For what? A rainy day?

August 7, 2008

I am brewing a post on dark happiness.

This is not that post. That post is going to be hard, and it might not appear for a while. But I do want to focus on one aspect of dark happiness taken from Dr Wong’s post: the idea that one can experience happiness even when life is grim, simply by placing one’s attention on the present and very near future. The example he gives is of someone who has made a tiny amount of medical progress. Maybe they are still in the hospital – and maybe they are never going to get out of the hospital – but they are in less pain for now, or can move something that they couldn’t have moved before. The prognosis is still bleak, but in that moment there is progress.

I really get this, and I find it valuable. I’m fascinated by the idea of ‘the noxious world’ that affects so many of us, and what positive psychology can mean for people facing such traumas and challenges. One criticism often levelled at positive psychology – and it is a fair one – is the idea that it is a ‘Pollyanna-ish’ science, and even politically dangerous because of it – encouraging people to seek happiness within themselves, whilst ignoring the genuinely unacceptable conditions of their life or the injustice and lack of compassion that leads to it. But I have also seen some of the most beautiful things in life arise from some of the darkest, even if these flowers bloomed for only a few moments before they died.

I can also see it in my life at the moment. I am not facing the trauma that Wong is facing, but many things are dark and the future is uncertain and frightening. If I concentrated on the circumstances of my life, I would be miserable. And I don’t want to be in denial. I’ve spent a lot of my life in denial, and it’s harmed me and people I love.

So I have a deal with myself. It goes like this. I ask the question: ‘What can I do today to work towards a better future?’ It might be step work, or college work, or starting to look towards the future – making a phone call or taking notes towards a CV. It might be having the courage to look at my financial situation even though it frightens me. So I do that.

Then I have the rest of the day off from thinking about it. There’s nothing else I can do that day. I have permission to put all the bad stuff out of my mind and concentrate on the day. And for the rest of the day, I feel okay. Then it starts all over again tomorrow.

I don’t know how long this is going to go on. There’s certainly no end in sight right now.

But I’m still okay. I’m not at my best ever, but I’m okay. I’m cherishing the few bright moments, and I’m really living in them, because I don’t know when I’m going to get any more. I get far more happiness out of small things – a nice outfit, a crossword, an episode of Father Ted – than I used to. I don’t think about the future at all. My horizon is really, really narrow.

It’s dark. I would not choose for my life to be like this.

But it’s happiness. And I think that learning to do this will serve me well.

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6 Responses to “For what? A rainy day?”

  1. Sarah Jane Says:

    I’m sorry things are difficult, and I hope they improve soon.

    I am also trying to find moments of happiness in the present. Not that my life is actually difficult, it just feels that way, and optimism can be an enormous effort sometimes.

  2. Alithea Says:

    *hugs* I’ve been thinking of you since your post about needing to forgive yourself…

    I’m trying this sort of technique at the moment too – I do what I can towards sorting out my work life and the rest of the time I focus on achieving something, even if it’s only the housework, because getting depressed isn’t going to help me find a job.

  3. Francesca Says:

    Reply to both:

    No, please don’t worry! I am fine and will be fine.

    It’s good to be learning this stuff. Learning is not always comfortable, but it is damn useful and I am developing skills that will last me a lifetime.

  4. Francesca Says:

    Reply to SJ:

    Not that my life is actually difficult, it just feels that way

    I think that if it feels difficult, it counts as difficult. I can’t think what measure would be more meaningful than this.

  5. Sarah Jane Says:

    Yes, but it only feels difficult because I’m depressed. In fact, I have a very good life, I just can’t appreciate it at the moment.

  6. Francesca Says:

    I think depression trumps all ‘good life’ cards. It is pretty much the worst thing ever. (I wrote about Margaret Tebbit, didn’t I?)


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