I’ve met a lot of people along the way so far, from people who were penniless and living in single rooms in Bed and Breakfasts, to people who have big country houses and go skiing every year. People who have been invalided out of the workforce, the self-made and the downright lucky. I’ve known plenty of wealthy people who were a long way from being happy, whilst misery and poverty go together very easily. Without a doubt, the happiest people I know are either retired, or self employed, doing something they care about and feel has value, and have strong friendship networks.
Often self employed people like me work longer hours than regular employees and do so for less money, but, you get to say no when you need to. You can fit your work around your life, and I see a lot of that amongst the self employed, especially around child raising. People who work for themselves always have more scope to be creative, and get more direct financial reward for the things they get right. There are more risks, but these days most regular employment is so insecure that the risks seem a lot smaller than they used to. At least when it’s your company you can really fight to keep it going and don’t have to depend on whether anyone else is determined to make sure your job continues to exist. What I hear from regularly employed friends suggest that increasing numbers of workplaces are becoming unreasonable, disrespectful pressure fests. The self employed may not have as much cash, but we don’t endure any workplace bullying unless we do it to ourselves.
There are basic essentials that we all need. Recent discussions on facebook around food budgets demonstrate that a person who knows their stuff and has enough wriggle room for some bulk buying, can live well on fairly little. Less desire to be fashionably dressed keeps the clothes budget down. Feet as transport save money, and the cost of gym membership. There’s an art to being less affluent, and one of the key requirements is knowing that cash does not equate to happiness. Yes, life without the basics is miserable, but that’s not always a money issue. Rest and sleep are basics, plenty of highly paid, high flying jobs will deprive you of those. Human relationships are also a basic human need, and if you’ve got to work all your waking hours, or deeply antisocial hours, money costs you in terms of relationship.
The first secret to finding happiness rests on knowing what actually makes you happy. That’s going to vary for all of us, but whatever you think you’ve got, it’s worth poking it. The joy of shopping, for example, can often be about getting a temporary sense of power out of spending money, but if you run up debts, that disempowers you, it can become like an addiction. Getting drunk can feel like happiness, but there’s thinking out there that our young people do this just to blot out the reality of the rest of their lives. So just how happy a state is that? Merry is great, slightly pissed can be wonderful, but so off your face that you don’t know which way is up? Its popular, hugely expensive in terms of police costs and antisocial knock-ons.
I am able to get by on very little because I know what I need. I have books, online articles and radio 4 to supply me with intellectual stimulus on a daily basis. I have good company in the form of my bloke, my child, fellow boaters, excellent friends and a wide selection of casual acquaintances in the wider world. I need time outside and most especially, panoramic landscape views. Enough food, exercise and rest are possible to achieve, although I don’t always get that balance right. Lying in bed, snuggled with my man, cat purring in my ear, child giggling at the other end of the boat as he reads Pratchett in bed… of these things are contentment made. Happiness is not a big, dramatic sort of emotion. If I need thrills and adventures, moving the boat on a windy day, cycling a hill, undertaking an epic walk – I can challenge myself. I don’t get bored. I have the freedom to think and feel as I please, to choose a lot of what happens, or negotiate it in ways that work all round. I am free from bullying, and unkindness doesn’t feature much in my life. I feel very lucky in all of this.
I’m happy when small things go well, and when what I do works for other people, when publishers say yes, and the child says ‘today was an awesome adventure’ or things to that effect. I’m happy when I feel that I’m acting ethically, and walking my talk in some way or another, and when what I do manifestly benefits someone else. Money can be nice, especially when it represents people who bought my books. But money does not buy me the call of the cuckoo, a child’s laughter, or the man who looks at me with adoration in his eyes.