International Women’s Day, and happiness versus contentment

Happy International Women’s Day! I’ve just clicked as a virtual participant for the Millennium Bridge celebrations, led by the awesome 57-year-old Annie Lennox. Now, there’s a role model for women afraid of ageing.  It seems to me that Annie has clocked life, and is making the most of every stage she reaches.

Joan Collins is a different story. Joan ended up in hospital after the Oscars, the result of wearing a dress that was far too tight, and not eating beforehand so she could squeeze her 77-year old body into it.  Although she made a joke of it at the time, to me her desperation to be something she no longer is seemed rather sad and pathetic.

But I can understand why she did it. Ageing, as I am discovering myself, is a bitter-sweet process.  Speaking as a woman used to drawing a lot of attention from men, it’s been very painful to accept that I no longer turn heads. But thank goodness nature abhors a vacuum.  I began to realise that this loss freed me up in ways I could never have dreamed of as a younger woman.

Rather than depending on my sexuality to give me validation, I began to look at my life experiences, and really question how I wanted to use what I had learned. That’s when I began to feel a sense of wellbeing and contentment.

Even so, I am not convinced about the state of happiness. As you know, the British government is attempting to measure the UK’s levels of happiness, and has set this as a life goal.

But I was most interested to hear French philosopher Pascal Bruckner telling Laurie Taylor on his BBC Radio Programe, Thinking Allowed, that happiness has become a ‘burdensome duty.’ Far from creating happiness, those who chase it are often disappointed at best, and downright miserable at worst.

In other words, happiness cannot be manufactured. Nor do I believe that it belongs to tick boxes, because all of us have a unique relationship with ourselves and the world that we inhabit.

So, I agree with Pascal when he says happiness is an unbidden and fragile gift, but not that ‘it arrives only by grace and luck.’ I believe happiness makes itself felt when you realise everything you have been and everything you are comes together in the moment.  The moment then passes, and life carries on.

But contentment is a different matter.  This, I believe is achievable when you accept your limitations, and cease trying to be someone you are not. The menopause is a rite of passage that gives us – men maybe as well – the option of reassessing what really matters now we are no longer sexually alluring, and of doing life differently.

Finding something that gives us meaning and purpose as we enter our third age guarantees a feel good factor, and also I believe, increases those heightened states of happiness.

I can imagine Annie Lennox, and all those women marching with her today to celebrate women’s struggles and achievements during the last hundred years, will experience moments of intense happiness.

It certainly makes me happy to think of them, and the millions of women around the world who are also making themselves heard.  Much more worthwhile than setting yourself up in competition with younger women that can only cause heartache and despair.

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