A sadness in the eyes

I looked into the eyes of an attractive, early middle-aged lady during lunch some weeks ago. She has had a hard life by any standards but has fought back, stood her ground and made a career for herself. She saw her difficulties as challenges, not threats, her successes in overcoming them as proof that she could cope. When disaster struck she took a positive approach, even though there were times when she cried alone, and spaces in her life that made her ask ‘what for?’

You cannot help but admire people who overcome their difficulties and make a way in the world for themselves. We all have problems. Looking at another’s is a good way to reflect on one’s own good fortune and to ponder ‘what else can I do to help?’ But that wasn’t what was top of my mind as I listened to my friend’s tale. It was her purpose that worried me. As you probably know I am big on purpose, on knowing where you are going. It makes life so much simpler.

My friend said that what she wants is happiness. She is loved by some people, quite gregarious, fun to be with. Not a socialite but could pass for being an aspiring one. She is self-contained in the way that lonely people often cope with their isolation. She is eager to please, anxious to be liked, bordering on desperate to be admired. Her style is confident with nervousness peering around her. But if she meets a frightening situation she tackles it head on, without hesitation.

Most of the people who come to us for help want happiness. They want and need other things as well, of course. But inspired by the American Constitution with its promise of your right to pursue happiness, they seek it here, they seek it there. They pay for it, join in unbelievable noise to reach it, risk life and limb to find a thrill that may equate to it. They hope to find it through love, through success, through endeavour. They will fight for happiness. And yet it escapes them.

When you see sadness in someone’s eyes it is nearly always because the butterfly of happiness has flown and they fear it will never return. The dusk of retreating joy and the chill of an early winter leave most of us shuddering either from fear or from cold. The achy years of old age and the gradual loss of memory and mind can be daunting prospects to anyone not secure in their happiness. And you cannot go out and buy it from the pharmacist’s shop. It isn’t bottled.

I shall work till I die to try to see what makes people really happy. So far I have deduced that it is about two aspects of character or, as we would more likely call it today, personality. The first is confidence, real inwardly-digested, peaceful-tummy confidence. Not the charade of the insecure but the quiet calm of lessons learnt, wrongs forgiven, delight in living. It comes when you know who you are and love what you know. It is not narcissistic, like staring in the mirror after a shower, but comforting, like a fur coat designed to keep the warmth in, rather than just the cold out.

Allied to this log-fire confidence is the ability to let go. The past can be fun to remember for a laugh, even for a sigh. But it is over. Tomorrow is the focus of those who let go. What you did successfully, what you acquired, can all be prudently set aside in favour of chasing the days ahead and the delightes they are going to bring. Extinguish the candle of yesterday; light the laser of tomorrow.

The sadness in your eyes will go away and you will laugh at the absurdity and fun of life.

And the butterfly may alight on you once again. Oh, I do hope so.

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