It occurred to me recently, that in order to be happy, there are three things I need to be and do every day.
The three parts are
By which I mean doing the run of the mill jobs that keep the family engine running; feeding the family reasonably healthy food at appropriate times; keeping the house clean enough so that if the Vicar should spring a surprise visit, you wouldn’t have to hide behind the net curtains and pretend to be out; and of course ensuring that the shrill call ‘where’s my PE shirt?’ is answered more often with ‘in your drawer’, than ‘wherever you last left it’
For me this looks like a woman sitting (or lying) on the sofa, with a large piece of tapestry canvas in one hand and a chunky tapestry needle in the other. Now I accept that as I haven’t actually ever sold any of these pieces, it might be stretching the point to call it work. But it’s the one thing in my life I have always felt most at home doing, and although I admit it has practically no usefulness to anyone else, it does seem to be the one gift or talent that I came here programmed to use. So I think of it as work – done with love, as an expression of something which is essentially me.
You might want to substitute meditating for contemplating – but it seems to me that there are numerous ways to get into the flow – and it’s that flow I seek to find. I’ve dabbled with the concept of meditation for years, like many people I intellectually understood the potential benefits, but hadn’t made it a practice. That has changed, and so although I’m only skiing down the baby slopes of contemplation, it is a vital part to my daily happiness.
Now being me, I’ve tried many ways to avoid doing the housekeeping part. Days spent meditating and/or sewing are delicious and should be the epitome of delight. But what I’ve found, is that in fact leaving the housekeeping tasks undone, reduces my overall happiness at the end of the day.
Why I should feel that this is my role and not one to share with the rest of the family, probably has a lot to do with my upbringing. I do get resentful when the house is trashed minutes after the girls get home, I could happily spit feathers when a meal lovingly cooked is eaten without a word of thanks, and quite frankly I will never understand why The Other Half thinks that putting dirty mugs on the work-surface on TOP of the dishwasher, constitutes putting it IN the dishwasher. But all that said, no alternative way of organising ourselves has lasted or indeed made me happy, so I’ve now come to believe that simply doing this role – not necessarily to the most exacting standards, but at least well enough for us all to function, is something valuable, not only to the others, but also – and perhaps crucially , valuable primarily to me.
Oddly enough, once I thought about this triple aspect to achieving happiness, it occurred that this is very similar to the balance lived in monastic institutions. Monks and nuns spend parts of their days doing mundane tasks, working at the things in which they are talented, and of course in contemplation.
This thought of the parallels between my daily life and that of religious orders, has I confess brought a few wry smiles to my face. A less nun-like woman than me, you couldn’t hope to meet. But ultimately, I suppose it is the human condition to seek happiness or serenity and there are undoubtedly many roads to take us there.