As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about joy and misery.
What is joy? I’m not going to sit here and type out the dictionary definition, but there has been a lot of writing on the subject of happiness, including repeated attempts at simply defining it.
And defining happiness is harder than it looks. Most contemporary writers agree that contentment and happiness are different, and that the sources of ‘happiness’ – a gift, a party, a catch-up, a purchase – are temporary. True ‘contentment’ is about outlook, holding onto joy, and letting go of everything else.
Those of you that have read my most recent #TuesdayTitbit will know that I have a great respect for one of the central themes in Japanese culture: achieving harmony and peace. A number of cultures do this in different ways – we’ve all seen the books on ‘Hygge’, a Danish concept about finding joy in life’s pleasures. In the West we have come to umbrella Hygge and similar concepts as different kinds of mindfulness.
A book that went some way to changing my perspective on the subject is one that now has pride of place in my bathroom. The book itself lives in a wicker Fortnum & Mason hamper that my fiancé received from his father last Christmas, along with such titles as:
- The Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust (Tiffany Watt Smith);
- Inequality and the 1% (Danny Dorling);
- The Art of War (Sun Tzu);
- Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World (Ella Frances Sanders);
- Queer: A Graphic History (Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele);
and the book in question,
- Wabi-sabi Welcome: Learning to embrace the imperfect and entertain with thoughtfulness and ease (Julie Pointer Adams).
These books, and the provision of them for anyone needing a sit-down in the sanctuary (or, as my fiancé’s grandmother used to say, ‘somewhere’), marks their importance to me as Things I’d Like You, My Guest, To Understand About My Worldview.
Wabi-sabi Welcome unravels many of the major obstacles to mental health today, particularly those involved in living in a big city, where the risk of getting caught in the ‘rat race’ is high-impact and high-probability.
The location of WSW in the wicker hamper is, through no accident, an expression of the book’s core concepts in and of itself. The hamper was still sitting, empty and defunct, in front of our TV two months into the new year, until I realised it could be put to good – and beautiful – use.
Whenever I felt miserable, I often bought things – ornaments, gadgets, jewellery – or made myself busier by making sure every evening, every weekend was occupied. That we had a plan.
Not great for my physical or mental health; I was exhausted, and the problems never went anywhere – they just lay there, just beneath the surface.
So, what does Wabi-sabi welcome encourage us to do?
Nothing is new here. The old maxim I used to teach students in science classes of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is a major tenet. Minimalist living is not something it enforces on the reader, though it is suggested that we keep one room – the bedroom – free from distractions, as it is a place for meditation, quiet, and (for those with partners or lovers) togetherness.
Instead, we should present our homes as spaces to entertain guests, display the things that give us joy, and chuck out the things that don’t. Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy invites us to do just that – life is too short and too busy for joyless distractions; so where we can exert control over such things, shouldn’t we?
So this Sunday, I invite you to share in my Accountability Challenge: the next time you feel like buying something you want (but don’t need), put it on hold and instead, throw something away. Spend 15 minutes, or 30 (whatever you want) and go through the stuff cluttering your table. Go through the four boxes of ‘mementos’ you’re holding on to – does each one bring you joy somehow? If not, chuck it. Seriously – are you owning things that don’t make you happy? What the fuck are they doing in your house? Get rid.
Or, improve them – got t-shirts that you can’t wear anymore (I sweat like a mofo, so this happens quite quickly) – don’t chuck them, mod them! They become even cooler when you realise no one owns a t-shirt quite like yours.
Personally, I can say after having gone through my things for half an hour and found a full shoebox’s worth of stuff to throw out, I feel clearer-headed, lighter.
So give it a try – and let me know how you get on!