What Is Your Idea of Perfect Happiness?… The Proust Questionnaire.

Working on character for the “Book Project”, a few weeks ago I decided to run through the Proust Questionnaire: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/in-pursuit-of-character-the-proust-questionnaire/

However, progress has obviously stalled at Question 1: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Needless to say, pursuing this question has evolved into quite a challenging and thrilling journey, resulting in multiple stepping-stone posts and even devouring precious wisdom from:The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.

You could well say I covered my idea of perfect happiness in my last post: By the way, you can read that post here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/the-dna-of-happiness/

However, I really wanted to nail it down.

Be specific.

Write something succinct.

Yet, of course, I’ve failed. After all, how could I ever encapsulate happiness in just a few words?

Thread and Thrift: Crazy Patchwork Appliqued Birds by Mandy Pattullo http://threadandthrift

Thread and Thrift: Crazy Patchwork Appliqued Birds by Mandy Pattullo http://threadandthrift

Finally, getting straight to the point, my idea of perfect happiness is something like a crazy patchwork quilt. Fabrics with a diversity of colour, pattern,texture, age and origin are all sewn together with a multiplicity of threads to make a truly eclectic life. It would also have to include something of a rainbow because even in my state of supposed “perfect” happiness, there would still have to be sun and rain. Otherwise, I’d stagnate. After all, flowers need sun and water to grow.

I love this sense of diversity, leading a varied and eclectic life because I thrive on that tension of yin and yang.

For example, consider intimacy and solitude.

Footprints in the sand.

Footprints in the sand.

There are times where I thrive on and really need my own space to write, think, eat my chocolate and simply breathe in peace. In other words, I can find true happiness basking in solitude and being completely alone and I can ever feel annoyed when someone enters that sacred place.

Cartwheels in the sand.

Cartwheels in the sand.

However, as a people person, I prefer to be with my kids, my husband, family, friends and being an active part not only in our local and now global community.

Yet. I love, appreciate and find happiness in both states.

Mister painintg himself.

Mister painintg himself.

Another way I’d describe my idea of perfect happiness would be to embrace life the way my children used to paint. Carpe Diem seize the day is definitely my mantra. While my kids still enjoy painting, they were really in their element painting as toddlers. I’d turn my back for just an instant and those thieving little hands would be squirting and smearing “Mummy’s paint” all over the page, their bodies and the house with exuberant delight. Even their cheeky little grins and their precious toothypegs were covered in paint. No holding back. No fear of making mistakes or not being good enough, there was only joy!

Love that paint job!

Love that paint job!

So often, we as adults have lost that joy, becoming too inhibited to spread our wings to fly or perhaps to open our lungs and truly allow ourselves to breathe and not hold back.

As I mentioned in my last post, for many poets and philosophers, happiness and sorrow are inexorably linked. You can’t have one without the other. That as opposites, that “yin and yang”, they help define each other. This would suggest that happiness is also identified and appreciated only by experiencing its opposite. This means no tears, suffering or frustrations, you also miss out on happiness…even if that doesn’t make sense.

A few years ago, if you’d asked me about happiness, I know I would’ve said: “getting my books published”. Indeed, even getting one book published would be a thrill. However, I’m not so sure that fulfilling that goal would bring enduring happiness. Sure, there would be such a sense of achievement, accomplishment and that “FINALLY”!! But I’m not sure that this would guarantee happiness. It is very tempting to think so but I’m not that sure. Of course, one suspects if it’s a best-seller, you’d never turn back but….?

I also don’t want to put too much weight on something that will happen in the future because I also need to be happy, content and excited about getting out of bed right now. That means right here, right now…NOT tomorrow!

That means that my idea of happiness currently has to involve NOT having the book(s) published.

In addition to all these more creative representations of my perfect state of happiness, I have also taken a more systematic approach.

A few years ago, when I first started working on writing my motivational memoir about living beyond a chronic, life-threatening illness, I came up with a list of things, seemingly out of nowhere and I wrote it down and have pondered that list for years now. A few items come and go but the list is essentially:

Mind
Body
Spirit
Community
Environment
Work

They stayed in this linear list format for a few years until I discovered Mind Mapping and then I put them into this format. I really didn’t know what happened when you put all this things together at once and just left it as a question mark…an enigma. It might be happiness. It could be self-actualization or resilience but I do believe it is a very powerful, life changing force…a bit like shaking up that bottle of Coke and taking off the lid.

The Keys To Happiness or Contentment?

The Keys To Happiness or Contentment?

However, these musings didn’t stop there.

When I started to work out the next level of the mind map i.e the things that I could do to develop these areas, a surprising thing occurred.

Or, at least it surprised me.

There was considerable overlap between categories.

For example, playing my violin managed to tick off mind,body,spirit and community because I not only play by myself but in an ensemble. It might even get a half tick in the environment category because at least I don’t think playing the violin is doing any harm.

Walking my dogs at the beach ticks off everything except work. Well, actually as my writing is my work and I write about dogs, I guess that’s also ticked off.

So, you see, if you are clever, you can activate many of these areas through a single activity, although you’d probably want and need more diversity than that.

I have been living quite consciously to this road map of sorts for a few years now and I am pretty sure it’s helped. For example, when my violin teacher and I discussed my future goals, I said that violin was a form of therapy to me. I know that it’s actually rewired my neuropathways quite significantly taking me from being unable to listen to music and finding it annoying due to a noisy brain, to someone who now attends concerts regularly, listens to CDs and plays an instrument. Indeed, I’m becoming a musician of sorts.

Unfortunately, all of this hasn’t resulted in perfect happiness. My health continues to be a serious concern and as I’ve mentioned before, while I’ve been exploring happiness, I’ve simultaneously been battling a nasty bout of bronchitis and am only just avoiding a hospital admission.

Our family also lives under a lot of stress and more often than not, this all boils over and it’s not all happy families, despite the photographs. However, what does perhaps give us a boost is our tenacious perseverance. We don’t give up easily. My husband is up at 6.00 AM every morning to go to work in Sydney no matter what. He did work from home on Friday because I was that crook but that doesn’t happen often. Geoff arrives home around 7.00PM and that’s the beginning of another day. Our kids are also fairly intensive and have some time-consuming medical issues.

So with all this going on, how could we possibly be happy? How could I be happy?

Well, despite how I come across, I’m not happy all the time but I am optimistic. Moreover, after all I’ve been through, I feel like I’ve been living on borrowed time for quite awhile and I am incredibly thankful. I consider myself very lucky. I carpe diem seize the day, which doesn’t just mean living for myself and our family but also being active in our community. I do the publicity for the kids school and can be seen running around at events taking photos, even when I’m not particularly well. I do the same for there Scout troop.

So, once again, I haven’t manged to answer this question in a nutshell but I think I’m getting close.

I hope some of these thought might also help you further along your journey towards happiness, contentment and along with it that sense of peace. It’s not about having all your ducks lined up and having the perfect life, but somehow seeing beyond all that to something for less tangible. Something you might not be able to see and touch but you know it when you feel it in your heart.

Love & Blessings,
Rowena

12 thoughts on “What Is Your Idea of Perfect Happiness?… The Proust Questionnaire.

  1. merrildsmith

    I think being content with your life each day is different from being happy at every moment. There is bound to be something upsetting or sadness in our lives, but that is how we grow and gauge things–and value true happiness more. My two cents. 😉

  2. roweeee Post author

    As always, I love your two cents, Merril. I think that growth we experience through hardship and sorrow which you mention, is so important. We learn so much more through the the tough times and failures than the good.
    By the way, I’ve been thinking about you over the weekend. My daughter has made it through to gain an audition for the big Sydney production of the Sound of Music for the role of Marta. I am freaking out both with excitement and organisational horror with one week to prepare. She’s been doing the songs in her musical theatre class so we have a good foundation but we’re just revving things up. Our piano is out of tune and I’ve been meaning to ship up my parents’ piano but haven’t moved ours on and I can’t find the cable for her good keyboard and so we’ve been practicing on this roll up piano thing I bought at a fete, which sounds reasonable but when you consider that my mum has a Steinway grand piano, it’s not a patch on it. She is still having some trouble with the vocal nodules but they’ve improved. She had her heart set on this so much, I couldn’t say no. Now, I’m battling a chest infection and am very close to ending up in hospital but at the same time determined to be at her audition no matter what. It is very exciting and we’ve been watching the movie.
    The funny thing is that she is naturally very shy and before she started school, barely spoke to strangers at all. She was very quiet and used to hide in my skirts. So it’s a delight to see her come out of her shell and blossom like this. She isn’t the easiest to work with but I think we’re making progress. Am currently trying to train her ear. I’d never really considered before how much singing depends on good listening and isn’t just about producing a sound. Also, of course, the breathing.
    As usual, my daughter is taking me on another journey. She was the one who got me learning the violin.
    Take care and look forward to your next Monday Musing.
    Love, Ro

  3. merrildsmith

    I feel so special that you’ve been thinking about me. (Every time I write a test item that has something to do with Australia, I think of you. Haha.) That is so wonderful that your daughter has made it to the audition stage for the role. How exciting! Good luck to her. I’m sure you will let us know if she gets it–and I guess she will have to manage rehearsals around school. There will be some late nights. If she doesn’t get it, I hope she will know that most likely it wasn’t her (unless she totally blows the audition). It’s like a job interview–you never know if someone else has already been selected, or has connections, but the place has to interview others. When your daughter is older, you might want to get her a voice teacher, but you have to be careful that the person really knows what they’re doing so they don’t actually injure her voice.

    I miss hearing my younger daughter sing. She is a wonderful English teacher though, and her students are lucky to have her.

  4. roweeee Post author

    She is currently doing musical theatre on Saturdays. Their son, Daniel Russell, played Billy Elliott in Melbourne and went on to play him on Broadway and is currently in New York. The family go for all sorts of auditions and encourage the students to have a go, which is how my daughter found out about it.
    Your relationship with your daughters always sounds so special and it must be hard having them leave the nest andtake flight…not that you would ever want them to stay put. xx Rowena

  5. merrildsmith

    Wow! Sounds like your daughter has found a great place for theater. I’m fortunate to have such a great relationship with my girls. I’m glad they are both happy and have found such wonderful partners, but I’m also glad one of them is living nearby now. 🙂

  6. TanGental

    I don’t think you can reduce happiness to a series of steps. If you ask someone are they happy in a given moment you’ll maybe get an answer. If you ask what they need at that point to be happy they may come up with something. But the culmination of getting whatever is on the list is unlikely in and of itself to be sufficient to generate happiness beyond the moment. Life is far too random to worry too much. You can over think these things. If you have clean drinking water and soft toilet paper you are pretty much there anyway. Oh and winning the Ashes helps too…

  7. roweeee Post author

    Yes, but we are happy and content and full of compassion! I hear a lot of complaints and these seem to work like dominoes until I’m left feeling almost like jumping under a train myself. I was snatching glimpses on the Simpsons recently and heard this fabulous quote from Homer: “I don’t know how much longer I can complain!” It did ring a bell with some people.
    I am a bit of a fan of these ten ways to feel less stressed, happier. Not necessarily because they are perfect in themselves and offer any guarantees but if you’re in a really bad place, doing anything apart from killing yourself is going to lead to improvement.
    I agree with what you say about the randomness of things and this is justification not to worry. When you have a broad social network, you realise this and I would think not to ake the bad things which happen to you as a personal attack, which only magnifies the whole thing. I read about that in the Dalai Lama book so that’s not my wisdom but I can see how that helps through my own experience.
    I was very angry when I was diagnosed with my auto-immune disease and it was my second very rare, life-threatening disease and I wasn’t even 40. I thought God had focused all of his wrath at me and pointing the mighty finger, zapped me with just enough energy to burn but not incinerate. Meeting other people with my disease and other mothers who are also battling life-threatening diseases and see their kids grow up, has helped me feel less targeted. I actually consider myself very lucky these days. Not just because I’ve survived a few near misses but because I live almost every day to the fullest instead of wishing time away or looking forward all the time instead of being content where I am right now.
    I am thankful for my cups of tea with clean water, soft toilet paper and being able to breathe so much better after all those antibiotics, fruits etc Geoff has also taken time off to help so that has also made a huge difference and lifted a weight off my shoulders for myself and the kids. It’s difficult managing the kids when I am so ill and they’re not the sit down and colour in types.
    Oh by the way, it Spring here tomorrow…blue skies, sunshine and almost t-shirt weather. I could almost throw my arms in the air and leap for joy. xx Ro

  8. TanGental

    Yep the weather helps, doesn’t it? It’s turning South here and heading your way. Anything that helps you feel better, more able to go on it good and it’s personal, isn’t it, finding out your own keys. Gleefully and joyfully everyone is different and everyone has their own keyboard to tap into if only they can do so. So soak up that sun and get rid of those nasty bugs and give Bilbo and good hug.

  9. roweeee Post author

    Actually, Bilbo scored himself a big bath yesterday. It took all for of us to get the job done with Geoff lecturing the kids not to give him too much sympathy or he’ll only get more worried. We have had some good psychology practice with that dog and could soon open a clinic!
    Today, Miss joked about Bilbo being able to fly and I said that would totally freak him out. Geoff said he doesn’t even like going in the wheelbarrow.
    I am getting better and have made arrangement to get Miss to her audition on Monday and we’re staying with a friend who’ll drive us there. He is a military man and we’ll suited for getting us there at 9.00am. That’s what you’d describe as a miracle! xx Ro

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