Change. If not now, when?

I confess to having a morbid fascination with the lives of serial killers which has manifested itself of late as regular (and often long into the early hours) YouTube sessions, learning about all the famous (and some not-so-famous) psychopaths down through the ages. Apparently, if the YouTube view-counts are anything to go by, I’m not the only one!

I don’t have any particular favourite serial killers. After all, how would one go about selecting the criteria by which to choose a favourite serial killer anyway?! However, despite having some empathy with their confinement predicament and possibly as a consequence of my overexposure on YouTube to the environment where these killers live their lives, I have built up a heightened fear of ever having to spend any significant amount of time in prison. Sure, that particular fear has always existed but it seems that my increased exposure to the realities of life behind bars on Youtube has recently brought that fear to the forefront of my consciousness.

The most valuable asset we have in life, although possibly running a close second to our health, is our freedom. Getting up in the morning and walking out the front door is an activity most of us take for granted. Not so the prisoner. So, in thinking about exactly what my freedom means to me, I’m temporarily surrounding myself with bars and walls – to get a greater sense of why we fear prison so much – or should.

The worst possible loss of freedom must certainly be the isolation unit in a prison – where one is confined alone to a cell for twenty-three hours a day and only allowed out to exercise for that other hour. If the stories are to be believed, extended isolation very often drives a prisoner over the edge into the realms of insanity. I am reminded of ‘Papillon’ with his head stuck out through the hatch in the door for the guard to shave him, turning to the prisoner in the next cell and asking how he looked, not having seen his own reflection for many years. ‘Great,’ his neighbour replies, despite the obvious ravages of time evident on Papillon’s face. The total absence of other human beings with which to communicate certainly seems like hell on earth. We are, by nature, gregarious.

In contrast, being in general population (or ‘Gen Pop’ as I have discovered it is known colloquially) doesn’t actually appear to be all that bad! At least you can talk to other people and, even if they don’t want to respond, you at least have a sense of their physical presence in the space you occupy – unlike solitary confinement.

Everything, even being in prison with a total loss of physical freedom, is relative. Positives can always be found – even in the most dire of circumstances. However, in analysing our own lives, we often compare ourselves to people who appear to be doing better in life. While this may appear to be an errant approach, it is absolutely natural and healthy to do so. Without seeing how others have improved their lives we would have no reference points for strategies to improve our own. Role models are essential.

But where we often appear to go wrong is in defining what we consider to be improvement. What are we actually looking for in the search to optimise the life we live? What is the goal and is it worth the effort to achieve? Ultimately, we are all searching for that elusive ‘happiness’. I have some bad news. Happiness is unattainable! At least, it is unattainable for any extended period of time. Happiness, in my experience, is a fleeting sensation, often quickly replaced by the harsh realities of life.

I like nothing better than to lie on a sun-soaked beach in the afternoon, watching the clouds go by while listening to my favourite tunes in my earphones. This is my ‘happy’ place. But if I stay there for any longer than a couple of hours I get bored – not to mind risk a serious sunburn. Eventually I have to pack up and leave the beach. There’s always something else to be done.

So, if I know that the beach is the thing that makes me happy – albeit temporarily – then all the other things I do to facilitate that time at the beach are necessary activities for my happiness.

So, let’s get practical. To go to the beach I need to drive. It’s too far from home to walk or cycle and there is no public transport. The car needs to be taxed, insured and fuelled which means I need to earn money. To earn money I need to work. So, to spend time at the beach in my happy place, I need to work.

I am fortunate enough to have a job that I love and never think (or complain to others) that my job is boring or tedious or ‘dragging me down’. But many people are not so fortunate and find themselves ‘slaving away’ in jobs they simply hate! It is easy to suggest the logic above when attempting to empathise with their predicament, reminding them that they are working to facilitate those moments of happiness but, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to individually ascertain why it is we are working in jobs we simply cannot abide and what those moments of happiness are. There are only two possible outcomes:

1. Change nothing – the moments of happiness you already have are what you want

2. Find (or redefine) what makes you happy and make changes to facilitate that happiness

None of this can be done if you have not defined what makes you happy. Do that first and every other decision should fall into place, however difficult those decisions may appear to be at first. Those fleeting moments of happiness are the goal so, grab the bull by the proverbial horns and make those changes – and make them now. If not now, when?

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