I wrote last week about finding a reconnection with helpless laughter by singing and dancing to cheesy music. This week, I’ve been thinking a lot, after reading a thought provoking post from Kelly over at This Mom Gig, about the change that’s come over me in the last ten years that I was able to unselfconsciously sing and dance terribly, let alone write openly about it.
I then saw that Jon Richardson (a wonderful, occasionally vulnerable British comedian) is going to start filming a show where he travels around England to find how to grow into a ‘happy adult’. I ended up reading a little further and it looks like he’s not mindlessly jumping on the happy bandwagon, but for a moment I felt an insensible rage at this insistence of constant happiness, like a drug that’s only owned by a lucky few and we all have to scrabble for the best dealer we can possibly find.
I spent so many years knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that something was wrong with me. That I had already failed as a human because I didn’t have a cloak of happiness always swept around me. That those who appeared in magazines, on television, in self help books and on the posters that adorned my walls had cracked the secret to eternal happiness and that, if I could just watch and follow them closely enough, then the constant fear and occasional emptiness and therefore obvious failure of my existence would be swept up into a sparkly mass of unicorn rides and jazzy hands.
What seems to have been at the base of my happiness misunderstanding was a belief that negative feelings were unacceptable and something to be feared. I’d spent years pushing down my feelings of depression, rage, ineptitude and failure to the point that I didn’t even know where to start being happy, other than hide everything I felt was the real me and only ever leave the house with an emotional mask in the contorted shape of happiness.
Lots of gurus promise eternal happiness, but I cast-iron guarantee you that the only reason you believe them is because you don’t know them. You haven’t had the opportunity to see the darkness that always pairs with light. They’re as imperfect as you and me and just as prone to the emptiness that they promise you can beat if you just buy their books and sign up to their podcasts and do a month of healing at the low, introductory price of $99.
They’re lying, or they’re insensibly stupid. I suspect the former, as they’re smart enough to make a business out of happiness. They have to lie to make a living and I feel sorry for them that that’s their life. But they’re making our lives more miserable by insisting that we’re doing something wrong and for that I don’t like them very much at all.
The truth is that life is frequently hard for everyone, and often full of things like washing the dishes, sorting out whites from coloureds for the washing machine and eyeing the fly that’s currently close enough to you that you feel uncomfortable, but not quite close enough to swat away.
Challenges are mostly there to be lost, especially when we’re young. Exams and friendships are to be failed horribly. And relationships are to be screwed up so badly you don’t even want to walk in the same country as that person for the 5 years it takes to stop wanting to hide under the floor every time you think about that last, dramatically pathetic, begging conversation (totally happened to me. Twice). It’s what makes life and people interesting. It’s what makes us relatable. It’s what makes us funny as hell.
Because here’s the rub about perennially happy people — I really don’t like them, and I’ll bet you don’t either. They’re annoying; like a really needy puppy — it looks like something you want in your life on first smitten glance, but after a short amount of time you will want to give it back. And they’re hopelessly unrealistic and unsympathetic; there are a couple of people I know who, no matter what’s happened, breathily utter something like, “You’re so lucky that you have the opportunity to walk through this.” I want to slap them when it’s about a parking ticket, but I know that one of them once said it to a mutual friend whose partner had just committed suicide. They’re not better than other people for their Pollyanna approach to life, they’re just more irritating and boring.
Happiness is a momentary feeling, sometimes of a few days or weeks, but more often it’s a fleeting moment when you finally learn all the words to the Frozen theme song, or your child’s singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm on his own for the first time. The reason it doesn’t last for longer is because it’s not meant to. It’s just one feeling out of many, and we’re evolved and capable of feeling them all.
Now, please don’t take the above to read that I’m saying there’s something wrong with being happy. I love feeling happy. But it’s only by fully engaging with all my emotions that my happiness has become completely free from the hangups that come from pretending it’s the only worthwhile emotion. I’ve quoted this passage before on my blog, but it seems relevant to quote it again
“But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing floor.
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”
He’s saying you’re going to be really boring if you only allow for the good bits. Don’t do it. There’s far too much life to be had in living a full, painful, messy, fun-filled life.
Speaking of full lives, I made a chocolate caramel ganache tart this week. The filling’s another one from the very talented head pastry chef, Chloë Thomas, at Stokehouse restaurant. I was going to save this one for later in the year, but I made these during the week and they were so delicious I just couldn’t resist.
- 250g strong plain flour
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 250g butter, at room temperature, but not soft
- about 150ml cold water
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Roughly break the butter in small chunks, add them to the bowl and rub them in loosely. You need to see bits of butter
Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water, mixing until you have a firm rough dough adding extra water if needed. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 20 mins in the fridge
Turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead gently and form into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough in one direction only, until 3 times the width, about 20 x 50cm. Keep edges straight and even. Don’t overwork the butter streaks; you should have a marbled effect
Fold the top third down to the centre, then the bottom third up and over that. Give the dough a quarter turn (to the left or right) and roll out again to three times the length. Fold as before, cover with cling film and chill for at least 20 mins before rolling to use (you only need half for this recipe so save the rest for up to 3 months in the freezer for other recipes – like the delicious Imperfect Kitchen roasted garlic and pumpkin recipe!)
Lightly dust your rolling surface and roll out to about 3cm thickness
Spray olive oil on four 12cm tart tins with loose bottoms (or use melted butter)
Using a the tart cases as a guide, cut 4 rough circles, slightly bigger than the tins
Line each tart case with a pastry circle, ensuring you press into the edges along the bottom of the ring, before pricking the base of the pastry a couple of times with a fork
Freeze for at least 30 minutes
Preheat oven to 180˚C / 350˚F
Blind bake the pastry cases for 10-15 minutes until the cases are dry. Remove the baking beans (or rice, coins, or whatever you’re using) and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes until the pastry is a satisfying golden brown
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool
Chocolate Caramel Filling
- 500g single (pouring) cream
- 600g dark chocolate
- 400g milk chocolate
- 400g caster sugar
- 100g unsalted butter
- ½ tsp salt
Heat the cream and salt in a small saucepan until it reaches the boil and then set aside to cool
Mix dark and milk chocolate in a mixing bowl
Heat a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat
Once hot enough (you will know when this is reached as a small sprinkle of sugar will melt almost instantly) add handfuls of sugar at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon until melted and caramelised before adding the next handful
Once all the sugar has been completely melted and caramelised, add the butter and stir until melted
Slowly whisk in the hot cream
Pour the caramel mix over the chocolates and whisk until all chocolates are fully melted and everything is completely combined
Pour the chocolate caramel mix into the four tart cases and refrigerate for about 4 hours, until set