12th February 1997
Happiness and Edgar
Happiness is often described as merely a state of well being. Feeling content is happiness, yet also feeling ecstatically joyful is happiness. Happiness is often thought of as being a mental achievement. However some people find that in order to 'feel' happy, they must be content or joyful with their material achievements. Possessions make some happy, while lack of possessions make others happy. Friends and family that love you are what some people would say bring you true happiness, whereas not having these things are of the utmost importance to some peoples happiness.
So when people ask me what is happiness, I can only answer them with this simple question "What would you do if you were happy?"
This question is almost always answered immediately. Not by a word or sound, but a look of thoughtful wonderment, as if the idea of being truly happy was unfathomable.
In all my years as a therapist I have to say I never made a single person happy.
Any therapist that thinks they can is kidding themselves. To be happy, a person has to want to be happy. I often find in my patients that having a great need to be happy can be the main reason why somebody is not. Its not always their fault of course. A lot of the time a persons’ unhappiness has been caused by an event or series of events. Sometimes its caused by other unhappy people.
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, when describing happiness, famously said, 'Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened' which means 'happiness never decreases from being shared'.
I have always firmly believed this but also believe the same is true of unhappiness.
When a new patient is brought to me I don't ask them questions about what went so wrong that they felt the need to come and see a professional. The first time a patient steps foot in my office I have a series of generic questions which I ask them.
The same questions. Every patient. No exceptions.
I use the answers to these questions in part of a system I developed during my early years studying psychology. I call it 'The Happiness Index'.
The questions in ‘The Happiness Index’ have been fitted together perfectly to give me a score at the end. I then use this score as a way to either show the patient that relatively, they aren't as unhappy as the thought they were. Or, as an incentive to want to boost their own happiness.
After this I find patients become more genuinely involved in helping themselves; they take on board more thoroughly what I tell them and outside of sessions give their best efforts to identify what makes them really happy and surround themselves in it.
Before your mind starts to unravel with boredom from listening to me drivel on about my professional practices, I should probably introduce myself.
I grew up as an only child. I was always good at school and when I was 18 I went to university. I studied Psychology and thrived in ‘experimental techniques’.
When I say ‘experimental techniques’, people often think I mean strange combinations of drugs and electricity. But as you will find out if you talk to any of my former patients, the experiment is not based on drugs, but a more direct relationship with the patients.
I found, while studying for my masters, that when people opened up who I didn't know at all, they often took things out of proportion; using the opportunity of talking to a stranger to invent thoughts and feelings in their heads that weren't there before. However when talking with my class mates and even my lecturers, I felt as though they wouldn't do this. Maybe you could put it down to the fact that, because I knew them better, they valued my opinion and didn't want me to be sycophantic.
This is why ‘The Happiness Index’ works so well, because its a small, truthful insight, which is kept truthful because it is not too personal. Starting somebodies therapy with a bombardment of personal questions and giving my insights on things, that to be perfectly honest I knew nothing about yet, would set off the, as I call it, 'Stranger Effect'.
After my masters I did a doctorate, and after that I moved to London. With a bit of financial help from a few of my 'better off' university colleagues, I started up my own practice. I stayed at my practice for about 4 years, making people feel as if they were happy in a world that was constantly telling the how to be unhappy. It was during the end of my lease, in the end of the fourth year that I met Edger Stewart.
Edgar Stewart was a small, thin man, who, when he came to my office for the first time on February 12th 1997, at age 48, had apparently no problems.
It was about 11.45 when it happened and I was sat at my desk going over my financial scares. It looked like I wouldn't be able to renew my lease at the rate I was going. But there was no time to think about that as the door opposite my desk had opened and in he walked.
Edgar Stewart walked into my life so unassumingly. Pushing open my office door with one hand, and pulling a wheeled case loyally behind him with the other. Little did I know that this small, shambles of a man would be the man to change my life forever.
"Stewart is it?" I said as I watched him lug his wheelie bag through door, struggle to lift it, and eventually manage to give it a seat on the couch.
"Yes thats right, Edgar Stewart" he said warmly as he took a seat next to his case.
"Right, Edgar, Im going to start by asking you a set of 54 questions. Theres nothing to worry about, I just require all of my new patients to-
"You don't have to sell it to me doctor, I'm game." loudly cutting me off.
'Well, great. We'll get started then"
The test took about an hour and afterwards I asked Edgar if he could take a walk around the block, or go for a coffee as my analysis would take a while.
It was about half an hour into analyzing his test when I realized it; Edgar Stewart was the happiest person I had ever met. I was only half way through marking, and his score was already higher than on any other test I had conducted.
I was stunned to say the least, a score of 167, with more to go, was an astonishing feat.
I finished going through the whole test and asked my receptionist, Deborah, to show him in. He entered in the same flustered fashion as he had before, but this time looking even more jolly. It was quite unnerving to say the least.
"Well Doc, whats wrong with me?"
I still didn't really know how to put it, I was so confused at why he was even here, "Nothing" I said. I could tell this wasn't what he wanted to hear as the look on his face turned from excited to disappointed in a matter of seconds.
I continued, "What I mean is that according to your answers you are perfectly happy and content. More so then any person I have ever seen."
"Ahhhhhh, this is where your book-smarts and intelligence fail you my good sir. Happy I may be but a less content man you have never met." He stood up to go, pulling up the handle on his case and running his fingers through his scruffy greying hair.
"I'm not quite sure what you mean?" I said.
"I've always been a happy person," He said whilst pushing down the handle and taking a seat again. "I grew up in a fairly normal, happy family. Surrounded myself with happy friends and enjoyed my happy education. When I grew up I got a fairly well paid job in accounts, which I thought I was happy with. I married a woman, I also thought I was happy with her. People have always told me that I make them happy and that they value my friendship dearly. But the truth is I never valued theirs. I think the main reason I'm happy is because I can't imagine what it would be like not to be. Ive always had everything society tells me I need, and never wanted for anything else."
As Edgar spoke I felt as if he had been reading from my imaginary biography. It was incredible how much I felt like that. I just hadn't realized it until this point. Everything he’d said, I suddenly realized, was applicable to me. We'd even led the same lives, perfect everything. I’d always had a happy upbringing as an only child. I was good at school and so there were no problems there. People always seemed to like me, even my wife, Alice, who I only married because well, thats whats you do when your 29, you get married. I’d never thought about not getting married and having children. I can't believe I actually thought I was happy. It seems ridiculous looking back, but the truth is, for my whole life I had never realized how unhappy I'd been.
"Anyway, I doubt you can help me so if you don't mind I think Ill be going now"
"No wait, can we meet for lunch sometime? Sorry I just have a lot of questions." I honestly don't know what came over me, thinking back it must have sounded incredibly strange but luckily he agreed to meet me for lunch at12 o’clock in Covent Gardens the next day.
Before he left I asked him the question I had been curious about for the whole session “Edgar, whats in that case your carrying?”
He looked at me for a few seconds before replying only with a quick smile. He then left.
The same day
Alice and A.W.O.L
That evening I went home as usual at around 6.30pm. When I got in I found my wife, Alice, cooking dinner and my 2 children playing in the living room with their Playmobil.
They were both boys. 2 and 4 years old at the time. In my opinion the age when you know least of all what it means to be happy. A lot of people say the innocence of children is true happiness. But as I had found out that day you cant really know what it is to be happy without knowing what it is like to be unhappy.
As someone whose job it was to help people be happy, I really knew nothing about the other end of the spectrum. Like Edgar Stewart, I was un-content with my wellbeing and supposed ‘happiness’. I wasn’t depressed, not in my opinion anyway. I was actually rather happy that I had discovered I did not know what happiness meant to me. I finally had a starting ground though. Now I had a basic idea. My happiness wasn’t my family or the people I worked with. It wasn’t even my work. So to find my happiness I knew I would have to leave.
It was strange when that dawned on me. I wasn’t scared to do it. I wasn’t sad either. Leaving my family would make me feel more free, I knew I cared about Alice, but I wasn’t sure if I was in love with her. I wasn’t even sure she was in love with me. I didn’t really know what love was to be honest which was probably why it didn’t pain me to think about leaving her.
To work out how I was feeling I thought I would do something I, surprisingly, had never done. It was time to work out my Happiness Index.
I stopped staring at the children playing, and went upstairs. Sitting on my bed and turning on the bedside lamp, I opened my briefcase and pulled a fresh set of questions.
The Happiness Index
What activity best explains how you spend most of your time?
I guess I would have to say work. Although my work wasn’t really work. It had always just been what I did, listen to peoples problems without having my own.
I worked through my set questions, some of which were a lot harder to answer than I thought when I had come up with them all those years ago, when Alice called from downstairs
“I’m serving dinner sweetheart.”
“Ill be down soon.” I replied trying to rush question 13.
How often do you find you mind starts to wander? and what kind of thing do you wonder about?
Wow, I thought to myself. I really didn’t know if my mind did wander at all. I’d never thought about it. I suppose it did, but what did I wander about. I had always been so involved in other peoples wonderings I had never thought to wander through my own.
Now was not the time as a steaming Alice came up the stairs, “DID YOU HEAR ME CALLING?”
“Yes yes yes, I’m sorry just work stuff.” I lied and put the sheets back in my case. God forbid Alice should see them, as she knew me well enough to start asking questions if she knew I was questioning my happiness.
When I got downstairs I sat down at the table, a child on each side pushing their dirty fingers into their food and laughing. Alice came through, took off her apron and sat down, pouring herself a glass of wine.
“How was your day?” she asked me over her glass before taking a sip.
“Interesting,” I replied “I had a new client, really made me think.”
I knew she didn’t care, and I didn’t blame her, I never cared about any of her stories about Gary from the office or who Angelina from Reprographics had slept with to get her promotion.
We continued eating in silence for a while before, Edward, our youngest began throwing his food over the table at Hugo, our oldest.
“Ill do it,” said Alice, who sounded ridden with fatigue as she picked Eddy out of his chair and took him into the living room where stern voices found their way back to the kitchen where I sat in silence with my son.
“I’m going away Huggy.” I said in a quiet voice as I brought my face down to his level.
“Where you going?” he said looking into my eyes as if I’d just told him Father Christmas wasn’t real.
“Just away for a while, don’t worry Ill see you again very soon. I just want you to know that I love you very very much,” That sounds normal, I remember thinking to myself, thats what I was supposed to say. I felt as if I should be crying but I wasn’t, “and Eddy, though he wouldn’t understand me if I told him, nor would your mother for that matter.” I gave out a small chuckle which was not returned from Hugo.
“Anyway,” I said in the manner of a bad stand up comedian after a failed punch line, “I have to go Hugo.”
“Ok daddy.” He said as I left the table and then left the room completely.
I could still hear Alice trying to get Eddy to calm down. I went upstairs and took the only thing I actually needed, my briefcase. I had credit cards and cash in my wallet. I grabbed my coat on the way out and shut the door behind me, Silencing out the sounds of a whimpering child in the kitchen and a screaming child and indifferent wife in the living room.
In hindsight I should have brought an umbrella, let alone a change of clothes.
I walked up the street a little before hailing a cab.
“Victoria Coach Station please.” I got in the cab and shut the door. Leaning my head against the steamed up windows, I looked out into the dark night; The night that saw the abandonment of two children by a father who never really wanted them.
The journey didn’t take long but I managed to do a few question whilst in the taxi.
Would you say you surround yourself with people, or let people close to you drift away?
Well I suppose the answer to that was quite obvious after my recent actions.
“Twelve pounds seventy eight please sir,” came the call from my driver. I gave him Twenty .
“Keep the change!” I shouted as I let myself out into the pouring rain, holding my briefcase over my head as if it would give me shelter from the impending soaking I would receive before reaching the station across the road.
I wasn’t quite sure why I had come here. I didn’t want to take a coach anywhere. I didn’t want to see Buckingham Palace either. But one thing was for sure, I definitely was not moving. The cold February rain lingered outside and I was already soaked head to toe.
It looked like I would be staying here for a while.
I took off my jacket and put it beside me as I took a plastic seat. It was too wet to do any more questions so I left the sheets in my briefcase.
That was when it hit me. Finally I was free. People walking past must have thought I was mad because I couldn’t keep the smile from my face. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. However it had left me with an aching feeling of wasted time.
I’d never wanted to be with people, I’d always known that. I just wish I had trusted my instincts when I was younger and taken time to enjoy my solitude whilst I could.
But there was no point wasting more time whinging on about it all. Finally I could get on with what I wanted to do.
What did I want to do? The question I had always asked people who asked me what happiness was.
What would you do if you were happy?
Now I understood the look of thoughtful wonderment. Even now the thought of being truly happy was un fathomable.
I guess I would have to wait for my lunch appointment with Edgar tomorrow. Im sure he would help me find out.
13th February 1997
Pen, Paper and Cold Coffee
Sleeping whilst sitting on a plastic chair was not one of the happiest experiences of my life. In fact, from an outside eye, it would seem a sort of low point. But to me it was a necessary action as I did not want to go back home, and did not want to venture out into the rain to look for a place to stay.
However uncomfortable I was, I got through it, And at around 8.00am went outside to check the weather.
I was like a tidal wave had crashed over London. Everything was sodden. The gutters were running full to the brim and cars sprayed the pavements as they attempted to dry.
The sun was out though so I decided to make my way to Covent Gardens. I knew I was far too early but as I did not want to return to my practice, I really had nothing else to do.
The walk took about ten minutes but I thought about a lot on the way there. I can remember looking at all the people walking past me on their way to work. All of the people looked positively miserable. Yet still they went, carrying on their dismal existence until one day the would be relieved of the troubles of living. I suppose thats what keeps most people alive. The promise that someday you wont be. I wonder what all of these people thought happiness meant. Money, Love, Company, Possessions? A lot of people believe in Karma. The belief that if you do good things then good things will happen to you and that if you make people happy then it will bring you happiness. I didn’t believe in Karma. Not now anyway. I always made people happy, but I had never been.
If Karma did exist then it had definitely failed me. I remember looking at all the people walking and thinking only yesterday I would have been one of them. Traveling miles to the center of London to do absolutely nothing to help anyone. And all for what?
When I reached my destination I found a small breakfast cafe to spend the next few hours in as I waited to meet Edgar.
As I waited I took out The Happiness Index, and scanned through it looking for a question I could do.
Is there any major parts of your life you would be willing to give up?
I just had hadn’t I. I remember smiling at that point. I had given up everything that had been keeping me back. Everything that had been holding me in had just disappeared.
Finally I could think about me and what I want to do to make me happy. The only dilemma, however, was that I wasn’t yet sure what that was.
The 40 minutes or so I had spent there went by so slowly it was excruciating. 8 cups of coffee and two toasted sandwiches had been consumed by my hunger for mental salvation as I waited for that small, grubby little man with his messy grey mane and eyes that popped out in amazement.
I know it must seem strange how I had idolized someone I hardly knew and had only met once but what you have to understand is that I didn’t really have anyone else in my life that I even really liked, let alone respected.
The wait was slowly pushing me further into thought. My brain started to think things I didn’t know I could think. It was the strangest feeling. As if ‘The Stranger Effect’ was happening to me, about me. Had I become a stranger to myself? Probably, I thought as I sipped my cold coffee and then instinctively spat it right out again into it mug. I knew it had been cold, so why had I drank it? Its strange how sometimes we do things we know will cause us upset or discomfort yet we still do them. Maybe its just to see what the consequences are. Or maybe we understand the consequences but just enjoy seeing them played out.
I had waited for a while by this time and so to pass the time I pulled out my notebook and started to write down everything that had happened in the past day.
It was easy to pinpoint where it had all started. Edgar Stewart. He had helped me see that I didn’t want what I had, but left me not knowing anymore what I wanted.
I was still writing my version of recent events under the title ‘The Happiness Index’ at this time.
I have now finished writing everything I can remember that has happened. I have to admit that reliving how I left Alice, Hugo and Edward does test my conscience. When reading back these notes I did feel a slight wish to return to them. But I cant. Not now. I have to find out who I am and I cant do that with people that I don’t love. Maybe I should visit my family. I haven’t done that since my graduation. They haven’t even met me as a practicing doctor yet.
However somehow the idea of visiting my ‘beloved’ family does not fill me with much excitement. No the only person I wish to see at the moment is Edgar Stewart.
I think I am going to start keeping these notes as a diary for my ‘new life’. Being able to read from the day my life tuned around to the day I know I am happy would be fulfilling I think. Maybe not in a ‘Dear Diary’ kind of way but everyday ill just write something like ‘Today started plans to open a cafe’. Obviously not that but..... I know what I mean.
I think being in this cafe for so long has effected my plans. Since when did I want to open one myself.
I can see Edgar standing across the road. Ill check back in later.
12th February 1997
It had been a strange day from the beginning. I’d been late for work and called in to see Mr Redgrave about my recent bout of one day sicknesses. I sat in his waiting room and lazily flicked through a magazine. I was sat on my own on one side of the room while Angelina sat at her new desk on the other side.
She was wearing a new pair or designer glasses that only helped her peer down her pretty little nose at everyone else. We all knew she was sleeping with Mr Redgrave.
There was no other reason for her appointment as she was the about the dumbest thing you could find in the building.
As I sat there waiting I wondered how this meeting would play out. Had Mr Redgage noticed that mine and Gary’s sick days had been coinciding for almost a month.
I wasn’t too fussed if I was in trouble though, I had a husband who was a practicing therapist with his own private practice. I only took this job up as something to do. We didn’t need the measly amount that they paid me to provide for ourselves, Hugo and Edward. I didn’t hate working there, and I’m glad I did otherwise I wouldn’t have met Gary. But it would be nice to spend more time with the children, I thought.
I looked up at the clock. It was 27 minutes past 9. I had sat there for 12 minutes, waiting for Mr Redgrave’s bushy moustache to poke round the door and call me in.
Finally at around 33 minutes past 9, it did. I stood up and walked towards his office door, sharing a glare with Angelina as I went.
“Take a seat, please Ms Calloway” he said and indicated the chair in front of his desk.
I used my maiden name of Calloway at work. Im not sure why, I just always had.
“It seems you have been taking quite a few days off Ms Calloway,” he began his inquisition, “an explanation please?’
I didn’t even have one. I had sat in that waiting room for 18 minutes knowing what this meeting would be about but I had not thought of thinking up an explanation for my absence.
“Well that’s exactly what I had expected,” he said, replying to my silent stare, “16 days off in a month, un consecutive and unexplainable. And Gary Jersey, from across the hall to you. The very same days. Well?”
I stared at him blankly. I didn’t have anything to say to him. He began speaking again, waving his arms frantically and spurting his scottish accent, which got rougher and rougher as my ignorance infuriated him. I stared him in the eyes as he spoke though I did not listen to a word he had to say. I found it quite funny how enthusiastic he was in his speech. It was as though he had thought of every word in advance of our meeting and was now reciting them like a monologue.
A monologue it certainly was as I had no intention of defending myself.
After 2 or 3 minutes I got fed up of waiting for the words to leave his mouth so I picked up my bag from beside me, stood up, and told myself what he wanted to tell me.
I turned and left, closing the door which muffled the shouts of “Your damn right you are” and “Insolent women”.
Angelina was stood up and was making her way around her desk and towards Mr Redgrave’s office door.
“I think Mr Redgrave needs a quicky love.” I snarled at her as I left the waiting room and she retreated into the office.
Seeing as how I was now unemployed by Redgrave Solutions I thought it would fun to mess up some accounts.
I took the elevator down to floor 3 where I worked in Accounting. Logging into the computer at ‘my’ desk, I pulled up the spreadsheets for the companies payroll. First things first, I thought as I found Angelina’s pay for this months and depleted it down a considerable amount. I then found my own and increased it as much as I could without it looking suspicious to anyone as it went through the company. I thought the accountants would all turn more of a blind eye if their pay had gone up as well. So thats what I did.
I looked them all up and gave them each a raise.
I continued doing this for an hour or so. By this I mean moving peoples pay up and down depending on their personalities. I knew it wasn’t a fair thing to do but I couldn’t help myself. My professional life at this company had ended so as far as I was concerned, nothing in this building really mattered to me. Apart from Gary.
I spent about 20 minutes looking for him until finally somebody could answer my question.
“Yeah he just got called up to head office. Are you ok, Alice.?”
“Thank you” I said, rushing off in the same direction I had come from. I liked Dom and usually would have stayed to talk to him but right now I just wanted to leave.
It would have been nice to go somewhere with Gary but I wanted to get out of the labyrinth of the office building.
I stepped out the front doors and into the busy London street and immediately was taken away by the current. They were like worker ants. Everyone had somewhere to go.
11th February 1997
Imagination and Reality
I had found being an only child a fairly lonely existence and so the family home didn’t hold much nostalgic value to me. I reaped the benefits of being on my own a lot as a child. It meant I had lots of time to sit and watch the countryside around me work. I loved writing about it. I used to write and write throughout the holidays mainly because I had no one to distract me from it. I used to write stories about the people I saw and met as I was growing up. I would invent whole lives for the characters I observed. I always thought I would be writer. I would even create a life for myself within the pages.
The things I experienced within my stories felt so real to me, as if I had travelled the world a thousand times myself. However as I got older, stories weren’t enough.
My parents were both accountants and expected me to grow up to be the same. I was good with numbers so that wasn’t a problem. The problem was that I did not want to spend my life dealing with other peoples money. I didn’t want to have to deal with money at all. All I wanted to do was write.
School finished as quickly as it had started and I was off to university. I studied Accounting and after my degree found myself in a comfortable position at a major law firm in central London. I married my wife, Suzanne, soon after, and with a few months in my new, well paying job, bought us our own house in London.
We had 2 children, Harry and Gordon and lived there happily as a family.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I went back to my writing. I had made it my New Years resolution to get on with it again. It all came back to me so naturally. The stories I had once created were all still there, right where I had left them. My youthful imagination lay deep within my mind, safe and intact after all those years of neglect. I began remembering all the things I said I would one day do. I found it so upsetting to realize that I had become nothing. I remember breaking down in tears when I found some of my old stories in the attic.
In them I was a great man, the envy of everyone who knew me. I was my own man, a writer, who travelled to exciting places and met incredible people. I didn’t need to worry about money or anything. I was free.
However in reality my life was the opposite. I had spent a life time in a career that I wanted to be completely separated from.
I was 48 years old and, as is still the case today, completely without achievement of any sort. I had a life many would want. An extremely well paid job, a beautiful french wife, and two intelligent children, the youngest of whom was just about to leave home at age 20.
I don’t know why I didn’t want this. For a while I thought there was something wrong with me. After that I thought there was something wrong with everyone else. This is what led to the end of my marriage with Suzanne, an event I felt weirdly detached from.
I spend a couple of months feeling sorry for myself before I took it upon my self to seek professional help.
I was severely unhappy with the way my life had turned out. Something I was sure nothing could fix. How could you fix something you already didn’t do. It was too late, however I found myself a Psychiatrist who specialized in depression and happiness.
I booked myself an appointment and got an early night. When I woke up I packed myself a bag. I decided I wanted to go away. I wasn’t sure yet where, I just knew I had to go and find myself, before it really was too late. I thought I would go to my appointment and see what the Doctor had to say, and then book myself a ticket to a destination still unknown to me.
I felt so happy carrying my case down the street. It was a large case on wheels which caused people to look at me as I pulled it loudly beside me.
I smiled as I looked at people. It made me happy to think that maybe one of them would be thinking. ‘Ooh I wonder where he’s off to’
As I neared the Psychiatric Practice I grew more and more impatient to get on that plane.
Places and adventures were pouring through my mind and yet I still could not decide on where to go or what to do when I got there. But I didn’t have time to think about that now as I found my hand pushing open the door to the Practice.
I signed in with the doctor’s secretary and was only sat in the waiting room a moment before being told that I was allowed to enter his office.
That is how I first met him.
© Copyright 2016 Jamie Max Lee. All rights reserved.