About a year ago, I invested in a series of beautifully crafted and pleasingly small books. They arrived in a bundle and in a range of attractive colours: French navy, fizzy orange, baby pink, mushroom taupe. Ready to be assimilated into the lives of busy professionals.
The series is published by The School of Life (TSOL) – a particularly clever concept established in London by philosopher Alain de Botton.
Now a global organisation, TSOL is dedicated to developing emotional intelligence in businesses and in individuals by integrating psychology, philosophy and culture.
The series deals with the particularly common dilemma of ‘how to’ lead a contented life. So we have How to Find Fulfilling Work, How to Stay Sane, How to Be Alone (yes – apparently, our fast-paced society does not approve of solitude) and, for the ambitious among us, How to Change the World.
Delivery of happiness
The gap between purchase and action, however, seems to be widening, and the books now sit slightly less colourfully, somewhat accusingly, and entirely unread on my shelf. This inaction captures the heart of the matter.
We often hope that happiness can be delivered to us, that it lies in the bright and shiny things.
We imagine that mastery is learned through the wisdom of others, that change is driven by external forces. That we can soak up a capacity for happiness – from something, from someplace or, perhaps most fatally, from someone. Yet if we are truly honest with ourselves, we do know better.
A deeply personal process
Becoming happy is a deeply personal and lifelong process, the complexities of which are largely played out internally, invisibly, existentially.
And yes – reading good books will for many of us nudge us along the path. As will the stimulating thoughts and ideas of others. Our relationships will also sustain us and, if we are fortunate, comfort, embolden and enliven us.
But nothing offers contentment as reliably as coming into an accepting relationship with our inner selves.
When we stop seeking to improve ourselves and begin instead to accept ourselves, the rewarding paradox is that we release the possibility of change. So remember: you are enough.
As the Sufi poet Rumi writes:
‘You wander room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already round your neck.’