Cookie Monster – he knows how to be happy.
Lately, I’ve been re-reading Alain de Botton’s ‘Consolations of Philosophy.’ My life has, for the last year, been distinctly not-great. I remembered de Botton’s book providing me with some measure of calm previously so I thought I’d dip back into it.
Also lately, I’ve started a sociology degree at Derby Uni. I’m basically re-doing the degree which I had to drop out of when ‘Your Woman’ went into the charts.
More immediately, I’ve had two houseguests staying with me. The combination of guests, Uni and de Botton has been potent: I feel the past few days, from Saturday to this morning, have been life-changing.
As de Botton points out, Epicurean nowadays is a synonym for gluttony, excess, unbridled hedonism. Sad, then, that the philosopher is so mis-remembered. Here are the main requirements for happiness, according to Epicurus, via de Botton:
Food, shelter, clothes.
He thought of the above as natural and necessary precursors for happiness. Here’s what’s natural but unnecessary for happiness:
And neither natural nor necessary for happiness:
The original downsizer, Epicurus walked it like he talked it. He and a group of friends moved into a shared house and lived pretty simply, growing their own veg. The money they saved by not going mad on the steaks or caviar enabled them to not be subject to the rule of an odious employer. Y’know – like Tom and Barbara in The Good Life.
In sociology, I’m reading Zyggy Bauman’s ‘Thinking Sociologically.’ A fortnight ago, at a particularly low ebb, I made the mistake of preparing chapter five while sitting in Costa Coffee in the Westfield. I smugly thought I could get my reading done and have a coffee, maybe even meet up with some mates once I’d broken the back of the note making. But chapter five concerns love and intimacy. Here’s an extract:
“In our complex society in which most human needs are attended to in an impersonal way, the need we have for a loving relationship appears deeper than at any other time. As a result, the burden that love carries in our existence is formidable.”
(Bauman, pp. 86)
It was all a bit too much for me. I had to hide my tears, pack up my rucksack and scurry away from my half-finished decaff before the ignominy of a public meltdown. I didn’t want to be that bloke. Even though, patently, I am.
The routinely atomised existence we lead as citizens of modernity impacts on every sphere of life, including love and friendship. We don’t live in handy communities of 800 people or less. Our daily forays are most probably filled with the faces of strangers which we studiously and politely ignore. Look at a pretty face for a second too long and who knows what hell might break lose – one might be forced to smile or even, oh horror, acknowledge them as a fellow human being. The awkwardness would be as dry, cloying and indigestible as ten cream crackers in a row.
From Saturday to Monday, I had my friend Rocky staying with me. This is her:
Yes, she really is that cute, it’s not photoshoppery. And her mind is a gazllion times cuter than that picture: it hums along and effortlessly collates and references, infers and deduces, making conversation a pure, easy joy. Rocky is the least judgemental, most broad-minded friend you could have. And that reminded me of something…
“In my judgement the sweetness of well-matched and compatible fellowship can never cost too dear. O! a friend! How true is that ancient judgement, that the frequenting of one is more sweet than the element of water, more necessary than the element fire.”
(de Botton, pp. 146)
Those are the words of the philosopher Montaigne. What Montaigne is talking about is the same as Bauman: the search for acceptance, to find relations that are free from censure and instead supportive and nurturing. Our routines reduce us to fleshy automata, we hold doors open, flash our headlights in thanks at oncoming cars, try desperately to think of something icebreaking to say to that girl in that shop on that till. And we fail. Not usually catastrophically, admittedly. Unless, like me, background factors in your life have made you into emotional peanut brittle: easily shattered and nuts. And with a highly problematic wrapper.
I talked with Rocky till 6am, both nights. It was, quite simply, ace. And then, when I thought the talking was over, my friend Mattias Cosy Den came to stay over last night. This is him:
Debonair swine, isn’t he? And he’s also passionate, political, principled and a host of other great qualities that probably also begin with p. What did we do last night? We talked till 6am and I also did an acoustic recording that he’ll hopefully issue on his label. I specifically wanted to record the songs while he was there, so he could introduce them. It went very well precisely because I was singing to Mattias. Mattias isn’t fazed in the slightest by my craziness, he doesn’t baulk at my openness and ferocity. He enjoys those qualities in me. He understands. He gets it.
These guests re-charged me with their unqualified acceptance. I find it tremendously sad that neither of them live in this country. As much as the net is great for keeping touch, there is something infinitely cooler about having your friend sitting there, being able to instantly talk shit or joke around and they just get it. There’s no fuzzy tech in the way, I don’t feel the need to hold up signs with emoticons on them, they get it.
I went round town this afternoon with four local friends and my mood was elevated by the weekend that had passed. These poor souls have each, at different times, dealt with my least optimistic, most miserabilist moods. So I felt happy to be so happy with them. We walked, pointlessly, round the Westfield. We talked shit and ogled passing boys and girls. We went lingerie shopping and coffeeing. It was a good day.
If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering why you have. Why have I written this? Well, for a start, I’m a songwriter. I earn money by taking my most private feelings and splaying them out in public. It’s my job. Or, as Montaigne would have it:
“Many things I would not care to tell to any individual man I tell to the public, and for knowledge of my most secret thoughts, I refer my most loyal friends to a bookseller’s stall.”
(de Botton, pp. 148)
But I’ve written this in the hope that maybe it reaches you in the same way that de Botton and Bauman have reached me. I know neither of these men and yet, in a way, they’ve made me feel a little less strange and alone. Obviously, not as much as my Derby friends or Rocky and Mattias have but… y’know…
Every little helps. 🙂