One of the more curious aspects of the ways we are built is that it can take us a very long time indeed to work out what we need in order to be happy. We might assume that the process was obvious; what could be more straightforward than to want. We’ve ostensibly been doing it since we were four years old and began a powerful campaign for an electric train or set of farmyard animals.
The issue is not that we have no appetites but that it can take such a long time for these to become either accurate or authentic. We start by wanting primarily according to what others around us want. This may mean that — at varied ages — we acquire a bomber jacket, a barbecue set, a marriage, linen trousers, a career in finance, a juicer, a divorce, weekly pilates lessons, and a six-month cruise around the pacific.
It may be our fourth or fifth decade before, very gradually, we acknowledge just how unexpected, personally flavoured, and distinct our characters and requirements really are — and nurture the courage to do something about it.
We might grow honest enough to realise that we would be happy never again to see most of the blowhards and fakes we’d been thinking of as ‘friends’ and giving enthusiastic bear hugs to for years. And, conversely, we might determine that we now want to hang out exclusively with people who’ve had nervous breakdowns, spent time in prison, know how to cry and actively don’t give a damn what the world thinks.
We might at the same time realise that we abhor what news and social media do to our minds and — like a cowardly sheep finally kicking the farmer — delete everything until our phones can barely tell the time anymore. We can be proud of all the nonsense that we no longer have to know about or be scared of. The world will go its own merry way and we want to follow every part of the bile-filled story at minute intervals.
We may also stop trying to impress people we hate. Our mother cared intensely about social status and being famous — and, under her aegis, we gave up a great many years of our life. Good for her and a pity for us, but we’re done with that now and three weird friends, a big dose of misanthropy, and a hut in the woods are beckoning.
We are going to be dead pretty soon and all those cancer stories point us in one direction only: towards the need to stop being a craven, imitative, second-hand timid flunkey and herd animal. We need to throw out all the socially prescribed junk and honour the contours of our own beautifully unique characters before it’s too late. After a lifetime of imitation, fear, and surrender, we may finally have to grow a backbone — and become loyal to who we actually are.