As part of my campaign to withdraw from prescription and non-prescription drugs I have connected with a local massage therapist. Preliminary to my first appointment I was asked to complete a questionnaire which included global questions about my level of stress, health and happiness. I hadn’t any trouble answering any one of the questions. The happiness enquiry was for me the easiest and the least difficult to assess on a scale of 1 – 10 (0 is severe depression and 10 is extremely happy). I picked 9 but only because I figured choosing 10 might make me seem absurd; I mean we all have to have at least some unhappiness.
My happiness meter took a jump in the right direction the moment I quit working. Since then, when I am not marvelling at the luck of my existence, I have attempted to pinpoint the source of my happiness. It is an unfortunate observation that I never had difficulty isolating the cause of my unhappiness but I have clearly never addressed as diligently to the root of my happiness. The awakening has however transpired imperceptibly. While I am tempted to fabricate a hodgepodge of ideas, my preference is to list the distinguishable elements of my happiness in order of priority. Health for example has to be at the top of the list; it’s the sine qua non after all. Though I am clinically obese at 230 pounds I am otherwise in tolerable shape for 67 years of age. My most common complaints are joint aches, sciatica and arthritis (and some especially unpleasing numbness in the balls of my feet and toes). I can at least take credit for having begun to anticipate the effect of my declining years by quitting alcohol 2½ years ago and abandoning smoking 17½ years ago (both adventures coinciding roughly with my birthday in December, frequently a moment of reckoning). While I derived incalculable pleasure from booze and tobacco (including their accessories; viz., crystal tumblers, silver shakers, lighters and pipes), the logic of the decision won the day and I have never looked back. I believe I am now reaping the benefits. I continue to cultivate well-being by bicycling regularly, eating a balanced diet and submitting to the urge to sleep whenever it arises (the afternoon nap is I submit greatly undervalued).
If my scrutiny of happiness is to escape being trite, I am bound to observe the importance of money. As insensitive as that may sound I am anxious to qualify its harshness by saying that I consider money like any other resource; namely, one to be handled thoughtfully (much like health) and not to be squandered and abused. Certainly there is a threshold below which money is a necessity but that doesn’t imply that endless amounts of the stuff is imperative. A starting point for me was the adage oft-repeated by my late father – “You can’t have money and things“. Of course the rich can have as much money and things as they prefer but for me it came down to a matter of choice. As part of my amortization, I engineered what by some standards would be construed a catastrophic alteration of my material world. Specifically within the limited space of several years we unloaded real estate (land, condominium, residence and office building) and nonessential personal possessions (sterling silver flatware and accessories, gold jewellery and watches, art work and sculpture, Steinway piano and mountains of leather, wool, cashmere and silk apparel). I hasten to add that with respect to the personal possessions, the discerning feature was “nonessential”. I can still recall the look of our former house as we prepared for the auction of our nonessential possessions – the place was packed from room to room with brass (candelabra, model cars, sculpture), ivory chess set, sterling silver flatware and accessories (salt cellars, pepper mills, sugar bowls, serving plates, candle snuffers, wine coasters), crystal (stemware, bowls, figurines, sculpture), furnishings (Oriental rugs, wall and mantle clocks, oak sleigh bed, mahogany chairs, dining table, sideboard and end tables), oak fireplace mantel and artwork (paintings, prints, historical documents, sculpture and wall hangings). The collection represented almost 40 years of aggressive collection. Not a particle remained at the end of the day (the auction spanned less than 8 hours even though it was scheduled for 2 days). Of course not everything we owned was sold; we kept our most precious and mandatory items. Where formerly we had 4 complete place settings and 4 different sets of flatware, we now retained only one of each. We decided too that the Crown Derby would be for our daily use – and that it would go into the dishwasher! We weren’t going to save it for the funeral!
Having chosen to diminish our living standard to that of a modest rental condominium, we have the advantage of being able to spread ourselves between Hilton Head Island, SC in the winter and Almonte, ON in the summer. What each of them shares is exceptional natural beauty. Being able to reside on the Atlantic Ocean for five months of the year is nothing short of a dream-come-true. All my life I have yearned to be beside the Ocean (though formerly my fantasy was set along a cliff overlooking the raging sea in Nova Scotia). Naturally being able to avoid the calamities of winter is an incontrovertible advantage and I have therefore willingly compromised my original vision.
Self-expression (photography & music)
Though obviously connected with the feature of natural beauty, another element of my personal happiness is photography. My first camera was an Agfa purchased when I was 17 years old. I initiated its use on a trip to the Arctic Circle from Stockholm, Sweden then down to Oslo, Norway. Subsequently I bought a Nikon mechanical camera and later a Nikon digital camera. Those cameras are now gone, replaced by the considerably more useable iPhone camera (which I conjoin with my MacBook Pro to edit my snaps). Photography is part of my self-expression which also includes music. I “replaced” (I use the word guardedly) my Steinway L-Grand with an electronic keyboard. Though its headphones, electronic strings and soprano voices are highly entertaining, the keyboard doesn’t compete with the Steinway. I now supplement my musical expression by playing the grand piano at my elderly mother’s retirement residence where I have a small following of appreciative listeners.
It would be a small stretch to include writing as another element of my happiness. I separated writing from the artistic expression of photography and music because writing is for me somewhat closer to a profession. Perhaps I only distinguish my writing as a profession because I have the good fortune to contribute a weekly column to our local e-newspaper. Contemporaneously I maintain what is now commonly called a “blog”, articles on my personal web site. Because both platforms (e-newspaper and blog) are or can be viewed publicly, my literary “creations” are of necessity a step-up from a diary. It no doubt assists that abstract thinking is a corollary to aging and therefore I can avoid at least some of the tiresome personal details of my life.
I first drove an automobile on a dead-end street at the age of ten. Both my father and his father were captivated by automobiles and driving. Driving is for me a consummate pleasure. I accede to its attraction no matter what the vehicle as long as it is in good running order and clean. Lately I confess my preference is for a well-appointed sedan. The allure of the automobile is commensurately greater as my other interests in life have waned. It is a privilege to drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley and along the open roads of rural Ontario. Our anticipated venture to St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, NB in September is already captivating me.
I have deliberately left the matter of personal relationship to the end. The paramountcy of my personal relationship is so elemental as to compete with breathing and the five senses of perception. The blunt truth is that none of what I have previously said would even be relevant were it not for this personal relationship. The personal relationship has insinuated and effectively sustains every other feature of happiness which I have denominated. We derive so much gratification from our interaction and time together. Once again its overwhelming second-nature oddly works to disguise its importance but the most casual analysis reveals its interdependence.
As a derivative of my personal relationship, the other relationships I have with friends and acquaintances have progressively acquired heightened significance. The progress in this realm has not been without its struggle because it has required some forceful thought but I am content that the effort was warranted and beneficial. It practically goes without saying that family relationships are another source of happiness though they too have not been without their paring and refinement.
There is a noticeable lack in what I have said of anything approaching production, charity, politics and Pro Bono. These are arenas in which I have historically participated and which I may one day revisit. For the time being I assuage any conflict of conscience I may be suffering by telling myself I need time to adjust to my new surroundings. I confess I may have already exhausted any utility in those matters anyway. It is perhaps the ultimate feature of happiness to be a disinterested by-stander.