I sought shelter under a traffic light - and I embraced it, strolling through the city smiling at those who walked past huddled under umbrellas. Even when, standing at the corner of Russell and Flinders Streets trying to get across to the tram stop before the tram did, a car drove through a deep puddle and splashed water over my legs I soaked it up (badoom-chh). I was just glad the tram seemed to slow to catch the red light so I'd be able to cross in time.

A businessman boarded a few stops later, shaking out his umbrella and cursing, 'Fucking rain'. His suit only only half-soaked, he clearly hadn't reached the liberating point of nonchalance.

Now sheltered, I still wasn't entirely comfortable in my saturated suit, dripping hair and wet socks; but really I'd only feel uncomfortable by dwelling on how I could be more comfortable.

Noting this, and with a childish abandon, I disembarked at my stop and walked the few hundred metres home, stepping in every puddle I could, letting rushing water wash over my shoes. I wouldn't stand in the rain all night, but I wasn't cold and the dampness of my clothes was just a sensation, and therefore sensational, right?

And besides, how good the feeling of arriving home and changing into dry clothes!

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