One of the things I have missed most moving to a new city are my close female friends. I don’t mean virtual ‘friends’ but the real life human kind. Indeed I have met lots of wonderful people who I see at work or at parties and group dinners, but for this introvert, time spent one-on-one or in small groups is much more fulfilling. I have been missing deep, meaningful friendships where you can just be around each other, talk about stupid things as well as life’s big questions. For me making new friends is quite hard – downright scary in fact. And my lack of (adult) human interaction has been further compounded by having a baby. Parenthood brings with it strange contradictions – you stop socialising, but you are never alone and still feel isolated. Like being on the Bangkok Sky Train in peak hour. But as part of my happiness resolution (or revolution, or revelation) I am trying to challenge my tendencies to want to hide in a dark cave, and instead reach out to people and make new friendships.
This post is in part a continuation of my last post. It was on that day of self-care that I had dinner with three amazing women – two of whom I had met many times at those parties and group dinners but was really only just starting to get to know properly. Laughter blossomed as the conversation ranged from dysentery to dreams, meditation to music festivals, from Myanmar to the Maldives. All on the cusp of major changes in our lives, we discussed our passions, purpose and possibilities. I have recently been thinking about these things and while unable excavate a clear path through the jungle that is my mind, I had come up with three words that captured my imagination at this moment. My Play School version of strategic planning was perhaps pointing me towards a new (vague) future direction. I cautiously shared my three words with my friends, happiness, leadership and innovation. They decided to come up with their own three words and together continue this exploration of finding and fulfilling our innermost desires.
The next day as I sat at home reading and writing, the emails kept coming in. Emails that made me smile to myself. “I think I have my three words – creativity, tangibility, fulfillment”, “Ooh, Tangibility is interesting”, “Mine are inspiration, possibility, meaning”…and on it went. One friend wrote all of our words on her white board and sent us the picture. It was inspiring and the act of sharing it with other wonderful women made it all the more precious. A little club seemed to have miraculously emerged from that dinner – a club of self-discovery, reflection, and questioning.
This led me to remember – friends are awesome! And friends are integral to happiness. This is a scientific fact. People who have one or more close friendships appear to be happier. But note, it is not the quantity of our relationships but the quality that matters (thank god, I can stop worrying about my measly 42 friends on Facebook). What seems to make a difference is if and how often we cooperate in activities and share our personal feelings with a friend or relative. It is about connection. And what I am coming to realize is that connection is about being ‘seen’ for who you really are and ‘seeing’ others for who they really are. I think this desire to be seen is fundamental to all human beings.
There are two things that I think are important here. First, to be able to be seen by others you have to see yourself first. So upon reflection, I think it is no coincidence that this dinner where I felt like I connected on a deep level with other people, happened on a day where I had made time for self-connection. Interestingly when I am deeply connected to myself I see other people more deeply, and telling others that I value them for who they are has come more naturally of late perhaps because I am valuing myself more.
The second thing about connection is that it requires us to be vulnerable as Brené Brown so amusingly talks about in her TED talk. And being vulnerable means being open to pain as well as love. I have been feeling both lately. Whereas before I would have suppressed my sadness and confusion and put on a happy face, recently I have been sitting with the discomfort. Interestingly admitting publicly that I have been struggling and letting myself be vulnerable, has also opened me up to more love, joy and connection with other people.
For a long time I thought I was relatively alone in my journey of self-discovery and didn’t really speak to many people about it. In my professional, pragmatic and academic circles, I assumed people would see this kind of airy-fairy, self-helpy, hippy-dippy spiritual search as lame. But the more I opened up, and acknowledged to myself and others that this is important to me, that this learning excites me, that it feeds my soul, the more I hear from others that they too are on similar journeys. As I continue to open myself up, and be more vulnerable, the more I love, and the caring and support from friends is multiplying as quickly as Monkey’s pile of toys.
I have received lots of kind words of support since starting this blog, but one of the most unexpected things I received was a poem from a friend who I haven’t had much contact with in recent years. It is an amazing poem that she had written a month before, and even more amazingly I was in it. And I was in it for the very reasons that I had started the blog (I am sharing the poem below). It totally blew me away and inspired me to keep contemplating and writing about happiness. It showed me that happiness is tangible (to use a word from my friend’s list) and has an affect on other people. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego have found that “happiness” is not the result solely of a cloistered journey filled with individually tailored self-help techniques. Happiness is also a collective phenomenon that spreads through social networks. In a study that looked at the happiness of nearly 5000 individuals over a period of twenty years, researchers found that one person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only their friends, but their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends. Happiness is contagious and I hope to stay infected.
A big warm hug to all my friends, new and old. xo
My Friend’s Poem
My hero is my mother
My hero is the woman who scurries out to buy milk past the nurse who told her not to leave the house
My hero is Emma who devoted her life to unconditional love and takes happiness with her wherever she goes
My hero is the tall basketball player who takes street kids out to shoot hoops
My hero is Sylvia Plath who couldn’t connect to the world but spent her life describing it
My hero is Steve Jobs an asshole with ambition and vision
My hero is Rinske Ginsberg who saw the fairies her father pointed out on the cherry blossom
My hero is the bogan at Woolworths (before she got racist)
My hero is the man who took the abuse and didn’t talk back
My hero is the student who stood in front of the tanks
My hero is the Vietnamese man who photographed the napalmed child
My hero is the daughter who cleaned the shit from the trousercuffs of her incontinent mother
My hero is the man who ran into the burning house
My hero is the black woman who sat on the bus wearing gloves and a nice hat and refused to stand up
My hero is the 13 year old boy who ran into a roomful of skinheads to defend the honour of his father
My hero is my best friend, who chased a gang of slappers down ruckers hill who’d stolen my handbag on the eve of my thirtieth birthday
My hero is the journalist who spent four months visiting a woman on the verge of losing her apartment drinking tea and talking about the price of electricity
My hero is Kon Karapanagiotidis, who opened the asylum seeker resource centre because he saw that it needed to be done
My hero is the barista who makes my coffee each morning and asks me “how are you” like he really means it
My hero is the Phd student who started the Ryan Gosling feminist blog
My hero is Malcolm Turnbull who gave up the Party Leadership because he saw that saving the planet was more important
My hero is the child who ran away
the woman who loved her body
the one who laughed the loudest
who hugged the hardest
who stopped the boat race
Who felt the fear
Who did it anyway.