Full disclosure: I’ve stolen this title from Ricky Gervais’ new Netflix series. Hint: that’s what this post is inspired by.
A few days ago, I got home from a very long day at work where we had one of our biggest events of the year. I collapsed onto the sofa for a moment, just to soak up a bit of peace and quiet and unwind. Switched on Netflix with the intent of watching one episode of Peep Show before retiring to bed for a much needed long sleep, with my next driving lesson early the next day. Then I saw that Ricky Gervais’ new series was up on Netflix’s highlights, and decided to watch just one episode. Nearly three hours later, and I had binge watched the entire series.
I laughed, and then in just the next breath I broke down in tears. This went on the whole time I watched After Life. It’s definitely Gervais’ best work yet. And it came at a very interesting time for me, because I’ve been exploring existential and death anxiety recently and the “meaning of life”.
In After Life, Ricky explores what happens when our meaning for life is no longer there. All the happiness we have is taken away from us, and what do we have left? His character becomes a bitter, rude bastard who doesn’t care about anybody else because he doesn’t see the point in life anymore, so what is the point in being polite or kind? There is no sugar coating depression or suicidal thoughts in this series. I found After Life explored a number of topics and emotions: grief, loss, depression. The one that it really got me thinking about though was happiness, and finding meaning in our lives.
“…the more unlived your life, the greater your death anxiety. The more you fail to experience your life fully, the more you will fear death.”Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death; Irvin Yalom
When I first told my Mum I had been reading a lot about existential anxiety, a look of panic fell across her face, and I had to explain that this was a good thing. I was embarking on a journey to find happiness. I had been feeling a little lost for a while, and not entirely sure what my purpose was or where I was going. I started to feel anxious about everything, completely unmotivated and unexcited about anything, and actually realised I wasn’t really enjoying life. That’s when I decided I had to do something: I had to find happiness and meaning in my life again. Small steps to begin with: I started doing yoga and meditation; I cleared out all the old shit in my flat bogged down with unhappy memories; I made more time for good friends in my life. Then I stepped it up a notch: I cut down on my meaningless drunken nights out every weekend and instead started going on weekend yoga trips and painting classes; I decided once and for all to get my driving license; and I chose to write more.
I’ve also found so much joy in reading. I have always been an avid reader, but I started to lose my passion for it, and it became something to do to put me to sleep at night: tucking into a trashy crime novel before bedtime. I still love a trashy crime novel from time to time, but I also now love books about psychotherapy, cognitive science, politics, social structure; books that teach and educate me and broaden my mind, and help me carve my own opinions about the world and humanity.
I’ve also discovered my love of a really good conversation over shallow chit chat (see blog post Small Talk for reference). I feel so fulfilled when I engage in an interesting and dynamic discussion about important and meaningful topics. I take so much more away from these situations. Give me a cup of tea and a close friend with something interesting to say and I am like a pig in shit.
Kindness. That’s a big one. Treating others as you wish to be treated. If you can make one person’s day by treating them well, making them laugh, or simply listening to what they have to say, then surely that is one of the greatest gifts we can give. And that brings meaning and purpose with it. I’ve never felt good after I’ve snapped at someone, or become irritable or impatient with them. On the contrary, I’ve always felt pretty shitty about myself. I’ve started taking more steps to treat everyone I come across with patience and kindness, and the reward is somebody else’s happiness. Can we ever really do anything selfless, I’m not so sure, but if I make somebody else smile or feel wanted and in parallel end up feeling good myself, then surely everybody is a winner?
Funny, all of these things I’ve mentioned never really had much of an effect on me before. I was more than happy going out on the lash with a big group of “friends” (who I never met up with sober), or floating through the week like a zombie just counting down the days until the weekend, whiling away my evenings watching meaningless and pointless TV reality shows. But I think that’s just it- I wasn’t really happy. I was going through the motions.
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
― Joseph Campbell
I am still very much exploring death anxiety and existential crisis, and have a number of books waiting on my book shelf to be pored over, but for now I am on my own self journey of finding happiness in my own little world. As I write this, I sit in my gorgeous apartment, over which I have spent so long making my own private sanctuary. My cat, Morgan Freeman, is lying on the sofa across from me, grooming herself unnecessarily loudly. I’m listening to James Vincent McMorrow. I am on my own and yet, I don’t feel lonely. I feel so content, so happy. This is exactly where I am meant to be right now and I feel nothing but fulfilment. I think it’s a long road to finding and holding on to true happiness; but then, it’s a long life, and I’ve hopefully got a little more time to figure it all out.
“The greatest fear that human beings experience is not death, which is inevitable, but consideration of the distinct possibility of living a worthless life.”
― Kilroy J. Oldster, Dead Toad Scrolls