I just met Mark who has left me feeling heavy hearted. The first thing he said when I asked him about happiness was:
“I ain’t been happy in a long time.” – Since he came home to find his wife dead as a result of complications from an ectopic pregnancy to be precise. That was around three years ago.
After that he started drinking heavily and lost everything. It hit me hard when he told me:
“I actually died in 2011 from alcohol poisoning.” He just had his colostomy bag removed six weeks ago.
Right now, the only way Mark thinks he can begin to be happy again is if he can find security; most importantly a place to live. He pointed out that,
“Without an address you can’t get a job and without a job you can’t get an address. It’s a catch 22.”
Mark told me of “these crazy thoughts, where I just wanna go and jump off the suspension bridge.”
I made an effort to pass on some of Jack’s wisdom about your outlook being able to keep you around long enough for things to look up – But how do you explain that to someone with no hope?
Mark emphasised that he doesn’t want to go ahead with killing himself and yet he can’t be sure he won’t. I asked him if he is ever happy on a day to day basis. He told me of “passing moments, when I think about the past. You know, my wife, being married…”
When I asked if he’s ever happy with the way things are in the present he told me, “No, but I’m happy when I’m playing guitar sometimes”.
That statement made me think on the idea that we are most content when free from thought. Flow state activities such as playing guitar can remove us from vicious, misery inducing cognitive processes and take us into the now where presence, rather than reflection is the pinnacle of experience. It became poignantly apparent to me is stuck in a cycle of loss and hopelessness, perpetuated by thought.
Mark is frustrated by the fact that he has “to beg people for money just to survive. I don’t want to” he said “but it’s all I can do.” Mark was upset about being ignored by passers-by.
“I’d rather people just said no.” He said “at least that way I can say okay, have a good day and all that. But they don’t. They just ignore me.”
I can imagine how demeaning that must feel. He’s a real person with real feelings. Far too often, I’ve seen people treating the homeless as if they were so far removed from themselves that they deserve no respect at all. That only serves to perpetuate the painful internalised cycles of feeling miniscule and worthless that people like Mark endure.
I don’t think that Mark really had a theory about happiness; only that it appears to have forsaken him. I know he is not alone in that grim outlook and this has only motivated me further to find something of use to say to people in such a position.