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”If you want to be happpy, be.” Leo Tolstoy.
“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” – James Openheim
“Happiness is a form of courage.” – Holbrook Jackson
I never took myself as a foolish man. Then six months ago I came to the stark realisation that I was quite possibly the most foolish man on earth. I am glad to say that is no longer the case!
As I write, it is 1am. I have just had a wonderful two hour nap. Sitting at my kitchen table, the article you are now reading will be written over the next hour. At the same time music envelopes my senses, my ever essential cup of liquid gold (coffee) is by my side, and my beautiful wife sits across from me doing her own work. For an hour before my nap I played piano and inflicted my lamentable singing on friends and neighbours, having earlier baked biscuits with my daughter, taught my son how to cook fish and eaten a wonderful meal with my family. This morning I took an invigorating walk holding hands with my wife, looking out over the stunning vista of Galway Bay as the rocks of the Burren shimmered in the reflected sunlight. Tomorrow I will be a GP. Tomorrow night I will be on call in sumptuously beautiful south Connemara. Every day I am happy.
On 24 October 2015 my best friend asked me where I thought I would be in 10 years. After reflecting for a few minutes I answered “dead”, that I could see myself “continuing to work flat out as I had been doing for the previous 15 years and then dropping dead of a massive heart attack”. It was a matter of fact answer that reflected where I had let myself end up. Running to stand still. Sending emails in the middle of the night and frequently working all night through. Working like a dog combining being a full-time locum GP, with being a Programme Director and Faculty Chair in the ICGP and President of the European Vasco da Gama Movement. Worse still, I had over many years allowed myself to, in effect, be and become an in-absentia father.
In hindsight, I have asked myself what I was doing, why and what for. Why did I attempt to work myself to death? What was the rationale? Although I derived what I thought was satisfaction from all the many things I did, with the retrospectoscope of 20/20 vision, I came to the realisation that I was actually looking for something. Perhaps I was seeking inner peace, satisfaction, or purpose, perhaps I was chasing some sort of fancy dream, or perhaps I had simply become too busy and lost sight of the true value of the simple things in life, in particular the importance of love. What I know beyond doubt is that for the last 10 years I wasn’t really happy.
In hindsight giving things up is easy. It is getting past the misperception of hardship that takes courage
And so, starting on 25 October 2015, I began to rebalance my life. In the last six months, as outlined by Holbrook Jackson, I got the courage to be happy. I stopped trying to be all things to all men. I was brave enough to let go of many things which occupied my time, but to be honest were not a good use of my time. I have no television. I stopped using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and What’s App. I leave work on time. I finally learned how to say “no” to other people (except my wife and children)! And I started to live. In hindsight giving things up is easy. It is getting past the misperception of hardship that takes courage.
Now it is May 2016. If I get my best friend (who happens to be my wife) to ask me the same question as on 24 October, I will give a very different answer. Now I find myself savouring the considerations of Dr W Beran Wolfe, the US trained Austrian psychologist and psychiatrist who in 1931 authored the 355-page How To Be Happy Though Human. He wrote: “If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life 24 crowded hours of the day.”
I am glad to say that I am no longer the most foolish man on earth; rather, I may have the good fortune to be the happiest!