Discontent in cafes

brooding_webYears ago in a cafe in Sydney named Noisette, a woman sat with a man, older, possibly her solicitor or barrister, an authority figure at any rate. With them was a beautiful, exotic-looking child. She was discussing a divorce and a wedding, and she said to the man, “All I want is to be happy again.”

To which the older man said a few things, one I heard being this, “Oh, of course, most people are very discontented with their lives.” He was philosophical, bemused at the idea it was anything other than commonplace. He continued, “Of course, some people hide it …”

I laugh at this now, not the hiding, which is as commonplace as the unhappiness. I laugh at the idea unhappiness is inevitable or natural, if that’s what he was saying. But what was he saying?  Was it, “Buck up, it’s just the way the world is”? Or, did he go on, after I left, to tell her unhappiness was not necessary, that happiness was not a fleeing unicorn in a dream nor a dead dodo on a branch. Thirteen years on, so there was no question, I would lean over and tell them both that happiness is real and the most reliable thing in the world.


Image: Dagblad/Newspaper, by the scrumptiously talented Russell, artist and cafe denizen, at Samferðafólk


25 thoughts on “Discontent in cafes

  1. First of all, I adore the drawing of this cafe denizen (I have a weakness for cafe denizens!). And I love the story you’ve “painted” about Noisette, and her discontent, and your optimistic conclusion about happiness being “reliable.” I wish I could agree 100%, but maybe there’s a baseline for happiness to be possible?–e.g. you’ve got not to be hungry or cold or sick or traumatized. But otherwise, yes, it may be possible to run after happiness & catch it by the tail.


    • Jann, you’ve so perfectly recreated how we mostly think about happiness: that it’s like a wild beast disappearing into the distance whose tail we try to catch, and that its presence is given by circumstances or their absence, like hungry, cold, sick etc. You’ve even recreated the way claims about happiness can occur as vexatious. At least that’s how they used to occur to me, if I even heard them at all.

      I’ve discovered this is an illusion, that the experience of happiness as a possibility is always present, 100% of the time and in 100% of circumstances. Including sickness, hunger, etc.

      We live inside the illusion we’re not happy because we don’t have X. But it’s not the absence of X that gives rise to unhappiness; it’s the belief that it’s the absence of X that gives rise to unhappiness.

      Said another way, it’s not the subject of the belief that is the culprit, it’s the fact of the belief.


    • Hi Lou. I love it when you talk to me of flowers. Caring for others is the great road to getting present to the experience of happiness. One of the most intensely happy experiences for me was when my father was dying in hospital. I experienced happiness inside the opportunity I had to be of service to my mother, to be united with my family in our love and concern for him, to be there with nothing else of such moment. Plus, there are some very funny sights in hospitals.


      • How very right. The 92 yr old aunt who used to live with us died last month, and I’ve never felt so close to my family, my son and grandkids visiting every day…
        There can be deep joy and fun in the saddest moments, you describe it perfectly .
        A big hug to you, Lou


  2. The beliefs of people we look up to can influence us tremendously and the way they live their lives even more so. I know that I learned a great deal about how to be happy from my mother’s example.


  3. “To which the older man said a few things, one I heard being this, “Oh, of course, most people are very discontented with their lives.” He was philosophical, bemused at the idea it was anything other than commonplace. He continued, “Of course, some people hide it …” ‘

    This is hardly news.

    In fact the key point behind most of the world’s religions is this level of discomfort, or ill fit with the circumstances of our lives. The Buddhist word is “dukkha”- which literally means “ill fit”.

    Most of us misidentify it’s causes and remedies, and remain on the treadmill looking for material solutions.

    Happiness is achievable and is our natural mind state, but few of us reach it without considerable thought and skill. Even fewer can show the way to others.


  4. Happiness is one of those qualities that defy definition. Only I can define what happiness means for me at any given moment and that definition is sure to change. I’ve come to understand that the closest approximation I can find to a truly happy life is choosing to be content with my circumstances or my decisions. That is not to say I am a puppet in life; I just act in the best way I know how and then choose to be content with the consequences. I guess the key is making the choice to be happy once I realize I am responsible for my life.


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