Home > Mammy Walsh's A-Z of the Walsh Family (Walsh Family #6)(9)

Mammy Walsh's A-Z of the Walsh Family (Walsh Family #6)(9)
Marian Keyes

You see, Happiness is a very tricky business. Especially because one thing I’ve noticed about the modern world is that everyone thinks they are entitled to be happy all the time. That Happiness is the ‘default’ position and every other emotion is meant to be escaped from. That if a person is not happy all the time, they’re doing something wrong, and they have to find the right way to do things so that they can be happy all the time, if you get me.

I’ve seen it over and over again, with my girls boohooing away every time they’ve had a tragedy. ‘Mam, I want to be happy.’ ‘Mam, I was soooo happy.’ ‘Mam, when will I be happy again?’ Then they start blaming themselves. ‘Mam, what did I do wrong?’ ‘Mam, I can’t believe this has happened to me again.’ ‘Mam, is it because my knockers are too small?’ And so on and so forth, till I am blue in the face offering reassurance and Cornettos.

When things go wrong in my daughters’ lives – and things go wrong in every life – they think they’ve ‘effed it up’. They think they’ve made some terrible mistake that they have to fix in order to be happy again. That they have to get the runaway husband back. Or find a way of controlling their drug addiction. Or get a better job. Or find a nicer house. Or – yes – get bigger knockers.

But! And I’m holding up my finger again like the wise old woman I am. I’ve a couple of things to tell you and you’re not going to like either of them.

Unpleasant Truth Number One: we’re not on this earth to be happy. Now before you jump down my throat and say, ‘Life isn’t all that Catholic shite about being a vale of tears,’ will you hear me out?

What I’ve observed over the many, many years of being a mother is that happiness comes and goes, it ‘ebbs’ and ‘flows’. You get lovely peaceful spells when everything is as it should be and all your daughters are behaving themselves and not making a show of you, everything is nicely boxed away and squared off.

Then the next thing you know, something happens out of the blue, and it could be anything – a lost job, a miscarriage, a bout of depression – and suddenly everything is messy and up in the air. And I get annoyed – I admit it, I do! I get into the habit of being content and I like it. I don’t enjoy feeling worried or uncertain or frightened or insecure but it keeps on happening.

Unpleasant Truth Number Two: we put faith in things and people and think that if we ‘possess’ them that we will be happy – for example, having a good-looking husband, losing a stone in weight, paying off a credit-card bill, having a car with a gearbox that works or wearing a C-cup bra.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – it’s human nature to seek happiness from the people and the world around us. To be honest, I’ve had it up to here with ‘gurus’ who say that you can only get Happiness from within, because it’s all very well for them sitting up there on top of the mountain in their white robes, with no one annoying them. But the rest of us have to live in the ‘real’ ‘world’.

The truth is that even though we can’t help seeking our Happiness in the world around us, those people and things are ‘fallible’. They will sometimes – often, maybe – let us down. The good-looking husband might run off, or you might ‘fall’ for another man, or you might lose the weight and put it all back on again, after nine months of getting up at six in the morning to run eight kilometres in the rain, or your expensive breast implants might go lopsided and ‘wonky’. And then where are you? Exactly! Not happy!

If you ask me, we approach this Happiness business all wrong. It’s not something to be tracked and hunted down, like a wild animal that needs to be tamed, and once we have it house-trained it will never give us any trouble, ever again. And everything will be perfect, for ever.

I don’t know how it happened but I once heard a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman I know next to nothing about, except that she wore desperate hickey clothes, and she said, ‘Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product.’

I ‘got’ what she meant. She was trying to say that we must just get on with things, doing our best, helping people out, taking pleasure and contentment where we can find them, and – I think this is the important bit – being glad of them. If we take the ‘life is a vale of tears’ bit as a given, then when something nice happens – a box of Thorntons, a cardigan at half price, an hour-long special of Fair City – then we can savour it and be grateful.

My daughters think that I never feel unhappy. They think unhappiness is something that, at some mythical age, you outgrow. They assume I have the wisdom of my years and that as an elderly-ish person I don’t have any yearnings, that they all fell away from me, along with the elasticity of my skin. But I’ll be perfectly frank with you: despite the consolation of my faith, I oftentimes feel incomplete.

Mostly I’m too busy to notice it, thank God. But it’s always there, a gnawy little animal clawing away in my gut. And I have to live with it, like we all do. We can’t give in to it. As my mammy, Granny Maguire, used to say, ‘We can’t have grief for everything.’ Then she’d hit me a backstroke to the side of my head and say, ‘Stand up straight, you big long galoot.’

Luckily I have my television ‘shows’ and bananas and custard and the companionship of Mr Walsh and the knowledge that when I die I’ll go to heaven …

Although sometimes I think that whole heaven business is a bit hard to swallow. It sounds like a children’s fairy tale they tell us to keep us placid. I even tried discussing it with Father Heyward when he was home from the missions, but he told me I can’t let my thinking go ‘down that road’ and to pray to strengthen my faith. And I suppose, whether there is or there isn’t a heaven, we just have to get on with things as best we can here on this earthly plain.

That is my ‘take’ on Happiness.

H is also for Hypochondriacs. We Walshes are not hypochondriacs, despite what Dr O’Byrne said that time, when we made him visit in the middle of the night because Helen had a Rice Krispie stuck in her throat. We are unlucky, that’s all we are. We ‘catch’ everything going, even though I have a little bottle of that squirty hand-sanitizer in my bag and our house is very clean. It is not our fault.

I is for Injury. However it was Mr Walsh’s fault when he ‘banjoe’d’ his neck on the Log Flume Ride in Disneyland. The first time, when he went with all the accountants from work, he knew no better. While the ride was moving, he stood up, like all the other accountants did – peer pressure, egging each other on, like a clatter of schoolboys – and several of them sustained injuries. But the second time he went, he knew full well the dangers.

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