Are you awake or asleep at the wheel?

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

Are you living life or is life living you?

I spent some time in London last week. It was interesting experiencing it as something close to normal for the first time since the pandemic had started.

But seeing London ‘normal’ was strange. I come back a changed person to the one that used to live here. When I was here, I followed the rhythm that I thought people were supposed to do – going to work and chasing more money to pay for a nicer room (due to the exorbitant rent prices), without even noticing the negative impact my obsession on my work life had on happiness or health. I’d come home shattered after spending so much time and energy on things that now I can’t even remember.

In the last two years we’ve had a global pandemic and a war. Yet the everyday grind has returned with a vengeance. Perhaps it never left us, or perhaps it actually got worse when we were all locked up in our houses. But now it is back for all to see.

I found it quite shocking to see the things that were always there, but that I had previously chose to ignore – people commuting long distances to a job they didn’t actually like to spend time with colleagues they didn’t really know to live a life they didn’t want to live.

These people weren’t doing terribly. They were just quietly miserable, unaware that the way they were living their life was causing them unhappiness. Life was packing into a tube like sardines for the morning, squeezing out energy like a lemon during worktime and crashing into an evening of scrolling on a phone and background TV.

These people knew something needed to change. However, the solution was usually to find a new job, or take a holiday to somewhere exotic-sounding. Sometimes it worked, at least for a while. Unfortunately that doesn’t prevent the feeling of unhappiness from returning.

I found it quite tricky to connect back with people when I was in town. Some suggested to meet up without really meaning it. Some were too busy. Some wanted to meet but were too tired. Some have gone off the grid never to be seen again. I’m not judging, only observing. After all, I was also like this. It does make life feel very complicated though.

That’s not to say everyone is miserable in London. Some people are happy. Some people build a life in which they can do the things they want. Some even appreciate the amazing things that London has to offer – the museums, culture, diversity to name but a few. They even do these things outside of when they tag along with friends who are visiting.

I can’t really know for sure what the difference was between the people who were living their lives in misery compared to those who seemed happy, present and in control. But if I had a guess I would say it was those seemed awake. They are awake to the fact that life is not all about achieving success, making others happy or just following the way everyone else seemed to be living. Rather than seeing happiness as either a byproduct of achievement or an inconvenient afterthought, they saw it as something that is kindled like a sacred candle. They give it time, effort and devotion. Even when external pressures come, they keep perspective on what is actually important.

The paradox of London is that it’s both one of the most liberating, freeing places and one of the most oppressive, scary places at the same time. Having lived in South London before and now staying in the leafy suburbs, perhaps that’s to do with what bit of the city you live. Or maybe it’s about what you choose to see, no matter wherever you live.

London is just one city out of a whole wide world. What makes it striking is that this contrast of misery and happiness is so visible on a day to day basis. However, this phenomenon happens everywhere. Misery and Happiness often sit next to each other on a bus.

Fortunately, if we’re miserable, we can choose to change. We can be happy. We can wake up. Though only if we want to.

This shift doesn’t happen automatically. It happens to those willing to reevaluate. It’s about asking the fundamental questions like – ‘what makes me happy?’ and be willing to muddle through even if we don’t know the answer. That was certainly the case for me.

Perhaps you’re already happy. In which case I am delighted for you. May you continue your life and be content with it, whatever path it may take.

But perhaps you’re not happy. Perhaps you want something different but have never really thought about it.

Perhaps this is the wake up call that you’ve been waiting for.

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