Friday, 8 November 2019

The Happiness Factor - Can I get hold of it? Part I

`’Do you live here all by yourself?”

Micky was new to the German Conversation group. She hadn’t been to my house before and during her visit she went and stood at every window downstairs looking out on to the garden covered in gold, red and orange beech leaves, the dark shapes of the yews and hollies punctuating the afternoon gloom and the vistas of the hills beyond my hedges. “Beautiful”, she said, “it must be a lot of work.”

It’s only when somebody else remarks on it that you realise that, yes, you are all alone in too much space, that the space calls for more work than you could cope with if you had to do it yourself and that, really, could you be considered selfish? Apart from having it brought home to me in no uncertain terms that I am indeed completely alone now I pushed the thought away. Environmental footprints, paying others to do my unpleasant work, using up more resources than one person should are all genuine and valid concerns, but I don’t want to complicate my life more than it is. For now.

There has recently been yet another study into the happiness factor. Truly happy people are ‘people who need people’, who have strong bonds with friends and family and regular contact. As you all know I have no strong bonds with anyone, I don’t feel I need people, but there are periods when I feel lonely, dejected, depressed. So I am giving the happiness factor a chance to invade my world by accepting every invitation, grab every opportunity for social interaction, take up any cultural entertainment on offer, talk to people in the street and in shops and butt in to casual conversations of a general nature.

The cultural entertainment part has been a great success: Donizetti’s Don Pasquale with Bryn Terfel as the elderly bachelor conned into thinking he is marrying a supposedly demure convent girl, only to find her a domineering, even tyrannical wife the moment the ring is on her finger, was fun. Terfel was made for the role.

Then there was an excellent production of
A Midsummer Nights Dream with Titania being played by Gwendoline Christie. The theatre becomes the forest – a dream world of flying fairies, contagious fogs and moonlight revels.
Hammed Animashaun was a very funny Bottom.
I’ve seen ’The Dream’ a number of times, this production will stick in the mind and not only because of well known stars of small and large screens.

Lastly a new play ‘Hansard’ about the private life of a Conservative MP under Margaret Thatcher
who comes back to his house in the Cotswolds after a week of controversial debate in London. There are only two actors on stage, the MP and his wife, who start out sparring in a sort of routine way but as the day draws on the familiar rhythms of marital scrapping quickly turn to blood-sport.

Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings were excellent. Towards the end it became so harrowing I held my breath.

So, the cultural element of my past few weeks was a success, enough to let a chink of happiness through my anti-social armour. Now for human interactions.


  1. Good luck.
    I am really happy for you that the cultural elements worked so well.
    My head/heart/emotions are in a very wobbly place at the moment and people are overwhelming.
    The garden (while it is too much for me) isn't.

  2. Friko, I'm glad that you found some things that bring you joy... in the productions you mentioned. I'm not much on socializing myself, but I think you do need to have contacts (whether family, friends, or pets) that you care about and care about you - to feel needed and to feel that your life has a purpose. We are all similar in some ways, but very different in others. Guess what I'm trying to say is that we each have to find our own path to happiness... especially after loss. You seem to be going in the right direction.

  3. You are doing well to identify what you need to do and also to take steps to do it. Well done!

  4. I agree totally with Rian's comment. I think you are doing all the right things, and when we have experienced loss on the scale that you have, everything we can do to find happiness in our daily lives is essential. Sending you a virtual hug. :-)

  5. So glad that you are taking up cultural activities once more...and crumbs, those you describe sound superb.

  6. I think one nice thing about attending plays and concerts, etc, with friends, is that you don't have to talk the whole time, but you are spending "quality time" together. It's nice to share the experience of the cultural event and have that to talk about afterward, so that so much "small talk" isn't needed. I don't care enough about going to things like that to do it alone, but after my husband died I continued getting two season tickets for performances of a local symphony, and I have taken many different people along with me in the last few years.

    Is the German conversation group something that you started so that people could practice their German? Do you advertise it?

  7. I think I pretty much understand where you are coming from, friend Friko (literally as well as figuratively speaking :) It is true that most people need people in order to be happy … but truly happy? I'm not so sure … I'm a good example. At age 63 I can truly say that I am truly happy. When off from work, I sometimes do not speak for days (except with Theo Thunderbutt of course:) … and I truly like it that way. Love, cat.

  8. Kudos for being open to different ways of looking at things. Any number of interesting, happy-making results could come of the smallest insight.

  9. I am so glad to know that YOU have been enjoying some pleasant times! GretchenJoanna pointed out something I had never thought about. She is so right in what she says. I have been following your blog for years. You always are so honest with yourself and with us. You give us ---your readers---plenty to think about. Thank you for sharing your life; you make mine better. And, it may feel like you are alone, but, to me, you are dear. Too bad virtual hugs can't transmit the warmth of physical ones!

  10. Cultural events have been rather lacking on my calendar in recent years; if I manage to go to the theatre, opera or ballet once a year, I am good! In the past, I was a much more frequent and avid visitor of such events, but somehow, other things - such as invitations to parties, family gatherings and meals out - have taken over.
    I definitely need people, and have close bonds to family and friends, but I also very much need time to myself, especially after a busy day at work where I have already been talking and listening to a large number of people all day.
    It's all in the balance for me.

  11. I am still one of two, but my husband gets all the invites and requests for assistance. When he is gone for a week, the phone never rings. If and/or when I become a widow I image I will just disappear....

  12. You know my stance on such things by now, but when I read, "Truly happy people are ‘people who need people’, who have strong bonds with friends and family and regular contact," my first thought was a two-word phrase that references the creature known as a bull and its excrement. If that applies across the board, then my assumption that I'm truly happy can't be right, and I don't believe that.

    I am glad you've been attending the various events you mentioned. I suspect (but don't know) that they function for you much as days in nature do for me: they're restorative, and bring pleasure. On the other hand, as much as I enjoy books and music, the last time a friend asked me to go to the movies with her, I offended her just a bit when I said, "Oh, gosh -- that seems like such a waste of time." We finally figured that one out, and she realized I wasn't talking about time with her, precisely. But still -- right now, the activities that bring me pleasure are essentially solitary pursuits, and focused in nature.

    There's a Mary Oliver poem I'll be posting at Lagniappe soon, and it expresses it perfectly. Right now, we have a wonderfully pleasant late fall weekend ahead of us, and I'm off to the woods!

  13. good that you are getting out and being entertained. I'm perfectly happy limiting my social entanglements. but then I still have a man rumbling around the house. are we being selfish by aging in place, by not moving to smaller digs when we become singletons? I'm not so sure. why should we give up our home, the place we know and holds our history to move to a small place that is a stranger to us.

  14. Our paths are so different in life - all of us. People ask me what to do and I say you will know what to do. Whatever feels comfortable, or interesting, or inspiring. When I grieved I went to grief therapy, not for everyone but it was good for me to review all my losses, some dead, some living that was the therapy process. Coming to terms, find the slivers of joy in the detritus.

    I am so glad for you that theatre and meetups are (for now) your way forward.

    We are all walking each other home.


  15. So glad you are out and about enjoying yourself!

    I think people need connections--whether a pet or writing letters or online friends or being lost in books. I do think people need something to be connected to, but some people are perfectly content with a minimum of actual human face time. ;)

  16. I read such great reviews about Hansard that I wanted to book a plane to England spot on just to see it. Lucky, lucky you! You do sound busy and I'm so glad you've been attending lots of good theatre and music. And the German group sounds like social interaction too.

    My two cents for what it's worth. Do what you love and love what you do. I think one could live solo in the largest space if they either can care for it themselves or hire the help needed. If it feels like too much of a ramble, then moving on is an option. Point is, if you are happy where you are and you manage it well, don't worry about the other stuff. Enjoy it for what it is worth. I say that, knowing that it is probably lonelier now, without sweet Millie.

    I can only speak for me. When I go live at the lake most all of the summer, the only people I encounter are strangers in the market or on my walk, unless I've invited friends or Rick is there for the weekend. And I like that just fine. Books and painting and walking and photography suits me well. (And there IS a telephone and internet!) I appreciate people all the more when I spend times with the ones I like!

  17. Your plan to be more socially engaged sounds like a solid one. I think I read somewhere that those who, in effect, have an abundance of stored, happy memories are more emotionally resilient. This may tie in to what you are doing. May it go well!

    Grüsse aus San Francisco!

  18. When I was recently divorced I tried to do as much socially as I could - many times, I really had to force myself. But overall, I think it helped. Hope it's helpful for you!

  19. Friko, you sound like me, a lot to do, help not as available but that is OK I like the look.
    Also,all I have been close to are now gone, happens at 85, Lord, how did I get this old
    in body and mind much younger

  20. Nothing blights happiness as trying to get it. Happiness for me comes through doing meaningful things that elect happiness like heat from a warm engine.

  21. Grief is the most emotional pain that we go through in life and we all do it differently. Good for you, Friko, for reaching out and looking for comfort. Although things will never be the same again, one can carry on and find a way to better days. Where there is life, there is hope.

  22. A chink often lets the light in. Hopefully, the chink of happiness will do likewise.

  23. Great to hear that you are successful in the cultural element. As for social contacts, I think it can be over-rated. It is better to be on your own, doing what you like, than try to be with people who have different views from yours. I am a liberal now in a red state. I was reading in a Psychology article “Some people do well spending lots of time with other people; some people do better spending time by themselves. And remember: Being alone does not have to mean being lonely.” This is so true. The article also said that psychologists have not placed as much emphasis on the study of the ill effects of bad friendship. Toxic people or speech can cause physical problems too. If I have to listen to Conservatives near me telling me how wonderful Mr. Trump is, and listen to racists’ viewpoints, or their dislike of immigrants, I get very stressed. Better to be all alone in my big house here in Nashville (bigger than the one in Atlanta!) So, please don’t be anxious about it. A UCLA study of 122 healthy adults found that those with negative social experiences had higher levels of pro-inflammatory proteins which could lead to depression, hypertension, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Ah! So do whatever makes you happy.

  24. You have the right ideas, get out and about. Appreciate yourself!


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