happy as you are

I’ve been preparing for questions about what my book title (If You’re Happy) means. Though the title comes from one of the stories, I also like the phrase because it lingers in possibility. Are you happy? What is happiness? Is it even something we should aim to achieve? Should we try to make others happy, too?

I’ve always wanted to make people happy (see pic of me with two childhood pals). It’s part of being human, I think, and helps us all get along. But at times I’ve cared too much about pleasing others.

I remember myself as an awkward, try-hard kid, wearing my heart on my sleeve. At uni, some of my college friends called me ‘the little mother’, since I would fuss over anyone sick or sad. Even now I sometimes tie myself in knots attempting to console, or trying to engage with people who aren’t keen on becoming friends.

I think some of this stems from childhood, from struggling to say and do the right thing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become better at deciding, I’ll do all I can to consider that person, but how they react is their business, not mine. Easy to decide of course, not so easy to feel. That child seeking approval is still curled inside.

The path to publication, while exciting on many levels, has intensified these people-pleasing traits. I fret that others are annoyed with me. I stress over small things, wonder if my tweets are silly, hope my Instagram posts aren’t lame. I imagine readers sneering at my book, pronouncing it not literary enough, too sentimental. And of course life is never smooth so there are other distractions and worries.

I’m reading The Daily Stoic* at the moment, and every morning I read the relevant piece for that date (the entries are around half a page, for each day of the year). While much of it is the type of wisdom I’ve read before, I find it soothing. It amazes me to realise these ideas were being considered and expressed thousands of years ago. The words of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca remind us to only concern ourselves with what we can control – our own judgements, expectations and behaviour.

I’ve written a book and it’s the best book I knew how to write. I worked hard on each of the stories. Not everyone will like them, and those that like the book may not like every story. These things are none of my concern.

I’ll probably always be a bit too invested in the happiness of others, always overly concerned about pleasing family, friends and colleagues. (And of course I’ll be hoping plenty of people do like If You’re Happy – I can’t change my personality altogether!) But remembering to choose my words and actions with care, then take a step back, helps maintain peace of mind.

May you be free from chasing validation. May you find peace of mind. May you be happy as you are.

* The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, 2016 (Portfolio).

16 thoughts on “happy as you are

  1. Fiona, your honesty and heart in these posts and on Twitter are such a joy to read. I can’t wait to read your book and as for the realisations, well, like everything, it is as simple and as difficult as that.

    • Thank you Nina, I was a bit nervous about posting this one but then I thought – probably at least some people will relate!
      And I like your comment about this aspect of life being both simple and difficult.
      Hope all is going with you and with your writing 🙂 x

  2. You have an ability to say so much in few words, Fi. And there’s so much to take away from this post – most of us enjoy pleasing others, and you’ve captured the flutter in the belly of every author about to share their soul with the world. We all love you and can’t wait to read your book. 🙂

  3. Hey, that’s a picture of me. 🙂

    The people pleasing stuff is interesting, because so much of success is related to people-pleasing. It’s a survival trait, and has been for thousands of years.

    Nevertheless, it’s something I’d rather struggle against than give in to. That’s kind of curious, too. I do wonder if it’s something to do with social hierarchies, where if one acts as the people-pleaser, then it signals or concedes a lower position in the hierarchy, so people fight against it.

    The “literary-enough” thing is something I don’t worry about at all. I think E. L. James’ writing is probably in the lowest decile when it comes to literary value. But, I think she’s certainly in the top 1% on the much more important “authors have provided the most value to humanity this century” list. She’s provided so much happiness and entertainment to so many people. There’s massive amounts of value there.

    • Hi Richard, so lovely to hear from you! And yes, it’s baby you!

      I agree the people-pleasing thing is complex. Because as you say, we do have to consider others, that’s important. But to what degree do we struggle to please at our own expense? There’s no simple answer I suspect. But certainly when it comes to making art of any kind, I think we have to create for ourselves, please ourselves and then step back. Those who like the product can enjoy it, those who don’t can find something else they enjoy.

      And I’m absolutely with you about the ‘literary enough’. I haven’t read E L James yet, but I definitely read what appeals to me, which may or may not be books considered literary. I love a good crime/thriller, and sometimes I want a lighter read that I can just devour. If a book delights us then surely that’s a good thing, whatever the genre!

      Thanks so much for commenting and hope you and the family are well x

      • Yeah, I think the “struggle to please at our own expense” is particularly interesting because there’s a significant gender component. Women tend to have a higher level of agreeableness, and I think western culture pushes women toward pleasing others–even at their own expense–far more than it does with men. So, I think that question has very different implications whether you were talking about a man or a women.

        (Hmm, might be an interesting short story: two characters in the same situation with the only difference being gender. It’s hard to write such a thing honestly though, and very easy to write it dishonestly. But the honesty is what would make it compelling, particularly if you can convince the reader that both genders have it worse off.)

        Yeah, the family’s doing well. It’s the oldest’s last year in high school, and we’re about a month away from knowing the post-secondary situation. The younger has settled into high school well and has a good friends group. There’s been a bunch of drama at my wife’s work, and it stopped being a positive thing in her life. So, she quit late least year, and is just wrapping up stuff with them. It’s an unambigously good result for her, I think, and we just found out that she was accepted as a volunteer for the Crisis Phone Line, which I think she’ll be great at.

        • Hi Richard,

          Yes it would be interesting to explore how different genders react to a situation. But also hard to pull off, as you say.

          Glad to know the family is doing well overall, though I’m sorry S was having dramas at work last year. The volunteer work sounds both fulfilling and important – hope she enjoys it.

          Hope 2022 treats you all well and thanks again for stopping by.

  4. A very honest post, Fiona, showing your deep wisdom. Finding ways to better ourselves and ensure self-care while also caring for others is ongoing, and so much seems to stem from our childhood patterns. Well done on becoming better at not entangling yourself in how others’ react; a great skill to learn. I truly hope this book launch brings you much happiness. (Love the photo, too!)

  5. I related powerfully to this beautifully written, honest post Fiona. Many women, myself included were schooled in childhood to feel responsible for the happiness of others. As you say, it’s an ongoing balancing act, recognising and valuing the importance of caring for others, whilst rememberig self care. Loving your book. My favourite currently is ‘All THis Beauty’. With such sensitivity, you must be an amazing GP.

    • Hi Anni, and yes I was definitely raised that way too. Which means we tend to prioritise others but often put our own needs last.
      And I’m so delighted that you’re enjoying the book! Thank you for reading 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s