I could have sworn I’ve written a blog about ‘happy places’ but I’ll be buggered if I can find it. So I’m going to assume I haven’t and write one now. If I have written it then you’re just going to have to accept that I am going gaga and take pleasure in my amusing decline. Certainly I found some notes in my diary, on the 19th of July, in case you’re wondering, but can’t find the term in past blogs and I can’t do a proper search on WordPress because we’re at the barn / vineyard and don’t have an internet connection here. Are you following this? Hope so because the likelihood of this blog becoming more convoluted is high.
The prospective title for the blog in my diary was – Do retired people have happy places and are they different (to none retired people I guess although this wasn’t clear in my notes, brief as they were)? I’m surprised that I haven’t written about it because, again, according to my notes, I was quite excited about the concept even to the point of doing a little research on what happy places meant. All I’ve written down is that it was an idea first recorded in a Canadian newspaper in the 1980s. Not perhaps what I had expected to find.
I suppose, at a basic level, the term is fairly easily defined as a place or places which make you happy just by virtue of being there or even thinking about being there. I’m not sure how precise a definition this needs to be if you’re thinking about it in the abstract and wanting to experience happiness. Would a whole country work? For us thinking about New Zealand as a whole generally brings a warm glow. This, in itself, is interesting because if you’ve ever read any of my chapters from ‘Four go to New Zealand’ on this blog, you will be aware that our sixteen months spent there had some very challenging / stressful aspects to it. Nonetheless New Zealand remains one of our happy places. Strangely perhaps there are no specific places during that year or the several visits thereafter that I would call happy places. It’s almost as if the concept and its associated happiness dissolve the more you try to pin it down or make it real. Rather like trying to hang on to a dream you’ve had next morning, the more you try and bring it to life, the more it fades away. At least this is what happens to me.
So, as a general rule, my attempts to identify my happy places consist of using my imagination to create a fictitious place that I can escape into. This might be something to do with the fact that the creation of my happy places is a nocturnal activity. Sometimes as I’m trying to get off to sleep, although this is rare because reading in bed usually sends me off to sleep without any additional strategies. The challenge is most often encountered in the middle of the night after I have been forced out of bed by my bladder demanding that I have a pee. This is when my thoughts run riot, when the demons come and my worries – health, wealth, the business, the children, the dogs, the houses, etc. etc. line up for my attention. Quite often they do not form an orderly queue but try to get inside my head all at the same time.
One of the first blogs I wrote (about 400 blogs ago maybe) was about sleeplessness, particularly the middle of the night version. In that blog I made the point that trying to stop these worrying thoughts was pointless. You cannot simply make them go away. My experience, which is plentiful, clearly indicates that these negative thoughts need to be replaced with positive ones. Sounds simple enough. For me this is where my happy places thoughts come into play. Bear in mind they are fictitious places. But that’s not to say they’re not based on some remembered actual place but, in order to work for me, they need adapting. I collect them in my real world in the same way that Navajo policeman, Jim Chee in the books by Tony Hillerman (an author sadly no longer with us who I would whole-heartedly recommend), collects beautiful views, memorising them so that he can bring them into his thoughts at later, stressful times.
One of my favourite happy places is isolated railway stations. Yes, strange isn’t it. I’m not even going to try to explain why this works for me, indeed I’m not at all sure I could convincingly explain why, even to myself. You can google such stations but the ones they offer don’t meet my needs, hence the adaptations. Also old country houses, cold damp churches, castles, old cricket pavilions, even empty sports stadia. I know, I know, completely bonkers. All I can say is what these places have in common is that I am inside and snug (sometimes I have to carry out some DIY before these places become suitably protective but that’s OK because then the DIY becomes a part of the thought process that pushes out the disruptive thoughts – imagine laying fitted carpets in an old castle).
You can see by now that I’ve strayed a long way from the happy places and do retired people have them, theme. But this is the peril of not knowing what you’re going to write until you actually get there. This blog was prompted by an article on the BBC website (Pensioners told to head for West Sussex for happiness) about research carried out (by the Prudential I think) about where was the happiest place a retired person could live in the UK. There was a top ten and everyone, except number 10 which was North Yorkshire where, coincidentally, I am writing this, was down South. You can probably predict the factors that the survey thought made the difference – access to health care, crime and the weather.
Of course the above factors are all very well but if you’re trying to identify your happy place, and actually want to live there, you need to bear in mind, in my humble opinion, these are no more than the basics. Your happy place in your retirement needs more, especially if it is likely to remain in the realms of fiction only to be wheeled out in the wee small hours to keep the dark thoughts at bay. It needs to be adapted to your own personal vision of happiness and that might, as I think I have demonstrated in this blog, be quite unique, not to say bizarre. But then retirement, as a whole, seems quite bizarre to me.