The Pursuit of Happiness…

Not the movie. I hated that movie. Well, it was a nice story but attached to the title “The pursuit of Happyness” it left me with the feeling that to become happy I must become “successful” by societies terms. There are only so many places at the “top”. There will always be people needed to do the work others don’t want to do for themselves. Until the robots take over… I digress.

I’ve battled with the notion of success for as long as I have sought out happiness. The two for a long time were synonymous. Success would lead to happiness. Ask people what they want in life a large proportion will say “to be happy,” in an almost programmed fashion. “What would make you happy?” is usually answered by “lots of money. Success.” Now, I have never been “rich” but I have been poor and I’ve been comfortable enough not to have to work for a while. When I was poor, I was unemployed, wracking up debt and depressed. But when I got a job. The first thing I wanted to do was get rid of my debt. It had hung around me like a weight while I was treading water. It was stifling. But what has this got to do with happiness? Well the majority of us don’t become rich. But large swathes of the population live as if they have. If “success” is the key to happiness then debt is the antithesis.

One in two adults with debts has a mental health problem. One in four people with a mental health problem is also in debt. Debt can cause – and be caused by – mental health problems. It’s tempting to just not think about it – it can be uncomfortable and can make you feel guilty, depressed – or even hopeless.

https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/debt-and-mental-health#:~:text=One%20in%20two%20adults%20with%20debts%20has%20a,you%20feel%20guilty%2C%20depressed%20%E2%80%93%20or%20even%20hopeless.

I chased external fulfilment to the point of addiction. The shackles of my self made prison stopped me from picking MY path to success. I’d worked, earned, spent, lived and yet I was far from merry. I felt like I was living someone else’s life. Pursuing someone else’s dreams. To the point that I had to increase my consumption and hasten my pursuit. Maybe I was unhappy because I didn’t have enough? Maybe more was the answer? What an idiot I was. To honestly believe that more of the thing that was making me unhappy would magically make me happy. But I was too lost in the chaos to even question my behaviour. I was doing the things I thought I should be doing. I was envious often. I questioned. Overthought. Yet, still lived. It just wasn’t my life I was living.

Success; a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc…

I moved towns and cities. Always looking for elusive happiness. Was it in people, places and things? I got promoted but felt nothing. I bought things and the temporary feeling of success slowly ebbed away into nothingness. What actually was I looking for? I mean what the fuck does happiness even feel like? Is it the intensity of an orgasm? The rush of a drug? The buzz of adrenaline from skydiving? Watching your kid take their first steps? Or is it knowing that I can get water with relative ease and I know I won’t starve today? Is it comfort in my own skin? Appreciation for the life I’ve lived and the beautiful people I have been fortunate to know? It is all of those things and much more. But the temporary feelings will bring temporary happiness. The permanent (Or as permanent as can be in a temporary life) bring a lower level of happiness for longer periods. I pursued happiness through pleasure. The time I wasn’t doing the thing that made me happy? I was miserable! I was thinking about doing something to get a kick. When the town I lived in offered no more hedonism I moved to the city. More, of course, is the solution!!

Yet, I was unhappy. I was chasing this illusion and killing myself in the process. My ego solidified the belief that the pursuit would be worth it in the end. I wonder if that is what the hamster thinks while it is running on its wheel? Much like the hamster, I was getting nowhere. I mean I was getting paid and I was working towards something but I still felt empty. I drank myself to oblivion. Hit rock bottom and was forced to take stock. I felt like I’d lost at life. Felt like a loser who couldn’t handle his shit. It’s demoralising. Losing at a game I didn’t want to play, I shouldn’t have cared. But I did. Hitting rock bottom is the exact opposite of success. It is the lowest. It is also the greatest opportunity for change. I don’t know the answer but I know the questions “Is there another way? Who does my life serve?” If fifteen years of chaotic blackout drinking isn’t making me anything more than fat, broke and depressed then maybe it is time for a change. But change is hard. Many of us can’t change because we are so deep into the life we have that it would take a huge effort to get out.

I had to ask myself those questions “Is there another way?” Well, there has to be! This way isn’t working out. “Who does my life serve?” Well, I was a teacher and loved helping the students. But ultimately I was an alcoholic mess. I was fighting to stay sane and could barely afford to live due to the amount of debt I’d wracked up over the years. I could still teach and did. The things around that had to change. I was serving my credit card company, the loan company and the brewery. I was borrowing money to escape the fact I was unhappy. I was an idiot. But I had been doing the thing I thought would make me happy. I consumed.

The force of hitting rock bottom cracked my ego. Allowed a view of alternative reality through the calcification of certainty. It was uncertainty. Frightening. Intimidating. But I had nothing to lose. I’d been at war with myself for too long. Trying to suppress emotion and thoughts with alcohol. I was stuck in a loop. Wandering through life. Lost. Discontent. As the old adage says “fall down seven times get up eight.” I no longer had the energy to haul myself back into my old life. It didn’t appeal. I wanted something different. I wanted to be comfortable in the uncomfortableness of uncertainty. I found it in simple things. The things in life that had passed me by for years. It’s the simple things, there’s nothing greater. A glorious sunset when nature displays its unrivalled artistry. The dogs on the beach, momentary free and exuding joy. I had searched for something and found nothing. But found everything in nothing. I had got lost in the pursuit. Consumed by the illusion.

Reality exists in front of my face. I was just too distracted to see it. Consumed in my chaotic inner chatter. Anxious. Stressed. Unhappy. Exhausted. For what ends? In sobriety, I got the chance to take stock. To map a plan out that, I was sure would leave me fulfilled.

I eventually achieved my dream. The inner fire that burned with the yearning for exploration was realised. And on my return? NOTHING. I had memories. But there was no great awakening. I was disappointed. I expected achieving my dreams to answer all my problems. It didn’t, I had a breakdown. It took me months to put the pieces together. It took introspection to come to the realisation that my dreams were the carrot that kept me on the treadmill. I realised that I didn’t need to achieve them to be happy. There was no void. No missing piece. It was there all along. Within the moment. It had passed me by while I was focusing on the next goal. I am grateful for the opportunity to have done it. And that gratitude extends to many corners of my life. For the past only exists in my memories and over time they will become contorted. They will no longer be a reflection of reality but merely a comforting illusion.

I feel fortunate to have taken many avenues in life. Tried numerous things. Different jobs and roles. Never become a creation of my label. Currently, I am pursuing a “spiritual” path. I hate that phrase but can’t think of one more succinct. Maybe a “human” path. Pursuing things that the consumption model missed out on; contentment and inner peace. Strangely it seems to be the things that come at no cost that yield a greater return. Nature, friendship, love, connection and meditation. Of course, I have to pay my bills and live. But I am no longer dictated to due to my addiction to consumption. It is liberation.

Like I said “I don’t know the answer but I know the question; “is there another way?”” I found one. I had to. I was forced to by the outcome of my hedonism. On reflection, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much energy keeping the plates spinning. I should have let them fall years before I lost control. But back then I couldn’t even imagine there could be another way.

Charlie.

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