Saturday, April 29, 2006

Trees and the Quest for Happiness

Last November I started a quest for happiness. All of us, at least at one time in our lives, will be stung by the grief of losing someone - and the sudden death of my brother nearly six months ago made me feel as if I had fallen into an extremely deep dark pit from which I had to find a way out. The only way I could think of doing this was to concentrate on the things that gave me little sparks of happiness so I could see the walls and maybe some indication of escape.

The things that made me happy then continue to do so now. They are simple things but for me they work well: exercising ferociously so that all there is to concentrate on is how fast my legs are moving; writing something so absorbing that for a time I am in another world; talking to people around me; concentrating on some task that will help someone else as well (practically not emotionally - I tried giving emotional help but that didn't work at all) and thinking of ways to remember him so in some ways he lives on.

Infinity Software, a Florida-based website company that I work for as a free-lance writer, made the incredibly kind and moving gesture of buying some trees in memory of my brother in a forest close to where I live. Since my brother had converted to Islam he had been buried in a Muslim graveyard in Leicester and I was told, initially, that as a woman I would not be able to visit his grave so to have these trees was wonderful. In fact I liked the idea so much that I have now bought an oak tree with my brother's name on a plaque in memory of him. These trees will last for hundreds of years. I like to think of them breathing the air he breathed and some part of him living on in them. I think of the comforting sound of the wind through the branches, the gentle sweeping of the leaves though the air, and the fact that each tree will harbour so much: insects, small mammals, birds - each organism living on because of that tree - and it makes me happy. Happy not in the manic way I feel pedalling a bike nor in the mildly euphoric way I feel when I read through a few of my words that I feel have worked, but happy in a quiet way. Life goes on and that is good. Because only by life going on can my brother be remembered - all the good things he did, his intelligence, the parts of him that I see in my sons - the touch of his hand, the gap between his mouth and nose, what he said, and the parts of him that are in my books, because he has gone into each one.

I have not seen the trees yet, but I shall. When I see them I am determined to be happy, determined to see the good in each leaf. According to an interview with a psychologist called Ed Diener in the Radio Times this week happiness come from having good friends and family and caring for them as much as they care for us; involving ourselves in activities that we enjoy and value (which are usually the things we are best at - not in my case, but I do love exercise); working towards, rather than achieving, goals, and finally controlling the way we look at the world and not letting trivial irritations distract us from the main business in life (and happiness). According to Hodmandod Senior and my agent I need to improve my performance in this last facet of my life. Easier said than done, I find, but I intend to try.


Blogger Kay Cooke said...

Hi Claire- I have been enjoying your posts for a while now and decided to reveal myself! Thanks for this post - it's beautiful My sister's husband died at the end of January and she planted a magnolia tree in his memory. She is able to visit the grave - I couldn't think what it would be like to be barred from a loved one's grave ... But planting a tree is a great way to get around that. Trees are amazing things and in their own way, even just in the normal run of things - very comforting.

Sat Apr 29, 09:32:00 pm  
Blogger Susannah Conway said...

Little sparks of happiness - i am striving to find those too. thank you for sharing this post, Clare. " I like to think of them breathing the air he breathed and some part of him living on in them." - what a lovely thought - it inspires me to do some planting of my own...

Sun Apr 30, 03:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chiefbiscuit: Thank you! I am so glad you've come across my posts. Yes, trees are amazing - so much substance -wood, leaves, bark - from something as insubstantial as air.

Susannah: I'm glad you liked it - and thank you so much for your own postings - they are inspiring.

Sun Apr 30, 07:00:00 pm  

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