Some Thoughts on Happiness, Privilege and the Good Life.

For the first time that I can recall I got a little bit emotional when leaving London yesterday. Part of that was no doubt because I now usually do the Christmas trip back to Glasgow with my boyfriend but he had been sent to Turkey with work, so what is usually an exciting conspiratorial journey felt a bit flat and sad. As I travelled to Euston, however, walking through what is now ‘our neighbourhood’ and taking the route we travel to work on every morning, I had this sudden realisation that I’m very happy here, living our little lives. I love where we live; I love the people I associate with; more than that, I like the man I am always becoming (for the most part). I am old enough now to know that things never remain the same and that happiness comes and goes but I am also old enough to think that one day I will look back at this period and smile. As the eels song goes, “these could be the good old days”. London has worked out pretty well.

It’s been a bit of an odd year in that I have hit an age where both myself and my peers become noticeably concerned with the future – with becoming an adult. Everyone has been thinking about the person they would like to be, the things they would like to do. I don’t really know any hugely ambitious people – no accomplished surgeons or gifted authors or wealthy entrepreneurs – none of us really do jobs which could ever be described as ‘important’. This feeds a lot into the insecurities about getting older because you’re supposed to aspire to these things, right? They’re part of the ‘you’ve made it’ package, with the loving partner and the pretty flat and the socially-conscious shopping.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently because I’ve been watching Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States. As the title suggests, it presents a narrative of US history which deviates from the ‘norm’ – being Oliver Stone, this of course means that it has a strongly left-wing slant. It’s been quite a while since I watched or read any history and it has been eye-opening. How easily I forget that World War II, an expansive British Empire, the atom bomb, Stalin have all been in the lifetime of people alive today. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the period, it’s almost impossible for someone like me in 2012 to fully comprehend its existence. Thinking about it has made me ashamed that I am so ignorant about so much but more than that, it has made me ashamed that I do not fully appreciate how privileged and fortunate I am (no matter how easily those words may sometimes come to me.) I wonder what the older generation must think of us, so entitled and self-absorbed, so ready to seek out slights and offence which allow us to feel like victims even as we enjoy lives which are golden in comparison to most even today (let alone the past). That’s not to say that no-one has it bad or that truly wretched things don’t happen any more, of course not. Yet I think about how notions such as self-sacrifice and humility were once at the core of what it meant to be a human – they had to be. More and more they seem to be lost as a healthy confidence and self-belief distorts into a grotesque certainty that we deserve to be better, more noticed, more accomplished, than people around us. Self-reflection doesn’t currently seem to be a much admired quality. We are set to transmit and to feel certainty, traits both fundamental to and exacerbated by social media. From concerns about ‘internet trolls’ to our rushing to de-construct a new Guardian or Daily Mail piece we don’t like, we get worked up about such empty bullshit. We argue over binary opinions which very rarely evolve and very rarely differ from most other people’s in any meaningful way. We convince ourselves that the louder we are, the better the human being we become.

Yesterday I deeply felt that there is a a quiet victory in just being alive and enjoying what you have. Living that little life that few people will remember. See, I’m so conscious of my privilege and how smug this sounds that I feel the need to say that I don’t mean that we should live insular lives, blind to the world around us. The very opposite, in fact: we should engage with it more but we should do so with humility and the knowledge that we really don’t know as much as we are certain that we do. None of us are going to change the world by tweeting a lot or sharing Facebook links and, certainly, none of us are going to constructively engage with anyone else until we can recognise our own ego and feel embarrassed at how rampant it sometimes can be. Some people will read this and think I am talking utter drivel; some will think I am self-satisfied and trite; undoubtedly I will read this back at some point and cringe. For the moment, however, I am truly grateful for all that I have. For the moment, I think that trying every single day to appreciate this; trying every single day to be aware of who I am as a person; trying every single day to strive towards being a kinder, more compassionate, more humble person – I think somewhere in that a good life can be found.

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