Christina Patterson: If you really want to be happy, you should join the rat race

The Saturday Column

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'You drive," said a friend of mine a few years ago, "just like you live."

It wasn't, I think, a compliment. She was saying, I think, as she gripped the seat, the same thing as the car park attendant who used to call me Nigel Mansell, and the graphologist who told me, after a quick glance at my handwriting, which even I can't read, that she could see that I cut everything just a little bit fine.

It isn't, I know, ideal to be still scraping out the leftover froth from your cappuccino when you hear the words "last call" next to your name on the tannoy at the airport. It isn't ideal to be sitting on a bus when the radio show you're meant to be on starts in two minutes. It isn't ideal, an hour and a half after your alarm clock went off, and long after the Today programme has finished, and sometimes even after Libby Purves has been jolly-hockey-sticking a survivor of a Japanese war camp, to be hugging your duvet as if it's more precious than life itself. Particularly when you don't yet have an idea for a column.

It isn't ideal to be eating your fourth cake of the day because you've got, you know, a deadline, or to be writing at 2am because you've got an appointment you can't miss in the morning, and your copy's due at lunchtime, and you couldn't muster an idea till eightish and then felt so stressed you had to drag a colleague out for a drink. None of this is ideal. It would be much better if you arrived at the airport early, and at the radio studios early, and if, when your alarm went off, you leapt out of bed. But we are what we are. Which is why I like the sound of a new book called Rush.

The book, which has the subtitle "Why you need and love the rat race", is by a man called Todd Buchholz, who used to be an economic adviser at the White House. He set out to research a book about people "chasing success and losing their souls". But once he'd started – and this is one of the things I like about Todd, who, I'm guessing, may also not be brilliant at getting up in the mornings, and who, I'm guessing, may also respond to the question "can you just tell us what you're going to say" with blind panic – he changed his mind. After doing quite a lot of research, he concluded that people chasing success didn't "lose their souls". In fact, they had a lovely time, and if we copied them, we would, too.

The happiness experts, and yoga gurus are, he says, wrong. What we need to be happy isn't to downsize, or downshift, or do "downface dog". It isn't to lie in darkened rooms communing with our chakras, or move to a cottage in the country and make jam. What we need to be happy is to work long hours and keep fighting our way up the corporate ladder.

I don't know very much about corporate ladders. Trying to climb them, or fighting to climb them, sounds tiring, and crowded, and a bit like that awful thing you had to do at primary school where they made you all climb a kind of rope ladder in your pants and vest. I don't know very much about making jam, either. I do know that when I go to my yoga class, and the teacher's late, and the newspapers haven't arrived at the gym, so I can't flick through them, and have to spend five minutes just sitting in the foyer staring at burquinis, which look like an excellent beach solution, though also quite heavy, I feel that those five minutes, sitting doing nothing, are almost as bad as the deadline I'm trying to avoid.

But I like it when the teacher turns up, and tells us to lie like corpses, and then tells us that if we go into a morgue we'll find that the corpses aren't moving, and then tells us to open our arms, so we're "nicely crucified", and I like it when she says that we should only do what we feel we can cope with. Most of all, I like it when she says "well done" when we breathe, or stretch, or move, because mostly people don't say "well done" when you breathe, or stretch, or move. Mostly, what they say, when you've stayed up till 2am to write a column, or at least what they say that you can see, is that you can't write, and you're a bitch, and you probably earn as much as the Prime Minister.

I like going to yoga, because it's very nice to be told to stop thinking about deadlines, and start thinking about your diaphragm and your pelvis. I can see that it would be nice to think about your diaphragm and your pelvis at other times in the week, instead of about Gaddafi, and deficits, and what to cook for dinner. But I've got a yoga DVD, which I never look at, and a book of yoga poses, which I never open, and meditation CDs, which I sent away for and never play. So I think that what I like about yoga must be that it's an hour and a half in a week.

And I think that what I like about the other 166 and a half hours of my week must be that they're not yoga. A lot of those hours are spent staring at a screen. Quite a few of them are spent feeling sick. When I'm staring at the screen and feeling sick, I sometimes wish I was lying on a sofa, or a beach. But when I'm lying on a sofa, or a beach, what I tend to do is fall asleep. So I think that what I like about the other 166 and a half hours of my week must be the stress. It must be the worrying that you're not going to be able to do something, even though you have to, or the worrying that you're not going to be able to do it well. It must be the making yourself do something that feels difficult when you think you'd rather be doing something that feels easy, and it must be the lying in bed too late, or leaving the house too late, that turns everything into a rush.

This isn't, of course, the same kind of stress as the kind you have when you're worrying about whether you're going to be able to pay your rent, or worrying about whether you're going to lose your job, or worrying about whether you're going to live or die. But I'm with Todd, and the people who spoke to Todd. While I'm alive, I want to be awake.

Facing up to the costs of new technology

Following the example of 500 million people on this planet, I recently, finally, signed up to Facebook. Lacking their stamina, I fell at the first hurdle. I just about managed the name and address stuff, but as soon as it started quizzing me about my primary school, and secondary school, and university, and first job, and, God help us, "relationship status", I just wanted to tell it to eff off. The thought of having to write about my hobbies, and my holidays, and having to hear about everyone else's hobbies and holidays, the thought, in fact, of yet more bloody homework, just filled me with a sense of rainy-Sunday-afternoon gloom. So I logged off, without, I'm afraid, putting anything in my profile at all, and without, I'm afraid, working out how to tell the few people who saw my name and asked to be my "friend", that it wasn't them, it was me.

Joanne Fraill, unlike me, is clearly hooked. She's so hooked that she couldn't resist dashing home from jury service to have a little chat on Facebook with one of the defendants in a drugs trial that her jury had just acquitted. The trial was still going on. The jury had to be discharged. The case collapsed. The cost to the taxpayer was £6m.

Fraill has been sentenced to eight months in jail. Perhaps that will be long enough to break her Facebook habit. And perhaps those of us who are hooked on email and Twitter, and would quite like to remember what it's like to read, or write, or even have a holiday, without the two-minute twitch to a little keyboard, and a little flashing light, could somehow pretend that we're under threat of a jail sentence, too.

A fine (but really quite unusual) romance

First, there was the "Gay Girl in Damascus", whose reported abduction by the Syrian authorities triggered worldwide alarm, and who turned out to be a big, burly, bearded bloke in Edinburgh called Tom. Then, there was the lesbian and gay news site called LezGetReal, edited by a deaf and dumb lesbian called Paula, who turned out to be a retired construction worker in Dayton, Ohio, called Bill.

Only Tom and Bill can tell us what they got out of their power kick, though it's fair to assume it had something to do with attention they couldn't muster as straight white males. But the bigger question, for me, is for a woman called Sandra Bagaria in Canada. She believed, she says, that she was in a "romantic relationship" with the "Gay Girl in Damascus". She feels, she says, betrayed.

Call me old-fashioned; call me, if you like, someone who doesn't really know what a "relationship status" is, but isn't a romance meant to involve someone you've actually met?

c.patterson@independent.co.uk





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