What are we all running after? The secret of happiness is simple, really

What's the point in chasing happiness, says James. It's right here. Picture: gettyimages

What's the point in chasing happiness, says James. It's right here. Picture: gettyimages - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

James Marston says we are so busy being busy, we miss the obvious pleasures of life

The other day I went for a run, well I attempted to, in a bid to reduce my winter weight to a slightly more manageable position.

I can't say I enjoyed it, all these things – worries and the like – came into my mind, and when it came round to the next morning my legs hurt so much I thought, despite the irony, that I'd better get a sports massage.

The truth is I don't much like exercise, not because I don't like moving around – I do that every time I get out of bed – but because I don't want to be laughed at as the fat man pounding the streets. It's a matter of pride you see.

I also don't much like Monopoly – a game that in my family rarely plays as my sister once cheated in 1989 and I've never forgotten it – because, truth be told, I don't much like losing either.

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You see I think sport and losing are mixed in my mind so closely that I associate strongly anything sporty with humiliation and defeat. I just can't do it, so I don't.

The idea that we can do what we want, that we have freedom, that we can be who we want – in my mind a toned sportsman for example – that we can change who we are without difficulty, that we can have, or have a right to, whatever we want, is a myth.

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A myth of such proportion that it is making people most unhappy.

We are all defined not by who we are but by others around us, our upbringing, our way of life, our culture, our environment, our context.

We don't really define or control who we are at all.

Last week I wrote about how television in particular, as a powerful cultural influence, is pressuring people to search for and create the perfect Christmas. A number of you wrote to me to express your thoughts on the subject too – largely agreeing with me that the sentiment, or meaning, of Christmas is a little lost in the glitter and packaging, the food and the fluff.

The irony is, of course, that in our search for perfection and what we think we need and deserve, we all tend to create lives that take us further away from what we really need and think – simplicity and peace.

The constant mantra of 'I'm busy therefore I'm valuable' feeds into this self-fulfilling prophecy of unhappiness as in order to reach the spurious goals of life we build up complexity in such a way that simplicity is almost unobtainable. This is the price we pay for rampant individualism, the focus on the self that, I'm afraid, we all indulge in and all buy into.

The attention to detail we put on Christmas highlights this point. We over complicate the one day of the year we don't need to overcomplicate. We over busy ourselves on the one day we need to rest and relax – at least that's how it sometimes appears to me.

The difficulty comes, of course, that by the time we've worked out that our over complex lives are making us unhappy it's often too late and we are either unable or unwilling to change.

That said I'm not sure there isn't a bit of wriggle room and part of the human condition is one of hope - hope for the future.

And it is that hope that we can all sense, despite what we see around us, that Christmas actually points towards, if we let it.

James' Mailbag

Dear James,

I totally agree with all your comments about Christmas's of today.

Certainly, I believe we were happier when we had less 'things' and put more emphasis on the proper meaning of Christmas.

I am sometimes quite sickened by the 'over indulgence's' all around us, the excesses of food and drink, no wonder we are becoming a nation of obese and overweight people.

All the poor animals and birds slaughtered to add to the 'wonderment' of the display on our dining tables. A lot of which ends up in the bin.

I am sorry to say I no longer feel Christmas is being celebrated in the way it was meant.

Regards, Marion.

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