I have a secret. Most of my close friends probably don't even know it. It's pretty controversial to admit, but here goes: I'm happy.
Not 'winning the lottery and jetting off on a year-long holiday' happy, just the regular, everyday kind. There are lots of reasons, none of which are particularly unusual or spectacular, but they do make me lucky. I've got an amazing family, whom I'm really close to. I've got brilliant friends - some of the best women and men I know. I'm healthy and reasonably fit, and very grateful for that. And I have a loving, supportive partner who makes me smile every day.
This is the part where happiness shame kicks in and I feel compelled to undermine what I've just said by listing the bad stuff in my life. So I moan about my job. The family I'm really close to? They're in a different country and I feel homesick - a lot. Many of those brilliant friends I mentioned are there too. Living in London means I'm broke most of the time. And yes, 2016 was an awful year for the world and after Brexit and Trump, I worry about the future. But often, especially when I'm out with friends, cooking dinner with my boyfriend or just pottering around on my own on a lazy Saturday morning doing not very much at all, I feel content. And more and more, I'm realising that means happiness.
I rarely vocalise this. That's not to say I'm an outwardly gloomy person - I'd like to think I'm cheerful enough most of the time. I just don't ever feel that it's appropriate to bang on to my friends or colleagues about the great things in my life. It's too much like bragging. When my partner and I have a row, I have absolutely no problem writing a ranty email to my sisters or examining the situation in detail with a friend over wine. But the 95% of the time we're happy together? Every time I say something about how good things are, I can't shake the fear that the other person will think I'm showing off or saying my life is better than theirs, and I throw in some negativity to balance things out.
For a long time I assumed I was a particularly extreme example of this aversion to public declarations of happiness, until a recent conversation with a friend who said she felt exactly the same. Then I remembered a chat with my sister when I was having a particularly difficult time at work and she had just started her dream project. She was so enthusiastic - her eyes lit up talking about it - until she suddenly stopped and apologised. She didn't want me to think I was 'rubbing it in' - I was unhappy at work so surely I wouldn't want to hear about how much she loved her job. I immediately corrected her; I love my sister and am thrilled to see her do so well. But I understood how she felt. In her shoes I would have played down my excitement too.
Obviously, you've got to be tactful and sensitive to what other people are going through. And nobody wants to hear every mushy detail of your relationship. But maybe it's time to kick the negativity habit. After all, when I'm feeling down about my career, I love hearing about my friends' successes - it gives me hope that not all jobs suck. And when I was single, I wanted to hear as many relationship fairy tales as possible - there are far too many bad date stories doing the rounds.
It's January. Christmas cheer is a distant memory and happiness is thin on the ground. So instead of focusing on the doom and gloom, I'm embracing the good things in life. Maybe not shouting them from the rooftops, but finding ways to chat to the ones I love about the little things that make me happy, and hopefully encouraging them to do the same.Suggest a correction