You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Happiness’ category.

When the calendar ticked over from ‘Such-a-jerk-2016’ to ‘Fresh-start-and-new-adventures-2017’, on the very short list of things I hoped to accomplish this year was a fair bit of walking. It has always done wonders for my sense of perspective, and seemed like a good way to make the most of my less than voluntary relocation to Victoria, which I am increasingly finding to be a very beautiful state. But on my most recent stroll in the outdoors, I realised several times that I wasn’t walking, I was trudging. Glum, downcast, mindless trudging. I suspect that it is an easy habit to fall into for all of us who have been made to move with purpose at 116bpm; the line between a march and a trudge is, after all, a very fine one. Nevertheless, realising how hard it was to slow down, step lightly, and keep my chin up got me to thinking about where the trudge comes from, and when he crept into my life. I used to be sparkier than I am now. What happened to my sparkiness?

I think perhaps it is the case that as we get a little older and life gets more serious, maintaining hopefulness gets harder. There is a quiet but very real (and maybe even compounding) grief that goes with letting go of dreams and expectations that have become plans. For all the wisdom of ‘staying in the moment’ and ‘taking one day at a time’, we are all actually travelling one-way through life, by the sheer fact of the unfolding time and space around us, and at least part of our happiness seems to depend on being intentional about who we become and what we accomplish along the way. There must then necessarily be plans, some of which come together, and some don’t. The smaller and less significant ones can go by the wayside, or be postponed for a better time, without too much pain. But the big ones, the ones that are fundamentally defining of who we are, who we love, what we bring into the world, and what we leave behind… They are bloody heart-wrenching turmoil for anyone, but especially for the more tenderhearted among us. How do you manage when life keeps bloody well moving on, but doesn’t look or feel the way it should?

Just lately, I am wondering if the answer is in the healthy negotiation of vulnerability. This is a new and uncomfortable territory for me, but a painfully necessary one. I am eminently at ease with the heartache and struggles of others, but altogether intolerant of my own. I have lived a very fortunate life in lots of ways, but there have also been enough hurts along the way that I do not find it so easy to trust. But I do not want to become a distant, or unhappy or bitter person either, so I have had to learn some hard lessons about how to remain open-hearted when the potential for further hurt is high. A couple of years ago, the wise words of Brene Brown (which I have written about before) taught me some good stuff about the happiness-depends-on-connection-depends-on-vulnerabilty business. It helped me summon up the courage to leave my blanket fort and put myself back out there, rebuild something resembling a career, invest in a few new relationships, imagine a different, but not inferior, future.

I keep coming back to that truth, but lately I have learnt it has some caveats. Vulnerability is only safe when it is mutual. If it becomes too one-sided, it stops being courageous and loving, and begins to be damaging and lacking in self-respect, which does not make for a healthy future. Risk, likewise, must be approached at a gentle and sustainable rate. My dearest friends have each in their own way lately taught me that one must bravely pursue their dreams, but without putting life on hold in the meantime. One’s future happiness cannot depend on the complete success of Plan A in the timeline that has been chosen for it. Plan B is ok. (Say it again, Jess, Plan B is ok. Plan B is ok. Plan B…) Plans C and D, and even elements all appearing in Plan E might equally turn out to be wonderful. Even in the grief of letting go of Plan A, one must invest in Plan B, learn to love it, and hold it gently and without rushing it, like a good cup of tea.

So, back to the question of surviving the waiting game, when plans have been launched but have not yet come to fruition… It’s hard, and has to be deliberate. Without sounding too ‘Eat Love Pray’, the couple of things I have worked out later than I should are as follows:

  • However modest it may be, your home is one of your most safe and stable places. Make it as lovely as you can within your means. In detail. The art you like, the music you like, the wine you like. I’ve said it before, but for real, buy fresh flowers. KEEP IT CLEAN. A messy house is not conducive to good mental health or productivity. Carve out time for your tea/coffee ritual. At the same time, do not be bound by notions of respectability, which should be disregarded in favour of wandering about your home naked, should you wish. As advised by a good mate, this will make it truly yours. Truth. (Friends who for whatever conditions of employment do not choose the house in which they live – do not under any circumstances camp in your own life and neglect the above. DO NOT.)
  • Stop investing in people who only seek you out on their bad days, and only want you on your good ones. This is not friendship. It is certainly not family. Cut it away.
  • Be as deliberate about your leisure time as you are about your work. Invest in hobbies that have no purpose but your own happiness. This should sometimes mean going for a run WITHOUT tracking it (it still happened, truly), or picking up a forgotten instrument that used to help you find your chill. Dust it off. Also go bushwalking. Bushwalkers tend to be nice people.
  • Replace your FOMO with JOMO. The joy of missing out only really happens when you get to shake off a commitment that was based in obligation or anxiety. The people who are actually your people will love you as you are, and won’t mind if you occasionally need to skip a catch up because life/health/weariness has got in the way. Apropos that, learn to love your own company. To sit with nobody but yourself, and like it. Makes it easier to tackle the tough days that must sometimes be handled alone.

If you need a little nurturing, I have been generously pointed in the direction of the following lately, and they are loveliness:

  • Tea: Harney & Sons, Rose Scented. (On that – I was recently discussing with a dear friend her care package requirements as she heads off to do the very important work of defending the nation. I tentatively suggested that teabags might be easier in her austere surrounds than loose leaf, to which she responded ‘Unless the whole world is burning, there’s no need for that kind of savagery’. Hear, hear. If she has time for proper tea making, so do we all!)
  • Book: Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat, by Carol Altmann. Hilarious!
  • Music: Ben Abraham’s album Sirens has been a favourite since I first heard it. I stumbled back on this song this week, and I do like the honest but happy hopefulness in it. And the Mahogany Sessions are nice and earthy. Sending much love to the treasured friends who deserve the loveliness I hope and believe is ahead of them. x



So ends 2015, with the byline ‘All The Life Lessons’. Here are a few of them in writing, in the hope that they will be properly reinforced and as such not need to be revisited in the near future! Far more important is the thanks owed to those who helped me learn them, in whatever capacity.

1. Lessons learnt from a bit of travel here and there:

Always wear shoes in an airport. ALWAYS.

One does not simply sing karaoke in Nashville.

One should always be willing to try new things, and explore new territory. It is perfectly acceptable, however, to settle on a favourite bar/restaurant/cafe early upon arriving in a new town and frequent it on a daily basis. This is just good sense.

Matching t-shirts are never the good idea they seem to be at the time.

Nowhere in the world does coffee as well as Australia. A drinkable latte turns out not to be a thing we copied from elsewhere… We invented it.

2. Lessons learnt from a day in the life of an ED Nurse:

The human capacity to create new and interesting ways to get into proper strife must sometimes be seen to be believed. Likewise, the human capacity for perseverance in the most devastating circumstances is sometimes beyond understanding, and tends to put things in perspective very quickly.

It’s ok to run out of panadol/pump sets/pillows, so long as there is no shortage of compassion, patience, and energy (or oxygen).

Paramedics are the unsung heroes of the world.

Sometimes the right course of action is to pull out all the stops and try anything and everything to save a life. Desperate times, desperate measures, etc. Sometimes the right course of action is to step back, give the patient a rest, and let healing take place in its own time. This truth may at times apply beyond the ED.

Stay calm.  Keep your eyes open and your wits about you!

3. Lessons learnt from being all too human:

Don’t take things to personally. It really is true that most people are just trying to get on with their own lives, are doing the best they can, and are not trying to be difficult.

I think it would be fair to say that I’ve made more mistakes this year than I have in the rest of my life put together, doubled, then tripled. At times, layering fresh disaster upon still-unfolding disaster. Like Neville Longbottom tripping over dynamite in a Potions Shop, really. I would very much like to forget most of them. Instead, I get to relive them over and over, in near-perfect detail, courtesy of my exquisitely good memory. Cue popcorn and screaming at the screen, ‘Who are you and what the hell are you doing??! Jesus, don’t do that. Oh God. You did that. I can’t watch.’

The aching conscience that follows tends to go one of two ways – obnoxious excuses/blame/crankiness, or overthinking self-loathing pity-party. So far as I can tell, neither of them accomplish anything. An honest but generous look in the mirror, a serving or two of humble pie and a bit of time tends to work a bit better. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to work that out, or why I am still so bad at it, but I’ve at least learnt that there are more important things than pride/reputation/being right. It seems a lot easier to forgive the slings and arrows shot by others in their imperfect moments when I remember that I too live in a glass house, and especially after a year like this, have absolutely no stones to throw.

On the upside….

The especially wonderful gift of a year that frequently feels like it’s raining shit is the greater excellence of the outstanding people who rise to the occasion and  dash out of their own safe shelters with an umbrella and a hug. To those who been there at any and all points of this year, I have nowhere near enough words to say thank you, but you know who you are, and I hope you know that you have my enduring gratitude. I plainly would not have survived this year without you. Acknowledge that I owe a lot of favours/tea/scotch/baking/flowers/chats/laughs/general loveliness. Call them in at your leisure, friends, ‘because 2015’. Yet again, a few of you feature in the following summary of a year that for all its chaos, had some good fun moments:

1. One Favourite Book: ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson.

2. Two Favourite Movies: ‘Inside Out’ and ‘The Dressmaker’. I cried in both.

3. Three Tunes I Sang the Loudest in the Privacy of my Car: ‘Landslide’ by Dixie Chicks, ‘Mango Tree’ by Zac Brown Band & ‘She Keeps Me Warm’ by Mary Lambert.

4. Favourite Outfit: Scrubs.

5. Best Meal: Chicken and Leek Pie courtesy of one of my favourite people, who I will dearly miss in the new year, and not just for her gourmet cooking and impromptu dinner invitations from the next suburb over!

6. Best Drink: Old Fashioned at the finest Speakeasy in town with my fellow whisky woman.

7. Best Day: Epic 17 hour Disney extravaganza in fantastic company, Florida, USA.

8. Stupidest Attempt at a New Hobby: Knitting a hot water bottle cover. I nearly died, throttled in kilometres of tangled yarn. Ridiculous idea.

9. Favourite Addition to my Happy Home: Cheeky Duck.

10. Thought Heading Into the New Year: ‘Don’t rush and never settle. If it is meant to be, it will be.’




“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?”… “As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

Cornelia FunkeInkspell


Today was one of those good days that starts with a perfect quartet: good brunch and good coffee in the home of good family who have good bookshelves. Perfection, right there. So, as one can when she is in entirely comfortable territory and the conversation is easy, I began to browse the bookshelves. A few things occurred to me.

Firstly… Bookshelves tell you a lot about someone. They are maps, or maybe artworks, that collect together the circumstances under which each book came to be there, whether they were gifts, or deliberate choices, or are ‘borrowed’ books that are still making their way home. They came from this airport newsagency, or that birthday, this lover, or that rainy day in an unfamiliar city where getting lost ended up on a street with a bookstore. Thank God. So all this made me realise how very personal bookshelves are. They’re almost intimate! If you take a look at my bookshelf, you may as well pick up my soul and have a good look through while you’re there, because there won’t be a lot of secrets left. The chapters of my life are very clearly there, just in separate volumes. If I’ve read it, something about it (however small), stayed with me. If I haven’t read it yet, it’s there because I really want to – I’m trying to grow into the person who will have read that book one day. As future considerations go, it got me to thinking about where I will put the library in the home I will have one day. I always thought it would be right by the front door, so visitors know exactly where it is. That way they will know where to seek solitude in a comfy chair with a cuppa when needing to escape company (which will always be perfectly acceptable at my place). But now I’m not sure! Perhaps a little more reserve and privacy. Perhaps in the back room (much more relaxed), where family and close friends are welcome. If you don’t mind me being in my PJs when you arrive and you feel comfortable making your own tea, you are welcome to browse and take from the bookshelf.

Secondly… I don’t just look at nice covers and interesting titles when I’m browsing a bookshelf… I wonder about the authors. Was this their first book? Where did they write it? What are they doing now? I have wondered out loud before about how the authors on my bookshelf felt about the neighbourhood in which I had put them. Of course, this is less of a hassle when one doesn’t bother ordering their bookshelves at all (ahem, DAD*), but it occurs to me – incontrovertible proof that I am an excruciating overthinker. Perhaps it is the consequence of having quite a few history and theology texts on my shelf – whole wars have been fought over the contents, so perhaps those two might not like to live next door to each other. But perhaps novelists deserve the same consideration. He wouldn’t get her sense of humour at all and she won’t understand why he is taking so long to get to the point.

Thirdly… Books are my greatest weakness. I have been given many lovely gifts in my life, but books have almost always been my most treasured (with a couple of exceptions). I have been won over instantly by that little leap that comes of recognising one, two, three books on their shelf that are also on mine. I would forgive just about anything if the offender had a good enough bookshelf. This lovely piece, on why you should fall in love with a girl who reads, is just about spot on. When life gets tough, make tea. When it gets really bad, go for a walk, preferably up a mountain. When it’s heading toward unbearable territory, lose yourself in a bookstore.

* Dad – at least put all the Margaret Atwood in the same room, if not next to each other. Honestly!

A few months ago, I was given quite a remarkable gift – by far the most generous gift I have ever been given by someone I’m not related to, and even then, it may well still be at the top of the list. A friend of mine is an extremely talented artist, and after five happy months of working in the same location, she gave me a matching set of two paintings as a farewell gift. They are stunningly beautiful – like I said, she’s very clever. But the reason I love them so much is not because they are so excellent (they really are), it’s because the content is so significant. They overflow with good memories of important moments, with painstaking care and attention, with steadily devoted attention to imagining for the sake of someone else. They are not the result of overnight effort, but days and weeks. They are incredibly impressive to look at, but perhaps more importantly, deeply moving to feel. I’m pretty lucky to know this girl. Those paintings are hanging on my wall – I see them everyday – and everyday they make me smile. And sometimes I really need that.

In fact, I am only now beginning how much I actually depend on moments like those. I used to think that watching and listening and experiencing the artistic expression of others was an optional extra in life – a luxury to be indulged in when one wished to get cultured and all. It isn’t. It’s life-saving. Sometimes, when all the practical, necessary business of living gets too much, it’s urgent. Breathing in city smog everyday will kill you fairly quickly – every now and then, you need a bit of wide open landscape and some fresh air, or you’ll choke to death. Too much working and being responsible is much the same – suffocating. I forget that sometimes, and find myself needing to correct it, desperately. Late last year, when the candle had been burning too long at both ends, I found myself needing to see something beautiful, like sick people need medicine. So I found myself at the local markets – good food, good coffee, the precious work of gifted artists, set up around the buildings of a school. I remember lying on the oval in the sun, and realising it was the first time I had truly relaxed in about a year. But I know that the gift of that space came at a cost. As I wandered, and chatted with stallholders, I noticed a tension… Their eyes and their words would animate as they explained the story behind their work, and the quirks and particularities that made it theirs. But there was also hesitation in that careful explanation – a modest self-deprecation, in case that labour and love wasn’t recognised or appreciated. Because what if this, the product of my hard work, all I can show on the outside of who I am on the inside, isn’t significant to anyone else? It never occurred to me how costly it must be make good art.

I was reminded of this overwhelmingly again last night, when I saw Missy Higgins in concert at the Enmore. She is a national treasure, in my opinion, and I have made a point of seeing her perform live whenever I can, because she is breathtaking to watch in person. Those few concerts have also uncannily intersected with curious junctions in my own life. These days, mine intersects with all sorts of people in all sorts of places, and mostly we are left with more questions, and less answers. Those things that are bubbling away beneath the surface of my world at the moment – how costly love can be, how physically painful remorse can be, how disorienting and dark uncertainty can be – I don’t have words for them. But you, Missy, you do. And you didn’t find those words living an easy, unreflected life – don’t I know that. Your willingness to share that in the borderlands of private and public life is incredibly generous. Thank you for giving me someone my own age to be in awe of, for being so wise, so cheeky, so honest. You are a master poet, who speaks with words like molten silver that fall from you with such power and such truth. It helped me to hear them. In the middle of those ‘more questions, less answers’ is perhaps the simpler question of ‘What can I not live without?’ Right now, I cannot live without the things that make the world more beautiful.

This time last year, I posted on what had stood out in that year… Good friends, food and wine featured prominently! While there have certainly been plenty of those savouring sorts of things in 2013, it has well and truly been a year more about learning than anything else. I’ve been thinking in the last few days about the lessons that most stand out, in the hope of not having to relearn them too uncomfortably next year! A few stand out.

1. Fail graciously.

There are very few things that I can be absolutely certain about in any given day, but making mistakes is one of them. I have a particular gift for getting things wrong, usually in the most ridiculous way, and like most people, the more I am concerned with someone’s good opinion, the more likely I am to make a spectacular fool of myself in front of them. If I had more sense, I would tread more carefully through life, but in my clumsy, headlong way, I seem to stumble right into the centre of strife before I have even begun to register signs of danger. Fortunately for me, I am generally surrounded by very good people on such occasions. So I am learning, bit by bit, to respond in good humour when I am deservedly (if not mercilessly) teased, the place of a decent apology, and to reflect with a considerable dose of personal honesty, in the hope of avoiding further disasters.

2. ‘This too shall pass’.

Recently I came across two thoughts that have particularly kept my attention. The first was in listening to Barbara Brown Taylor’s ‘An Altar in the World’:

‘It is not the life I planned, nor the life I recommend to others, but it is the life that has turned out to be mine.’

I would not want that quote to indicate that I do not like what I do, and so would not wish it on anyone else, because that is certainly not the case. Still, 2013 has been a very interesting year for me, a very different one to any of the ones before that, and I am beginning to understand what Dr Taylor meant by those words. I am learning to appreciate the tough bits of where I find myself, because I can’t very well be anywhere else!

Before leaving parish ministry and beginning in chaplaincy, one of my colleagues wisely asked me what I found most enriching in that context, and whether I was prepared to give those things up. Caught up as I was in the excitement of a new chapter, I remember responding that I was, because it would be worth it for other reasons. I was right, but I also underestimated the price. I have never been much of a preacher, and it makes me very nervous anyway, but I do miss reflecting on where the ancient stories of faith intersect with what God is doing in our midst now. My hands miss celebrating Mass, in something like the same way that our arms miss the people we love when we are too far away to hold them. That in itself is teaching me something, and it never does a priest any harm to remember what it is like to sit in a pew week in and week out. So, I think it is both tough, and immeasurably worth it, to be sitting in a different place.

It is also a risky thing to be paid to do the thing that is also the wellspring of one’s own life. The cost when things go wrong can’t be left at the office. Every now and then, I get extremely frustrated with the manifold errors of the institutional church, the extreme lack of graciousness of my fellow Christians towards others, and the sense of actual shame I often feel when I consider the damage we have done. Do we deserve most of the bad press we’ve had in recent months/years? Yes. Are we often a self-serving, pretentious, judgmental bunch who get in the way of the goodness of God? Yes. Is it fair that, as a result, I should feel a little uncomfortable in my own skin, given how often the church has made others feel uncomfortable in theirs? Yes.

I don’t want to be unfairly harsh on the church, because I think we also do lots of wonderful things and I love who we can be. It still bears saying that I have found, especially this year, as much grace outside the church as in it. That does not make me anxious about being in the church anymore (it used to), because it is a reminder to me that God is in all places, before and ahead of us… The church does wondrous stuff when it is able to point to that reality. It only goes wrong when it starts trying to contain God, instead of loving God.

This leads me to the second quote that struck me, when I heard Rowan Williams speaking about the task of ‘maturing in steady fidelity‘. There’s a lot to be said for being hopeful – no bad day lasts forever. It’s also worth remembering not to get carried away when things are going well – difficult times have their place, in the midst of celebrations, if only to teach valuable lessons like humility and patience and perseverance! I am learning, again ever so slowly, not to dwell too long on the good or the bad, but to keep moving forward…

3. Invest in wonderful friends – they are also excellent teachers.

I am constantly amazed at the extraordinary people I work alongside. Honestly, most of them don’t have the slightest clue how impressive they are. I sometimes find myself watching from the sidelines, being generally thrilled that I get paid to spend my days with such outstanding people.

To my old friends, thank you for hanging around for another year of adventures and helping me to be me when I am struggling to conceal my anxiety and/or incompetence! I am well aware that I receive far more than I give from you, so thank you especially for your graciousness.

To the new friends of 2013, thank you for adding all manner of adventure, frivolity, expertise and encouragement to the past year. I am thoroughly and sincerely looking forward to the good times yet to be dreamt up over the next 12 months.

To that handful of you who are especially dear and generous, new and old, you have helped me map out some of undiscovered terrain in my own heart. The best of the lessons of this year have come from you. Thank you for showing me more of what I would like to be. Various of you are woven into the following summary of a fairly epic year:

1. Song I played the most: Never Let Me Go – Florence and the Machine

2. Book that made me cry the most: The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

3. Movie that made me laugh the most: The Heat (followed closely by the Sweet Brown remix)

4. Best meal: peanut butter toast, in the middle of nowhere

5. Best drink: Espresso Martini, Heritage, Townsville

6. Best coffee – Juicy Beans, Merewether

7. Words I never want to hear again: Like this, do that.

8. Thought heading into 2014: Look alive.


Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner


Follow The Pensieve of Jess on