Great Expectations has to be my favourite Dickens novel – probably because I studied it at school and found an instant affinity with Pip. He started out quite happy with his lot (which wasn’t much) but he had a fierce ally in Joe, his older sister’s husband, and aspired to become a blacksmith just like him. But when he is anonymously bequeathed an inheritance by a wealthy benefactor, things change for Pip. Suddenly, he is expected to become a ‘Gentleman’ and is thus taught that everything he once held dear is twee and without value.
Expectations can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, it’s good to have ambition, but you have to be aware of the cost (and there is always a cost) of what you are trying to achieve. We are the generation who expects more and from whom more is expected. The feminist movement brought about greater equality and opportunities, but also greater pressure to fulfill them. All of the opportunities. All at the same time! Social media creates even more pressure for generation Y because every day they’re bombarded with friends climbing the Andes for charity or completing a triathlon while getting married. Not to mention, how to achieve the perfect brow… because that is VITALLY important and key to your success as an individual. Nothing seems to hold any value today unless there is some achievable goal at the end of it. Something we can take a picture of and laud over all our online friends. It’s all too much and you start to wonder if maybe you would have been happier back in the forge with Joe.
Choice is a great thing, but too much choice can be overwhelming and the race to make the most of everything leads to a life full of vapid experiences to be checked off the list. We are here to enjoy life, not squeeze the living daylights out of it, and yet you are made to feel unambitious if you just want to ‘settle’ for a contented life. We shouldn’t abandon the things in life that once brought us joy, just because their value cannot be monetised. Perhaps, putting away childish things is a mistake.
A recent article on Six simple ways to be happy, extols the benefits of ordinary, everyday activities that can create more happiness than climbing the career ladder or deepening your relationship with your screen (or even blogging!). Things like gardening, singing, listening to music and being in nature can enhance one’s sense of well-being. Things that were commonplace a few years ago have been pushed to the side as a ‘luxury’ in our time-poor generation. For me, it’s painting. When I tear the plastic off a new blank canvas and unscrew the lid on my paints, I lose myself in a world that does not measure time by minutes and hours, but by brushstrokes and layers of paint. Who needs to do a course on mindfulness meditation when all you have to do is get into the garden and plant some flowers, or go for a walk by the sea collecting shells. As someone recently told me, ‘Achievements are overrated’, and do you know, I think he’s right. It’s time to question whether or not our great expectations are making us happy. It’s time to step away from the screen and the addictive need for validation. It’s time to find pleasure in the simple things.
This painting in no way resembles my garden!