Lighting Candles and Other Notes on Happiness

Lately I seem to have so much to say that I don’t even know where to start writing it. Over the last year I have absorbed such a lot of information from reading, podcasts and just living that I really want to share. Some of this is on health, some on happiness, some on self-improvement – so many ‘a-ha!’ moments. What is it about turning 40 that makes you start pondering the universe and the meaning of your place within it? Over the past few years some combination of age, health, loss and wonder have made me do exactly that.

And so what are a few of the things I’ve been learning lately? Bear with me, as this is a mish-mash rather than an exhaustive list. I’d love to store it all up for a definitive post on let’s say, ‘ten ways to be happy,’ but life, and happiness, just don’t work that way. Like most people, I find myself stumbling upon the answers as I go along.

Tyepwriter, cup of tea and 'Life's Little Instruction Book' on table

Last year, I wrote about letting go of perfectionism. And not just perfectionism, either, but busyness, people-pleasing, and the idol of ‘doing’ all the time. Did you know that studies have shown that multi-tasking actually makes you less productive? Me either.

It turns out that where perfectionism and her unhelpful associates are concerned, breaking up is rather hard to do.

I heard someone say recently that perfectionism is actually based on fear – a fear of the world seeing (and possibly criticising you) if you lay yourself out exactly as you are. I also heard a quote from the 14th century poet Hafiz that goes:

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d like to see you in better living conditions.

One of  those ‘a-ha’ moments.

Perfectionism – my faithful friend, my sworn enemy. We’re slowly unravelling our relationship. It’s complicated, as the status updates go.

I suppose a lot of this is about vulnerability. I’ve been reading and listening to a lot from Brené Brown recently and she talks about this subject in a very insightful way.

You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.

Flatlay picture of Daring Greatly by Brene Brown with flowers

Writing posts like this – the ones that are not perfectly packaged into ‘how-to’ lists and bullet points, these are small steps for me. Trying to be a bit more ‘of the moment’. Trying to share a little more of the things that are just me.

And then there are thinking patterns. One of the things I’ve been focusing on over the last year is switching from ‘why has this thing happened?’ to ‘what can this situation teach?’ Feeling unwell for a lot of 2017, I kept asking myself the question ‘what is wrong with me?’ When I started to turn my thoughts to ‘how can I get better?’ things started slowly to improve. Everything in life now seems to have its corresponding learning experience. Good, bad, or indifferent, experiences can help you change, grow and adapt. Without sounding too ‘out there’ I feel the benefit of positive affirmations (check out The Secret for more information). If I tell you that I sometimes repeat to myself ‘I am healthy. I am creative. I am a writer,’ will you think me crazy, woo-hoo, or just a little strange?

See vulnerability above.

Lately I’ve also been thinking about being grateful. I recently bought a gratitude journal to keep track of three things I’m thankful for every day. As a child, I used to do this through a nightly prayer – possibly the most simple form of gratitude. Although I’m not religious now (well, that’s the short answer), I still appreciate the benefits that simple practice gave.

Flatlay picture of personalised gratitude journal with flowers and blanket

And then, of course, there is the matter of lighting candles.

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle – James Keller

This is one of the best quotes I’ve heard in recent times. It’s about sharing what you know with others – just helping people. Forgoing all thoughts of ‘what if they end up doing it better than I can?’ Someone I know went to an event lately where everyone kept all the knowledge they had on the subject secret – a real lose-lose for everyone as nothing of any value was truly shared. Competitiveness, jealousy, fear – whatever fuels such situations won that night. The secret, I think, is in acknowledging we all have these feelings from time to time. Similarly, we all have our own strengths, weaknesses and limitations – it’s worth remembering that even given all the information in your head no one can do anything exactly as you do. Success and knowledge aren’t finite – there’s room for everybody – just like love, forgiveness and the rest. To give an example, when I was pregnant with my second son I wondered how I could possibly love him as much as I did my first child – and then I realised – on some things the metaphorical well does not run dry. It’s the same with success, knowledge and achievement – when it comes to lighting candles, what you send around often has a way of flowing back to you.

Picture of almond latte on table

Maybe the key to happiness is going out and lighting candles. And if they happen to blow out in the wind, just going ahead and lighting them up all over again.

More likely, happiness is about finding your own way to light candles. Or, in the words of writer Daniel Hillel:

I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.