Offbeat 16 September 2016
I have been thinking about the word ‘rat race’ for a few minutes now. I can’t remember when last I heard it used. I think it was in the late Eighties. At that stage there seems to have been some residual idea that life should be a bit more than the back-and-forth of commuting to work, with the hours in-between.
There’s another idea floating around in my head, jumping up and down in an attempt to get my attention, the notion of keeping up with the Jones’. Some kind of wickedness in me wants to reword that, give it the respectability of a jargon. Maybe it can be called comparative consumption.
It seems that ideas like that have fallen off the shelf of popular consciousness, possibly slipped under the sofa, to inhabit the same space as lost keys, dust bunnies, mysterious migratory paper clips, and a lizard that the cat bought in as a gift.
Why might those ideas have fallen out of pop consciousness? Maybe people developed some kind of ennui in the face of repeated attempts to attain the unattainable. Or maybe everyone read Paul Theroux’ Mosquito Coast, or saw the movie, and decided to abandon that idealism for fear of being shot by missionaries.
The thing about those ideas or terms was that they could hold a lot of content. In a few words, they exposed malaise, and by pointing to the sickness, also showed that a cure, or exit from the condition, was needed. Post Nineties and Aughties, I can’t find anything coherent to show me where the exit should be or what I should be trying to escape? In fact the only thing that seems vaguely related is a bunch of Hipsters who seem to assert their individualism by uniformly wearing beards, dressing as if they were part of the cast of a Noddy book, and being snooty about coffee.
Quality of life should be an ambition, unfortunately I can’t find a guideline, so I spend quite a bit of time trying to be happy in a general way, even if I have to be bloody-minded about it. Sometimes I even get it right.
Mostly I think it is sudden surges of Oxytocin. There seems to be a link between my Oxytocin production and the triad moment of a beer and a cigarette sitting on the wall outside the pub, realising that life is actually wonderful. Unfortunately that moment of unfettered though and reflection inevitably has to end for fear of falling over and a complete cessation of thought.
So, for me happiness is largely defined by relaxed thinking about all sorts of things outside the pub, before I drink too much and cease thinking. Unpacking that there are things that become obvious.
There is the fact that I don’t have to grow a beard or discourse on the merits of coffee. There is the knowledge that the taxis hoot at me to show that they will take me home, and earn a fare in the process. And there is the absence of the computer and fragmentation of attention.
But it feels like there should be more. The word ambition keeps on recurring. Apparently I need some great goal in life.
Yet the idea of ambition never comes with a clear direction. It seems to say that I have to find something that drives me onward to an unspecified point. Somehow, just doing a really good job, getting things right and being helpful, isn’t specified as a worthy goal. The word relationship keeps on showing up as well. I keep on getting articles on Facebook that expound on what I should do to have better relationships. The items on introversion, one of my other preoccupations, keep on telling me to find an extroverted companion, I suppose as some kind of prosthetic to aid me in small talk. Yet the articles are don’t specify the emotional outcome.
Consumerism, or comparative consumerism if you will, tells me that quality of live involves hours watching satellite channels every day and owning new phones. Dull, unfulfilling stuff.
As I look at it, quality of life lies in abandoning the guides, and snatching happiness where it appears. It’s not something that can be imposed on life or dictated by others. Sundowners make me happy. Just not too often.