I think there’s been a mistake. A serious problem of emotional accounting has occurred and it’s gone unrecognised. It concerns the idea that No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™. We all know this to be true, right? It sounds like it must be true. Mostly because it’s sort of difficult and annoying, like all true things are. You should immediately soak that egg yolk off your breakfast plate or it’s almost impossible to remove later on. That kind of thing.
So it goes that if we rely on others for our happiness, they’ll eventually reject us, fail us, die, become a Scientologist or move to Nova Scotia and then where will we be? Stuck in Unhappy, with no one to play with. Better to nod sagely and agree with the last few decades of psychological sock-pulling-up that is No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™.
A card from my cousin arrived and seemed to confirm this. It read ‘In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer’. Happiness is within you, it says. And it’s all down to you. Except. Except. I couldn’t help but feel that she had made me happy just by sending me the card. Very happy, in fact.
I looked around at the midst of my winter. It was pretty cold. I was naked, which didn’t help, stripped bare in an un-sexy, pale and goose-fleshed way with just the odd bruise for colour. I was sitting on a winter beach. Not sand, not even pebbles (too smooth) but that awful shale stuff with sharp edges under my skinny haunches; the kind of beach that excites only geologists and the vacationing citizens of Mordor.
From time to time people would pass by on the windy cliffs above me and shout down offering assistance. ‘No thanks!’ I’d shout back, waving grimly, ‘Gotta do this by myself. Responsible for own happiness. Invincible summer within me. Not a group effort. Back to it,’ I’d say, saluting them on their way. And I’d concentrate. Happy. Happy. Yep. Still there. Good work. Winter’s OK. Lots of people like winter. Oh look, a dead seagull. That’s nice.
Eventually my brother passed by and yelled down, ‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m looking for my invincible summer!’
‘Yeah. It’s the beach – summer – you know?’
He looked sceptical, even from a distance.
‘Pretty sure mine was over the other side.’ He gestured.
‘Yeah. Want me to show you?’
‘Nope. Only I can do this. Go away. You’re making me happy with your care and attention. Idiot.’
‘Sorry. Good luck!’
But I thought about it and when it got colder, I started up towards the cliffs, climbing rocks and grabbing at wet tree roots until I was on some semblance of a track. Picking lichen out of my fingernails and rubbing my arms for warmth, I ran in to my ex love-of-my-life. He waved a little. He was standing beside a bicycle.
‘Saw your brother,’ he said, ‘Thought you might want this.’
‘Nothing flashy, but I fixed the gears and the seat is nice and soft. I also put some beers in a basket on the back, for you when you arrive.’
‘Yeah. I know how much you like a beer on the beach in an invincible summer. Wasn’t sure which one you drank anymore, so I put in a bottle each of your favourites. Modelo Negro, Sierra Nevada Pale, Carlsberg Elephant, Tusker – like your folks drank in Kenya – and the other beer relating to elephants we drank in Sri Lanka. You enjoy beer with elephant themes somehow.’
‘I do! Thank you, this has made me really ha – wait, I can’t take it.’
‘The whole No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™.’
‘Oh yeah. That’s so true. It’s my philosophy too.’
We regard the bike together.
‘But the beer…’
‘Yeah, just use it for it bit. It won’t make you that happy. ‘
I set off at a wobbly pace, cold beer clinking against cold metal and cold metal against cold skin. Feeling happiness like small hiccups. happy. happy. hmm. happy.
A couple of my friends were around the bend with a stall selling Pimms and bikinis.
‘Guys! This is awesome!’
‘Sarahjanedoe, you are crazy naked. Take a bikini, we insist.’
‘No, I couldn’t…’
‘Seriously. You’ve given each of us your bikinis in summers past, what’s a bikini between mates? You’ll feel better in your invincible summer with a bikini.’
‘OK, but you know, this is making me really happy, and I’m trying to get there on my own! My cousin already ruined it with her happy-making card…’
But it was too late, the bikini was on and I was under way again. I cycled for hours. It was cold and uninspiring terrain; it didn’t feel like I was closing in on summer. Maybe I’d gone the wrong way.
I saw a figure in the distance. A man, with a beach towel around his shoulders – a promising sign. As I drew closer I noted his golden skin and the traces of white sand on his feet. Maybe he can help me find summer! Maybe – No! No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™.
Suddenly aware of my straggly self on the bike, I dismounted and wheeled by, keeping good distance. The man smiled, an enormous smile, and said ‘Hey! A bikini! Are you also looking for the invincible summer within you?’
‘No,’ I lied. ‘I’m just, y’know, riding. Being happy already. Totally happy. And cool. Quite cool.’
He had very blue eyes like the sea in my invincible summer and they seemed disappointed.
‘Are you looking for yours?’ I asked.
‘I was just there…’ he gestured vaguely and scratched his beard. A shimmery dusting of sand fell out. ‘But I’m not sure of the way back.’
‘OK. Look, I lied to impress you. I have no idea where mine is but I know it’s within me, not you or my family or friends, and those people are all slowing me down with their happy-making help. Doesn’t anyone realise No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™?
‘It’s true isn’t it? I’ve heard it so often. It must be right.’
‘Yes, because what if you let someone make you happy that isn’t you and then they become a Scientologist?’
‘Or move to Nova Scotia,’ he said thoughtfully.
‘Well, seeing as we agree, maybe we can just go part of the way together. Zero happiness. Promise. Because it doesn’t fit.’
‘Sounds great, let’s go.’
We encountered ridiculous obstacles. At one point a track filled with broken glass looked like it would be the end of the journey until my parents arrived with a care-package of brightly coloured Havianas. ‘Hey!’ I protested, ‘No One Can Make You…’ but they were already heading back to their own invincible summers, picnic baskets in hand.
Before long, the blue-eyed stranger looked at me and said ‘I think your bruises are fading.’
He was right.
‘And you’re much more golden.’
He checked his arms and smiled. ‘I think we’re getting close.’
It was growing warmer.
When at last I arrived at my invincible summer within myself, the bike had become a gypsy caravan of trinkets and treasures from at least thirty people – books and thick towels, suncream and cold bottles of Badoit, tropical fruits, sarongs and even a silver box of sea-bird calls, an unexpected gift from someone who reminded me that you can’t have summer without those sounds, anymore than without the sound of the waves.
The golden stranger whooped and ran straight into the limitless ocean, splashing joyfully. I was hesitant. ‘Come in!’ He said ‘Your invincible summer is fantastic! Have you seen how perfect this sand is?’
‘It’s meant to be within me, though. It’s not real now. Ugh. Exhausting.’
I plonked gracelessly on the beach.
‘I’m going to have to do it all again. Look, you keep this stuff. The beer’s still cold and those coconuts from my neighbours look really tasty.’
‘Aren’t you happy here?’
‘Yes! Really happy. I was happy as soon as I got that card. But not all by myself! It’s all these people who make me happy. They make me happy every day. Even strangers make me happy! That’s not how it’s supposed to be.’
‘What if it’s wrong.’
‘What if it’s wrong, that No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™, and it’s actually only the people in our lives who make us happy? Humans are a pack species after all.’
I consider it. It’s a possibility. Have we all just fallen victim to popular psychobabble?
So at the end of a full day of enjoying my invincible summer within myself with added friends, family and handsome strangers, I wrote my own manifesto* on my beach in the sand. And it felt true.
*‘No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself. Yourself Might Need A Lot Of Other Amazing People To Make Yourself Happy, But Yourself Will Do A Damn Good Job Of It ™.’