Answers on a Postcard

knowyourownhappiness

Thank you very much for being patient while I sort my life out. Every year about this time I  like to sit back and have a little reassessment of my priorities. This year has been worse than usual as I’m rapidly approaching a birthday that’s much nearer to thirty than I feel comfortable with, which has triggered a panic about how little I have done with my life so far. Everyone I know has an impressive business card with a salary to match, is either buying or talking about buying a flat, is getting engaged, married, or having a baby, and is generally doing a very good job of being an adult. In comparison, I feel like an overgrown teenager; I’m still living under my mum’s roof, I’m at the career equivalent of making the tea, and I’ve barely enough cash to fill a purse, let alone put down a house deposit. That bestselling novel I was going to write consists of a few pages in a dusty notebook that has been shoved to the back of my bottom drawer. My only progress towards buying a place of my own is a plastic box filled with fancy crockery. The only man in my life is a sadly one dimensional poster of Ryan Gosling. It’s all a bit tragic, isn’t it?

I know I’m not the only one to feel like this, and there are plenty of platitudes designed for people just like me to help them feel better about themselves. Life is a marathon, not a sprint! It’s all about the journey, not the destination! and so on. I know, in the grand scheme of things, that these phrases are true, but they’re not much help when everyone else seems to be having a better time of it than you.

So, what’s a girl to do? Well, today I was clearing out my desk and I found a postcard I bought at a British Library exhibition. It has a quote from Sense and Sensibility printed on it: ‘Know your own happiness.’ As I read it, I had an epiphany. Jane, as always, is right. I am responsible for my own happiness. And my own happiness is exactly that; mine. Deep down, I don’t want all of the things my friends have. I don’t want a highly paid but ultimately meaningless office job. I don’t want to be tied down to a mortgage. I don’t particularly want a husband and I definitely don’t want a baby right now. Their happiness is not my happiness.

What makes me happy is driving to work in the morning, my head swimming with ideas while my eyes take in the lovely countryside on either side of the road; walking into a classroom to see smiling faces waiting for me to teach them something; stopping off at my sister’s on my way home from work to spend an hour or so with my gorgeous nephews; getting the train to London and catching the first glimpse of the Houses of Parliament; getting off the train in London and seeing the faces of friends waiting for me; planning holidays; curling up in bed with a good book and a cup of tea; eating cake; writing a blog post; reading comments from people who’ve read my blog post and liked it, and lots of other things that are far too inconsequential to mention. In short, what makes me happy are a whole myriad of little things, not the big things I’m supposed to think are important. They might not lead to fame or fortune, and they might make me an overgrown teenager, but actually, right now, I’m alright with that.

So, the point of all this is, today I found the answer to the questions I have been asking myself for the past two weeks. Should I bother to keep blogging? Is there any point to it? Is it worth the time? The answer to these is, unequivocally, yes. Like my life, it might not lead to fame or fortune, but it makes me happy. And that’s what it’s all about. Who wants to be a grown up, anyway?

92 comments

  1. You are so right, as is Jane of course. I have lived alone for many years now – and I wouldn’t change it. I know there are people I know who don’t entirely believe that I am happy on my own and childless, but I am. Like you I often appreciate the seemingly simple things in life. Curling up in bed with a book and a cup of tea – bliss – something I never tire of. So glad you have sorted out what it is you want from your life right now.

  2. Life is complicated isn’t it? But what is important is to know what you enjoy and what makes you happy and what feels right for you. Not everyone knows what they want at your age – sometimes at any age! And as you know life can only be lived forwards not backwards so follow the path that makes sense to you.

  3. (punches air) Yes! You’re going to keep blogging! Rachel, I don’t know beans about your aspirations or standards or wishes, but I do know one achievement whose magnitude you don’t seem to fully realize yourself. You have a genius for blogging. Small beer? Not really. Things lead to things. Look at all that’s come to Simon through his blog, to cite just one instance of someone whose personality and love of books communicate themselves to the world in a gloriously unaffected way. Your blog has that unselfconscious involving charm, of transmuting both the books you read and the things you see and experience, into something vitally interesting. Not even a handful of bloggers have this gift. Wherever it will lead, go with it. Don’t abandon the best things, and it is one of the best things. Looking into my crystal ball (a metaphor for half a century of adult experience) I see for you a very fine teaching career (by the way, how do you equate even a beginning teaching job with “making the tea”?), and almost certainly several novels in your future. (They may not be best selling but I never promised you a rose garden.) That will be a great life. And if you want marriage and children along the way, without doubt they will come. Mind you, probably most writing women do that “assessment comparison” thing, totting up what others are doing and what they should be doing. If you’re given to that, I don’t think you ever get over it entirely, and I feel it myself so I can’t help you there, except to say that at such moments, the rational balanced humorous mind of Jane Austen is very useful! And I can tell you that when I say you have a special and rare talent for blogging, I’m not whistling Dixie. Nor am I indulging in the usual fatuous “oh you’re wonderful” compliments. I mean it. Feel like nobody? Well you are somebody. You are the blogger Book Snob, who is also a teacher. That ought to be good enough for anybody!

    1. Yes, brilliant cheerleading that I wholeheartedly agree with! So glad you’re coming back to the blog.🙂

  4. Wow. I hardly know what to say, except that I love your blog and I envy that (the blog) accomplishment at such a young age. You are a fantastic writer, and every time I read one of your blogs or see the pictures it brings me happiness. I have a son who is slightly older than you who is still “finding” himself in the wilds of Manhattan. He’s a musician. Your situation is not so different from many young people in the U.S. right now. So I’m grateful that you have decided to carry on, and let us know when your book is published. I will line up to buy it!

    Sent from my iPad

    1. Thanks Barbara – how kind you are! i hope your son is able to figure things out soon. And I appreciate your faith in me for that novel – we’ll see. You might be waiting a while!

  5. … and you make us happy! I am so relieved you decided to go on with your extraordinary blog. And I am very touched by your openness about your situation. You are lovely and deserve to be happy in your very own way.

  6. Rachel, just a big hug and lots of good wishes. To find one’s own happiness may be the most challenging thing to do in life, what with peer pressure and the predominance of career-mortgage-hubby-children-retirement-plan model of life. Don’t ever give in to other people’s expectations of what you “should” achieve. Just follow your bliss, to quote Joseph Campbell. I am so glad you are back and full of beans. I’ve been following your blog for only a couple of months, reading back all the entries, and would be very sorry not to find any new posts from you. Thanks for all the beautiful reviews and your enthusiasm for books and now your teaching job. Stick around, please!

  7. You are a very wise young lady. You also know that those lovely friends of yours with their wedding frenzy or frugal living due to mortgage woes wish at times they were you! I so admire the way that you question your situation, evaluate, and then either move on or find peace with the way things are. This time spent living with your mum won’t last much longer and will be fodder for memories. Your first burst pipe or need for a new roof will make you wish you were back there!

  8. Dear Rachel,

    I don’t remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I remember feeling immensely sd when you said you were taking a few weeks off to “reconsider” it and, now I am equally happy you are back to it.

    I am over twice your dreaded 30 years old, have 2 wonderful kids and a lot of the things you seem to think you might need to be happy, ie a house a job in an office etc. Yet what I miss the most is what you enjoy the most… Time to write, thinking time , curling up withnAusten long enough to appreciate her wisdom, and halite time with friends. My kids say I need to start a blog, as they find comfort and maybe some wisdom in my emails. We just returned from London( firstvtime) and I left with deep envy for anyone lucky enough to go there easily, much less live there.

    So you are certainly correct thatvweceach need to make our own happiness, but of course the issue is it is easier to make your own unhappiness! People who,love what they do are good at it. You obviously love what you do so Imam sure you are an amazing teacher. You are certainly a wonderful blogger, keep it up and enjoy your lack of financial obligations mortgages and worries about how you will pay for kids education. Do what you love and you will love what you do.

    All my best

    Fitz

    1. Thanks so much Fitz – it’s so important to value what we have and that is something I am learning…slowly but surely! I am so delighted that you enjoy my blog – it is such a pleasure to have readers like you!

  9. Those who can find happiness in the small things in life, such as the everyday pleasures that you mention, are I suspect much more likely to be happy than those who try to live up to everyone else’s expectations. As Mary Chapin Carpenter says in her wonderful song “In My Heaven”:

    You can look back at your life and lot
    But it can’t matter what you’re not
    By the time you’re here, we’re all we’ve got
    In my heaven
    [http://youtu.be/kBMCFPQSeJY]

    Well, it works better as a lyric than as poetry. Nor, I should add, am I wishing for your premature demise! The point is, whether or not one believes in an afterlife of any kind, by the time we are dead, if we are remembered at all, it will be for what we have done and the lives we have touched, rather than for anything we have purchased (property included). I still feel the positive effects today of the good teachers I came into contact with, and not always in respect to the actual subjects they were teaching. As you begin to have a similar effect on those you are teaching, you will be assured of having a far bigger positive impact than many who are considered high achievers in more worldly terms.

  10. I began reading, and admiring, your blog after your post about “Elizabeth and her German Garden.” I have been hooked ever since. I thank you for your literary suggestions and insight! I was delighted to have your latest post to read and enjoy (while sipping mt tea!). Thank you, thank you, thank, you!!!

  11. I’m really pleased you’re going to go on blogging, Rachel, and I’m glad that you’ve realized that you’re doing what makes you happy. You don’t sound at all like a bad grownup to me — you’re trying out lots of things and traveling around and learning and growing. I think you’re brilliant at adulthood!

  12. You know what Rachel, you make all your readers happy too. So keep on doing what you’re doing! Have a lovely Easter

  13. Hi Rachel. Great post. Don’t be fooled into thinking that those people who are slowly ticking off all the things of their list are any happier than you. Happiness is always in little things. So they might be happy when they see their child speaking their first words or curling up on the sofa with their spouse while watching a film and you are happy with your own things. And all of you have your own anxieties. You might worry that you’re not as far ahead on your ‘adult scale’ as some of your friends but think about all the anxieties they have – like losing their high paid jobs and being left with a mortgage and two kids. They probably envy you the freedom and the fact your life still fully belongs to you. The grass is always greener on the other side! :-))

  14. What a relief! It must add to your happiness to know there are so many of us out there that enjoy and really appreciate your posts (10/10 for both style and content!). Don’t feel you have got to write, just write when you want to…

  15. we never grew up and it suits us massively.

    please don’t stop blogging.

    you have such a great voice.

    just tell us what you see, and think, and read, and watch and do and write, write, write and it will find its way into the world and reflect back to you beautifully.

    #weadorejaneausten

    great quote.

    and you did a beautiful exposition on it too.

    which is why it’s important to write.

    and live.

    *wavingfromlosangeles*

  16. Yes! A great entry. Julia Cameron says the secret to creativity is to enjoy the process – not focus on the product. Good for you. How many great artists, writers had miserable lives because fame didn’t come in their lifetime? How any famous in their lifetime artists are soon forgotten? You need to please yourself. Good old Jane, once again!

  17. Dear Rachel
    I am 50 and I often read your blog entries with a sense of wonder at the level of maturity – beyond your years – you continually articulate; and I hope that this doesn’t sound at all patronising, it is sincerely meant. You have such an engaging manner. When I was in my mid 20s I cared more for boys and less for books and oftentimes I wish that those quantities had been reversed. But such is life. Your pupils are fortunate indeed; you will make a wonderful teacher and, in the doing, a difference to many lives. It goes without saying – but say it I will – that I am heartened that you have made the decision to continue blogging. Your generosity of spirit, warmth and a sense of doing all with a glad heart is a delight.

  18. Like so many others, I am very pleased that you have decided that blogging is part of what makes you happy, because you are good at it. I expect that lots of your friends enjoy it too – those ones who are doing it right. In teaching it is, as I am sure you already know, those small moments when a young person shares a moment of discovery, of independence, of achievement, which are the rewards. Your blog audience seem to enjoy the same steady recognition of small but important reading moments in your blog.

    1. Thanks so much Caroline – what lovely and perceptive things to say. I appreciate that analogy between teaching and blogging – I hadn’t thought of it like that before. Thank you for enlightening me!🙂

  19. It’s the first time I’ve visited your blog and I like it, it seems to me so genuine. Yes, keep on blogging! And I do agree with you simple and everyday things not only make us happy but represent the few things that are certain in life.
    alessia

  20. Happy Easter to you Rachel! Allow yourself times to dwell on other things but know that you then know who you are. In some ways there is no hurry, other people think there maybe but it ‘s what’s right for you.

  21. I’m as close to sixty as you are to thirty,and have some hindsight & experience to share, if you like.

    Had the job, the promotion, the fat salary, the city house, the new car.
    Now I have a muddy country yard, a small pension & I drive a 13 year old VW. When was I happier? You bet your bottom dollar that it’s NOW!

    Happiness doesn’t come from the things, or even the situations. It comes, as you so aptly have identified, from within. And it’s different for everyone.

    You are on the right track, Rachel. Lots of hugs and best wishes!!

    1. Thanks Debbie – you’re a very wise woman! It’s so good to hear from other people and know that I have nothing really to worry about. I’m so glad you have found your own happiness – you are an inspiration!

  22. I too have found my own happiness – and that includes every new post at Bookssnob (smile). I am so happy for you that you have found contentment in life. Really life is filled to the brim with diverse ideas and places for all the DIFFERENT people created.

  23. Hurrah Rachel!! I love your blog……….you sound such a happy person, you enjoy the lovely things in life……..it is true……….. money doesn’t make you happy, nor does power………..keep on………..you’re on the right track already! good luck!!

  24. How right you are and how happy we’ll be, because we are your readers, we follow your life, your moments, your decisions and your doubts, your interesting inside, be sure.
    In a certain way, we readers probably are a little like you. Or a little more than you can think. And maybe a nice mirror where we want and need TO look at, for you and for ourselves.
    Congratulations and thank you.
    Big kisses.

    1. Thanks Paul – that made me smile. I like to know I’m not the only one out there! I’m so glad you enjoy reading what I write – it’s a pleasure to have readers like you!

  25. You are just a beautiful, sensitive person who is finding out how she likes to live her life. And you are aware of that: be happy to be so wise at your young age! Chapeau!!

  26. I just celebrated my 55th birthday and guess what? I am still (after 30 years of marriage, 3 children, and home ownership) asking myself everyday, “What do I really want to do when I grow up?” Your outlook on life and self knowledge show wisdom beyond your years. Live life on your terms, always.
    Here is an apt quote from author Nikos Kazantzakis:
    “I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”

  27. I’m so pleased you’ve had something of an epiphany, Rachel🙂 The 20s are hard, I think, as we try to determine our futures – but so much of our futures, it seems, are entirely beyond the scope of our determining. So it’s best to cling onto the things which bring you joy, and investigate the things which might, but not worry too much about the things that probably won’t do you any good even if you had them. (I am very much talking to myself as well as you, of course!)

    If the thing we do to bring ourselves happiness, that we have in common – blogging – also ends up bringing other people happiness (as yours certainly does) then I think we’re pretty blessed in our vocation, aren’t we? And that’s even before we get to all the myriad other things you do which bring others joy.

    You know what, I reckon we’re going to have a cup of tea together in ten years’ time, and wonder why we worried ourselves so much in our mid-20s.

    1. Thanks Simon. I know; so many of us seem to struggle at this time in our lives. And I know we’ll look back and laugh too – I think that often. I’ll be thoroughly ashamed of my younger self for being such a wet blanket! We’ll get there in the end!

  28. Pfewww. I am so relieved that you made the decision that I hoped you would!

    I can’t wait to see you this summer. We have so much to talk about. In the meantime, Girlfriend, write, write, write and then write some more.

  29. I know it’s selfish of me, but I’m glad you’ve decided to continue. As someone on the other side of the pond, and someone who passed their 30’s quite some time ago, I would miss your blog. Even at my point in life I still grapple with some of the issues you are dealing with. We all need reminders that our happiness is our own. Here’s to yours!

  30. Rachel, I am so glad that you are back. I know that teaching is a very demanding career. It can completely monopolize your time. You have to do what is best for you, not what others think is best for themselves. Choosing your path is a very personal choice and I am glad that you are wise enough to choose what is best for you. You will probably never be wealthy financially if you stay with teaching, but you will find a wealth in experiences and memories. Personally, I don’t know why any one wants to be famous, but there are those who do. I would rather be appreciated by people who really know me. Now that you have done all of that soul searching, relax a little and take time to enjoy your choices.

    1. Thanks Janet – you are so wise and so right. Learning to relax and be content with my choices is something I have always struggled with, but I recognise I need to overcome that if I am going to find true contentment. I’m working on it!

  31. So glad you are going to continue to blog. You have a genius for connecting to people as evidenced by the comments on this post – it’s a rare talent and who knows where you will go with it – a long way.

  32. Glad you have decided not to give up the blog. I appreciate that with the new job and everything you don’t have as much time but I always enjoy reading your posts (found your blog through the doves list) and often read or reread the books that you recommend. Not surprised that Jane came up with good advice for you. We could all benefit from this one. Please keep writing even if you can’t do it as regularly. Best of luck for the future. Janet

    1. Thanks so much Janet – I’m delighted that I have convinced you to read some of my favourites! I hope you’ll continue to enjoy reading…I can’t promise regularity but I’ll do what I can!

  33. I think everyone has a different way to see their lives. Meanwhile some could not think of being 30 and not being a parent, some others want the complete opposite and all we need to know it’s OK. And don’t you dare give up this beautiful blog!

  34. Being happy is so much more important than anything else. Time is a great gift, and the best thing of all is spending it doing just what you want to. It took me a long time (truthfully I still do it) not to be constantly comparing myself with other people, who they are and what they have. I’m getting on for 40 which is a bit scary, but happiness comes at funny times and in funny places! Also know that your blog readers love you, and get so much joy from reading your thoughts and ideas. Thank you for sticking with us!

    1. Thanks Jo – it’s hard, isn’t it – and in a way, it’s good to know that this feeling doesn’t go away, because it is something I am going to have to learn to live with rather than try and ‘conquer’, and that makes it more manageable. I’m so glad you enjoy reading what I write – that truly does make me happy!

  35. Simon said the right word, as always. Vocation. You’ve found two, while still in your twenties. Teaching. Blogging. I’d say you were SO on the right track! (By the way, the fifties were my happiest, most fulfilling, most productive decade. I spent my twenties – supposedly the “best” years – not!) worrying about stuff like that.

  36. If ever you should have one of those moments of doubt again just read all these comments again. They show how much you are valued. For all their seemingly high paid jobs and babies and partners I wonder how many of those friends you mention can take pleasure in the simple things in life as you do. I bet many times they wished they could swap with you.

    1. Thanks Karen – what a very kind thing to say, and I will indeed read these comments when I need a boost – you have all made my head grow to enormous proportions!

  37. I kept visiting your blog, hoping you would have decided to continue your delightful writing, and I’m so glad you have! There are many of us who wait eagerly to read your snippets and reviews (and I’m about to start reading Elizabeth Bowen on your recommendation!) Your experiences in the classroom sometimes make me wonder if I am cut out for my current job, or should find a different calling in life. All I know is that reading makes me very very happy, and whatever job I do has to be connected to it. Let me also try to “know my own happiness”🙂
    Love and best wishes from India

    1. Thanks Sharanya – I am so excited that you’re going to read Elizabeth Bowen – I hope you’ll love her as much as I do! I hope you too will find your own happiness. We’ll get there in the end!🙂

  38. Good for you, Rachel (and me, too, because I get to keep reading you) for following you heart.
    Though I’m decades older than you, there are times I feel like I haven’t yet grown up. Welcome back!

  39. Great news, Rachel!

    I would bet everyone on this list has gone through this kind of reassessment from time to time, since probably all of us have chosen a “path less travelled”, and at times the “ordinary” things that make people happy – big salary/prestige, buying a flat, marriage and 2.5 children – seem attractive. And each of these thing will come in its own time, if you want them.

    You have as others said, a clear vocation, and you are working on realising it -you take delight in driving to work and seeing the children’s faces each day, and that is more than many teachers can say(though they may have more experience and thus are over the beginners’ anxieties) and you teach through your blog too.
    The way I see it, you have found two things in your life that enable all that you do, read, visit, see, etc., to make you better at them – teaching and blogging abuot gbooks (a new form of teaching/community building, really).

    And your postcard quotation by Austen, surely it means primarily not that we must “achieve” that happiness, but that we first must “know” it – and that is a matter of daily discovery, not some sort of performance challenge or drive to ahieve.
    And of course thanks for deciding to keep on blogging!

  40. I think I understand how you feel, as many of my childhood friends are busy with weddings/babies/houses and I am still working away in grad school. “Know your own happiness” is a wonderful message – I need to remember that also. I had a similar moment recently when I realized that, rather than worry about how my current life will one day converge with my expectations of an “adult” life, I need to relax and focus on what I’m doing now, which is really something I love.

    I’m glad to hear that you will continue to blog! I think you’re a great writer and I enjoy reading your thoughts on books as well as descriptions of your travels. I’ve been skimming your posts on traveling around London as I’m about to visit for the first time – from Canada🙂.

    1. I’m glad you realised that, Emily – being happy with what we have right now is hard but necessary if we’re going to get any kind of contentment in life!

      Thank you – I hope you’ll have a brilliant time in London and if you want any more specific advice, give me an email!

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