HOW TO SURVIVE STRESS—EVEN IF NOT VERY WELL
HAPPINESS IN SMALL THINGS HELPS
Since words are my business, I will freely admit that there is a case to be made for writing “Pleasure in small things,” instead of “Happiness,”—which seems a somewhat excessive consequence of what I am about to describe—but since the positive feelings I get from seemingly insignificant actions, events, and circumstances are so profound, I think I’ll stick with my original choice of words.
I suspect merely being human and alive (it helps) is inherently stressful. I don’t know that for sure because I’m not a mind-reader (Isn’t it amazing that you never really know what another person is thinking?) but the evidence suggests it is a reasonable proposition regardless of external appearances. To appear calm and relaxed does not necessarily mean you are in that state—though you might think you are. But, most probably it means that you have good control.
Apart from being a writer—a particularly stressful occupation just by itself—I compound the problem by a pattern of tackling issues and projects that , more often than not, are beyond my initial experience and competence, and which take years. Why so? I don’t really know. I clearly have Don Quixote’s genes in me. All I can say is that is my track record—and since I am approaching 71 as I write this, it seems unlikely I will change.
Such an approach to life guarantees a high level of stress so you might think that I have the kind of personality that handles stress well.
I don’t. I am not the calm cool hero figure I would like to be (too many Westerns when I was a child). Instead, I am a highly emotional, sensitive, creative, animal who suffers internally greatly from the vicissitudes of life. I don’t necessarily show it, but such is the case. I wish it were otherwise. I would like to be stronger, more courageous, more resilient. I value my empathetic side from a writing point of view, but, as with imagination, it is also a vulnerability that can—and does—lead to pain.
Overall, I’m certainly not complaining. I value those qualities that enable me to be a better writer more than I can say. But, as with most things in life, there is a trade-off. We humans are an ingenious compromise.
So how do I cope and endure?
Not as well as I would like is the answer—but the truth is that I cope rather better than one might expect (or, I feel, I have any right to).
- By writing. Writing is such an antidote to the stresses of life that I’m surprised that Big Pharma hasn’t tried to patent it.
- By having a writer’s perspective. Writing promotes a strange mixture of involvement and detachment. There is not necessarily a relationship between what I write about and my mood (though writing anything humorous tends to have a positive impact). But writing about the distressing direction of the U.S. right now does not necessarily depress me. Perhaps it should. It’s appalling—but intellectually fascinating.
- By having a sense of humor. It is a great thing to have a sense of the ridiculous and all that goes with it. I credit my much loved step-father, Alfred, for cultivating this. He was, I think, one of the most intelligent and quick-witted human beings I have ever encountered. His early death was a tragedy. His life, when he was in his prime, was a triumph.
- Because of the support of friends. This is a complex subject I shall write about some other day.
- By not escaping into distraction. I used to escape whenever I could into a book, a movie, TV or some other distraction. These days, I stay in the real world much more and live in hopes I shall reach some accommodation with it before leaving it. It may well be a relationship of short duration—a sort of, “Hello/Goodbye.” The jury is still out.
- Through happiness in small things.
The small things that so sustain me are mostly so small and inconsequential that they seem scarcely worth describing—yet I have noticed that not only do they have a profound effect on my moods, but that I don’t end up taking them for granted. I’m uplifted again and again and again.
Perhaps if I do describe them, the magic will be lost.
Do I believe in magic? Of course I do. Writing is magic.
I’ll have to think about all this.
VOR words 753.