Upgrading for Happiness

For a long time people would tell me (often immediately after saying ‘Hi Megan’) that I looked tired. But recently people have been telling me that I look happy.

I’ve been working hard on giving myself new problems, and maybe that’s the only kind of happiness there is.

A few months ago, in an unusual splurge, I bought myself a brand-spanking-new book for my birthday. I read ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck’ by Mark Manson in a few evenings. I liked what he had to say.

Manson talks about happiness being a by-product of upgrading ones problems to better ones. I love this concept because it allows us to admit that we will never not have problems. That happiness is not the final state of being and once it is achieved you no longer have to ‘do life’. Life is shit – but by working to make it less shit, you end up getting happy. As Manson says, when life gives you lemons you don’t have to make lemonade, you should just get used to the taste of lemons.

When working on creative pursuits, I often have multiple projects on the go at any one time. Juggling these is often a problem, prioritising them around parenting, paid employment, housework, and socialising is really hard. But it’s a better problem to have than managing how I feel if I do not have a creative outlet.

I am beginning to see material rewards for my hard work on my writing career of late. I have several small paid commissions scheduled for the next 6 months, I’ve been invited to be part of the Weathering The Future project, and through Tripwire I’ve been able to secure funding for the production of my new play (with co-writer Jake Honeychurch).

These things make me happy – not because they are problem free – but because I am upgrading my problems. Not having funding to put on a new play and continually feeling obligated to work for free just to get my work made was a shit problem. But having funding and being obligated to make the work and build a relationship with a funding partner is still a problem, but a much better one than before. Spending two frantic days writing a last minute grant application is a big problem – but a better problem that not even having the chance to access that money and the project being put on the back-burner. I know I feel happier having submitted the application, even if I don’t succeed with the grant.

It’s been nearly 9 months since I separated from my husband and that has enabled me to solve a lot of really shitty problems that I was living with. I was deeply unhappy and very frustrated because by not being able to solve them I was unable to generate happiness – mainly because they were not actually my problems to solve. Doing all that work with no outcome, no change and no better problems was what made me so tired. But when I did the only thing left I could do, the awful not-my-problems were quickly replaced by other ones like guilt, fear, isolation, financial difficulties and the loss of a part of my identity. Unlike before, these were actually MY problems and so in the past few months, I’ve been working on upgrading them. I’ve written a lot of cathartic poetry, I took control of my budget, I had counselling, I focused on my work and recently, I moved house. And then I upgraded my problems big-time by meeting and falling in love with a new partner.

It’s been great – I feel loved and respected and am enjoying spending time getting to know someone new. But the problems that two single parents face when beginning a new relationship are fairly complex – we’re working with five children, three exs and a whole lot of traumatic emotional baggage. No new situation is going to be the end of problems. There is no final stop called ‘Happiness’. But it’s the working on the problems and solving them (by trading them for better ones) that makes me feel happy. It’s even nicer to have someone beside me who’s also working on their problems and life feels pretty good.

I’ll always have problems, and that’s ok, because I’m beginning to like the taste of lemons.

You can read an excerpt from Mark Masons’ book online.

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