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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

This (savouring) life

I have just learnt that the secret of happiness is to know how to savour. Happiest are those who take pleasure in the smallest details of experience, people who don't rush through life but who truly stop to 'smell the roses'. When I say I have just learnt, I mean that I have read it in a book, actually a fact sheet on Happiness from the Black Dog Institute where I'm working. Apparently now there is a science of happiness, which seeks to redress centuries of neglect while psychologists have been distracted studying the science of melancholia. Of course, I have always known this secret in my heart. From a young age I had only to observe my father as he inhaled freshly ground coffee beans or slipped us a 'tasty bit' of roast lamb as it was being served up. (My mother slapped our greedy fingers). My aunts, too, taught me to savour. One of my favourite aunts, eleven years older than I, invited me to a 'dinner party' – how grown up - when I was only sixteen, with my new boyfriend. She cooked carrot soup so delicious I still remember it thirty-three years on. We scraped out the carroty saucepan at the conclusion of that sophisticated evening. Another aunt served iced chocolates with real swirls, when everyone else's aunts plonked milk or cordial on the table. This particular aunt, yes, forty years on, is the envy of all my colleagues now; when I announce that I'm 'just off to her place for dinner', the jealous groans echo through the building. Somewhere along the line I must have learnt, too, to savour the freshness of fruit; my husband recalls a moment early in our relationship where he thought I must have had an orgasm biting into a fresh nectarine. The juice dripped down my chin and…well the rest is history…! The aunts taught me to savour moments too, it wasn't just food. Moments in life, in literature, in gardens, in relationships with their children, (my cousins, though much younger than me because of this half-generation thing). Moments of musing and contemplation and moments of great emotion, tragedies as well as blessed, wonderful things. I do wonder if this ability to savour can be a handicap, as well as bringing you the deepest of satisfactions in life. Surely the ability to experience fully and intensely works both ways. Almost twenty years ago, after I lost my first husband in an accident, and not long after our family had also lost a brother and son, I remember another 'aunt', actually a dear friend of my mother's, holding me and telling me that I had experienced something that no-one else in my circle of friends would ever quite understand. It could have sounded callous, as if to somehow top someone's else's personal tragedy was the game. But I knew what she meant. It was as if she understood that I had travelled to the furthest reaches of sadness, a double whammy that won the bad luck lottery, and that somehow as a result, I might one day be a more compassionate person, able to return understanding when it might be needed.

That was a while ago now, and I have learnt that happiness is not the exclusive domain of those who have never suffered. And to all those aunts, I am grateful (bless their cotton socks). Thank you for passing on this ancient art. I hope to pass it on to my own…

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