The Office for National Statistics have declared Ribble Valley in Lancashire to be the “happiest place in the UK”. This beautiful countryside oasis would be a place I’d love to visit, but I imagine if I lived there, I’d have caused such a hefty snag in their research model and it may only have come in 37,255th, just above Croydon.
Happiness is usually regarded as a gentle feeling, contentment – serenity. And this is how, I imagine, the ONS measure it. But it’s not the same for those of us who prefer life a little more risky.
This half term, my six-year-old daughter asked me “What’s your favourite feeling?” I know exactly what my favourite feeling is, but I lied to my child and I told her what I thought I ought to say: “Happiness, darling” and gave her what I hoped was the serene smile of a knowing Earth Mother.
We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.
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“Mine’s not,” she retorted. “MY favourite feeling is EXCITEMENT!” Yup. That’s my girl. That would have been my honest answer. While the kind of happiness enjoyed by the residents of Ribble is likely to be healthier and bring about more sanity, my daughter and I are the sort who endlessly seek the new and unexpected. New events to navigate and new people to tumble about with.
These days we are all encouraged to float about mindfully. We have meditation apps and colouring books for grown-ups. (Which I’ve never understood. If you’re going to colour in, why is it different doing an “underwater garden” scene rather than a bunch of farmyard animals? It’s like buying Just For Men hair dye because you don’t want to be seen buying a product women use too. Hair dye is hair dye. Colouring in is colouring in. So raid a kid’s arts cupboard and colour in pigs with pride.)
Personally, I enjoy daily shots of adrenaline that boot me into next week. “Slow down” is the phrase directed most often at me by those who love me. It has been under their orders that I’ve found myself, from time to time, in a meditation class. In these oil-scented rooms, where people walk around barefoot and avoid eye contact, I am frustrated and try very hard not to growl ‘‘Can you please hurry this relaxing up, I’ve got stuff to do!”
Periods in my life have been very zen and calm. But after a while of swimming around in a blissful lake of contentment, I chuck a gigantic rock in it, cause huge ripples and start again somewhere else. Whether it’s career, social life or habitat, every now and then I fling it all up in the air and see where it lands. (Please note, this is very different to causing “drama”. Wilful drama and those who create it are tiresome and should always be avoided.)
The constant need to change and stimulation tends not to be put under the umbrella of “happy” but more in the pile of “stress bucket”.
Of course I see the appeal of places like Ribble. In the city, it often feels like you’re chasing your tail and everywhere you turn, there’s something to arrest your vision and scream “BUY ME”.
But within the chaos of a big city, your find own oasis and there is always something new going on. Good or bad, everything moves rapidly.
I like to spend holidays in the Hampshire countryside. Recently, I made friends, in the local pub, with a couple next door to the cottage I was renting and they kindly said they would lend me a cafetiere. When I went round the next morning to get it, the lady was in a bit of a flap. “Well the phone rang just as you rang the doorbell and it was my sister ringing to ask about Christmas, I told her ‘I can’t talk about it right now, I’ve got someone at the door!’ Phew, what a palaver!”
For all my city-slicker ways, I don’t think I have envied another human as much as I envied this lady in that moment. Imagine having a life so calm and uncomplicated that the doorbell and the landline calling you in the same moment lead to this level of flushed cheeks and brow wiping.
I get it, it’s a wonderful life. For some people, happiness is seeing the seasons change and breathing in fresh air, it’s not being in a rush, it’s walking without needing to be anywhere. It is beautiful, for a holiday. But for some of us, true happiness needs a great big stonking rollercoaster plonked in the middle.