jcsteadman · 28 days ago

As I rode down the small road back to the house on my pushbike, wind through my hair, sun hitting my body, and my voice belting out the lyrics to a Leon Bridges song with a smile on my face, I realised I was happy. Truly happy. Carefree happy. Not a care in the world except to get back home as slow or fast as I care and sing a few songs along the way to the bemused looks of those I passed kind of happy.
It struck me harder than I imagined it should've - this idea of 'happiness'. Because in acknowledging that I had reached it, or a new level of it, I also acknowledged that what I was doing before wasn't 'happy'.
Enjoyable, yes - but not what I knew inherently this feeling of carefree joy was called: happiness.
So why was I not living my life like this back in Australia all the time? Or when I travelled wherever I was at whatever time? Can I recall other times where I felt like this? Surely, I must. Yet, when I think, there are few and far in between that immediately spring to mind.

The first few are simply because they happened recently.

My dad and I, drunk after sundowners at another bar nearby and several more beers at a restaurant here in Laem Mae Phim, where we were to have dinner, reminiscing about the past. No old grudges held, no off-coloured remarks to taint the hues of a rose-coloured memory. Just honest reminiscing between father and son. Honest in the sense that we both were bringing up memories that may have been perceived differently by each at the time, but in the spirit of the conversation, accepting the other's version as true. So: honest, potentially untruthful, but happy. I realise he's not immortal, and is getting older now as are we all, so these moments are how I'd like to remember him by: honest, potentially untruthful, but happy.

A road trip and camping with Nina was fun, and I was happy. We found a small little beach and had a dip; I recalled the last time I'd been in the area and how I vividly remember dolphins swimming amongst my little 10-year old self - at the time, terrified, though, because I thought they were sharks. We talked about when we first met, what we thought of each other at the time and how things have changed since - but without any pandering, which was memorably refreshing. Then onto our dismal attempt at kayaking, turning into an on-water picnic where we beached ourselves amongst the mangroves and drank a 6-pack while talking about everything and anything as the tide ebbed out, the sun beginning to set. Later that night, after midges had killed us and we were in a foul mood, we got drunk off bottles of cheap red wine while singing hours of So Fresh in the back of my car - also our makeshift bed for the night. This for me was a happy moment. No thoughts or expectations other than having fun with a friend and seeing where the moment took us.

Sitting at one of my local cafes, reading the paper and doing the crossword by myself at mid-morning is always a happy time for me. I get to zone out completely. I don't bring my phone; what use would it be when I'm there to relax? I can imagine I'm anywhere in the world if I wanted to - especially if I go to Alberto's where Italian speakers are talking, or the Swiss deli where the Greeks are seemingly always arguing. If I get tired of the paper, I can eavesdrop and people watch. I have all the time in the world when I'm at one of my cafes at mid-morning. Always at mid-morning, though. Too early and I get residual stress from people rushing to get to work. Frantic energies don't sit well when I want to slow down. So mid-morning, always. I just sit and listen and watch, doing largely, nothing. All the owners of the places I frequently patron know me and wave when I walk by; they greet me by name; they know my order: short macchiato and a sweet pastry of some kind, glass of water on the side. This is a like a sanctuary for me, which is why I do it almost daily. Happiness comes easily for an hour or two here.

A random night getting gelato with Jenni was another happy time for me. When I was still in my old house, lovely old thing it was, we walked to La Masseleria after dinner to get dessert. I don't remember what dinner was, or what time we walked to the gelateria, but I do remember having a chat with Jenni that felt 'true'. It's hard to explain what I mean here, in so few words, but we talked, and there was no pretense; no small talk; no hiding or obfuscation. Certainly no self-consciousness about what we were talking about or having to think about our responses. It was unfiltered truth coming out of her, and I loved it. We got ice cream and, as I always tend to do (and cop flak for), I got the milk gelato and savoured it's own aspect of 'truth'. It's a simple flavour with no other ingredient but milk, but that's what makes it special - it can't hide behind anything. It's unpretentious, and to me, my idea of an everyday luxury. Something costing a few dollars and shared with Jenni felt perfect that night. And during a lull in conversation, a brief moment of silence, I remember recognising what I felt: happiness. A silent smile on my face, we walked home, gelato dribbling down my fingers and into my moustache - annoying thing it is. The best thing about this night is that Jenni probably remembers it as simply a quick trip to get dessert and back.

A quick mention of my trips to the Queensland Gallery of Art and the State Library. I do this most weeks because it makes me feel centred and at peace. There's quiet in these places. It fascinates me to see how other people take in art or do their studies. And I too can just sit and look at a painting for 20 minutes with no one to move me on. Am I truly happy, though? I think so, but I'm not certain. I certainly feel calm and uplifted, re-energised, after leaving these places. I'm unsure of happiness.

So, a few happy memories from the recent past - but wouldn't it be better if I could think of dozens?
Something surely must be off if there are so few truly happy moments in my day-to-day (apart from my trips to the cafe or QAG/SLQ). It's not like I live a 'normal' life; I'm largely able to do whatever I want, whenever I want, within reason. I work for myself, set my own schedule, have more than enough money to not stress about surviving, enjoy my work and my friends, and so on. Yet, there is a gap.
And having written the above happy moments which I could quickly recall, I realise there is a theme. Verisimilitude. I seem to enjoy truth and honesty in situations. In people. No staged personas for me to have to put up with or maintain. I didn't really realise this until I started writing - funny, that.
So, I think it would mean that my happiness when by myself is largely a reflection of my level of care about how I'm perceived - pretty normal, I guess. And that my happiness when with others is largely dictated by how much they let themselves reveal a true part of their lives to me. Might be accurate, might not - I'm no psychologist.
But I do know that having turned off the small road which came down to a rocky dirt path, through dappled light from the canopy of rubber trees above, and bursting out into the sun again to peddle my way through the construction site to my house, I felt happy and light and free.

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