Are you happy?
Seriously ask yourself that question. I don't mean do you like your job and the car you drive, I mean deep down at the basic level of life, are you really happy? It's a heavy question, and perhaps one that most of us never really ask ourselves because we are probably too busy or maybe even too afraid?
It struck me the other day that as happy as I am in life, I'm in danger of missing the point. You see I am becoming busier and busier with work, a fact that carries the bonus of more money and therefore more opportunity to fill my life with the things money can buy.
Recently I've bought a laptop computer, a cool new flat screen Apple computer, new digital phones for my studio, a new DVD player, and just the other day a new mobile phone. Loads of stuff that a few years ago would have been beyond my financial reach.
The benefits of having a little more money are noticeable and, of course, enjoyable too. But this afternoon as I sat in a car at Caldy Beach watching the sunset over the Welsh Mountains and the River Dee, it dawned on me that this was the first time in a very long time that I had done this.
I used to watch the sunset across the Irish Sea or the River Dee regularly, sometimes once or twice a week. Back then I lived in Birkenhead, a place not readily blessed with natural charm or beauty. I took every opportunity to escape that place so as to bring some balance to the chaotic cruelness that seemed to plague the town I never once called home.
Back then I aspired to make my escape from Park Road South, to get to a point where I could afford to do my grocery shopping somewhere other than Netto or KwikSave. As much fun as it was living in a bedsit in the rough and tumble end of town, I wanted to graduate to a better standard of living, and in 1999 I did just that.
I moved away from the old apartment, left my old neighbors, and my greedy good for nothing landlord for a new place in a far less turbulent neighborhood. This was the new start I wanted, the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
It will be four years this week since I left Birkenhead, and if you asked me to take stock of what I have gained I think I could reel off an impressive list of spoils. I've got cable TV, a car that doesn't need to be followed everywhere by a tow truck and a reasonably successful business and all kinds of gadgets and goodies you would expect to find in any modern home. I'm doing fine thank you very much.
But am I happy?
I thought I was, in fact, I suppose I am really, but I'm hit by this sudden pang of uncertainty. Like I said, that sunset I saw this evening was the first one I've sat and watched in ages. I simply can't remember the last time I specifically took the time to watch a sunset.
I didn't have a camera, which at first annoyed me, but on reflection, I think it purified the moment somehow. I'd also forgotten my mobile phone and was therefore disconnected from my life, unreachable for a while. So I sat there in the car and without the assistance of a digital device of any kind I watched the sunset behind the Welsh Mountains, its reflection shimmer on the mouth of the River Dee, listening not to the radio but instead to the distant sound of the waves against the shore.
We all know that happiness can not be bought at a price, and yet here I am nearly falling into what I see as an illusionary state of happiness. The state where we fill our lives with the spoils of technology and the trimmings of good fortune. Where we cease to wonder at the wider world and instead look with blinkered vision at the world directly in front of us.
I don't want my life to be full of TV dinners and last-minute getaways grabbed in haste from some characterless dot com. I don't want to be driven by debt or mauled by marketing. I want to be able to experience and see beauty, to find happiness without a strapline or price tag. I want to be human, I accept that I am a number but I also want to be able to be more than that when I need to be. I don't want to get to the point where my life is so full of things that will make me happy that I lose sight of what it is that makes me happy.
Sometimes I think we tend to overcomplicate the simple things for no better reason other than we can. We're all driven by a thirst for more, but we're not entirely sure what it is we want more of. I don't want to lose simplicity. I'd rather have a wreck of a car and go somewhere beautiful, rather than a beautiful car and go nowhere.
I suppose am happy really, but I still want more. A DVD player, new digital video camera, cool laptop, or cable TV isn't doing anything other than anesthetizing me into becoming a stay-at-home suburban lab rat. I don't want to be spoon-fed my experiences, I am capable of more than just consuming.
I guess that sunset just gave me a sudden and unexpected reality check. Snapping me back to the truth that there's more to life than what we can see, buy, or ever understand.
I don't need a golden carriage to take me to my grave when a bridge of stars will do.