The following post was written by my sister Toni. She posted it this week on facebook and I asked her if she’d like it posted on my blog. She (clearly) said yes. Toni is an artist and a high school art teacher. She lives in Hobart with her husband and daughter. I love her and miss her every day. I am also incredibly proud of her for many things, one of which is her writing this.
What is happiness, and who are we to demand it of each other? I believe happiness is overrated. I am content, and every now and then, downright delirious. But happy? Such a simplistic word, such an unattainably polite state of being. Ask a friend, ask a coworker, “are you happy?” the socially correct answer is yes. Ask, are you valued? Are you satisfied? Are you content? Such loaded questions, from a society that still answers, “fine, thanks”, when absentmindedly asked “how are you” by the receptionists at the doctors office where we’ve made an appointment because we feel like crap.
So my point, and I may even have one, is this; why do we have to learn about how to be happy? And who decides what contributes to happiness?
Here’s the backstory; this afternoon at work, all staff attended a presentation on workplace happiness. Ok, so the presenter discussed natural optimists, and I am well acquainted with my inner Polly-Anna (antiquated literary reference to a fictional character known for extreme and somewhat obtuse optimism). I’m an optimist. But I’m a sceptic too. And I’m guilty of sitting back in my chair and mentally addressing the presenter with, “yeah, you wanna discuss workplace happiness, well go ahead lady, make me laugh”. So, I’m not the easiest of audience members. Never said I was.
The presenter was very nice, and this is not a criticism of what she had to say, more a criticism of the program. And this was only the first session, so I may stand corrected later on, and I hope I do! That is my declaimer.
Our first task; all staff pick a card with questions about mental health. This was a presentation on workplace mental health and happiness. We then asked each other our picked question, then moved to another person, another question. The card I picked dealt with numerical facts, a personal hell. This hell deepened as each person I went to somehow had the same question on their card, asking what percentage of public service workers in Tasmania are obese. The answer is apparently 52%.
I had to ask myself, if this was a prearranged intervention! And yes, I get it. Mental health and physical health are related. But in a work situation, I started to feel embarrassed, excluded, uncomfortable. Now, if you don’t know me well, know this; I’m fat, and happily so. I have greater things to worry about. I’m not against losing weight, but it is against me. Ironically, I lose weight when clinically depressed. I am healthy, have no health issues related to weight, and really rather love my self and consider my physical self esteem issues on par with my friends who overwhelming weigh in at size 12 and under. So, I said to myself, toughen up! It’s not personal! It’s a silly question on a card!
Next task, we all came together to share what new facts we had learnt when picking up the cards. One of my colleagues said this, “I didn’t know there were so many fatties in Tasmanian public service, 52%!”. There was a tittering, a giggling, a self defeatist laughter at the many gym memberships. At the table I sat at, there was awkward silence as if an elephant had sat down and demanded a voice. I’m so ashamed that I said nothing.
The presenter said it was an interesting point and she would go into detail later on. She didn’t, perhaps she will in later presentations. I hope so, because maybe I’ll then be brave enough to speak. I’m sure she will speak about the connections to mental health, physical health, and happiness. But I have a bone to pick, and I’m not one to leave meat on a bone.
Imagine my colleague said this, “I didn’t know there were so many faggots in Tasmanian public service”. Replace one word. So, we can comfortably talk about “fatties”, but would we stand for homosexuals to be discussed in this derogative manner? I wouldn’t. But you might. Ok then, try this one. Darkies. Replace the word fatties, with darkies. I didn’t know there were so many darkies in Tasmanian public service. Try Jews. Try retards. Try split-tails. Try any derogative term you know, that describes a type of person. Are you uncomfortable yet? You should be. You should have a feeling a fraction of the level of uncomfortableness I felt in that room. And being me, in my head I had to joke; oh dear god, I’m the elephant in the room!
Am I happy? That’s in dispute at this point.