Home > The Comfort Book(5)

The Comfort Book(5)
Author: Matt Haig



There is always a path through the forest

   I’ve spent much of my life thinking about hope. In recent years I’ve spent a lot of time writing about it. Before then, I clutched hope like a security blanket. In my twenties I had a breakdown. A fusion of severe depression and panic disorder that made me fall so hard I spent three years of my life desperately wanting to die. It is hard to cultivate hope in such a state of despair, but, somehow, I gathered enough of it to stay alive and see a better future.

   Hope can feel in scarce supply for everyone these days. Global pandemics, brutal injustices, political turmoil, and glaring inequalities can all take their toll on your reserves. And yet, the thing with hope is that it is persistent. It has the potential to exist even in the most troubled times.

   Hope isn’t the same thing as happiness. You don’t need to be happy to be hopeful. You need instead to accept the unknowability of the future, and that there are versions of that future that could be better than the present. Hope, in its simplest form, is the acceptance of possibility.

   The acceptance that if we are suddenly lost in a forest, there will be a way through.

   All we need is a plan, and a little determination.




   The sky isn’t more beautiful if you have perfect skin. Music doesn’t sound more interesting if you have a six-pack. Dogs aren’t better company if you’re famous. P izza tastes good regardless of your job title. The best of life exists beyond the things we are encouraged to crave.



A little plan

   Be curious. Go outside. Get to bed on time. Hydrate. Breathe from the diaphragm. Eat happy. Get a routine baggy enough to live in. Be kind. Accept that not everyone will like you. Appreciate those who do. Don’t be defined. Allow fuck-ups. Want what you already have. Learn to say no to things that get in the way of life. And to say yes to the things that help you live.




   We are often encouraged to see life as one continual uphill climb. We talk about ladders without even thinking. Career ladders. Property ladders. Of being on the top rung of the ladder. Or the bottom rung of the ladder. We talk of climbing the ladder. We talk of rising up. We talk of uphill struggles. In doing so we visualize life as a kind of vertical race, like we are human skyscrapers reaching for the clouds. And we risk only ever looking above to the future or below to the past and never around at the infinite horizontal landscape of the present. The trouble with ladders is they give you no room to move around. Just room to fall.



Life is not

   a ladder to climb

   a puzzle to solve

   a key to find

   a destination to reach

   a problem to fix



Life is

   “understood backward; but it must be lived forward”

   (Søren Kierkegaard)



My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it . . . but love it.

    Friedrich Nietzsche




   There is no point spending an entire life trying to win the love you didn’t feel when you needed it. You sometimes just have to let go of an old story and start your own. Give yourself some love. You can’t change the past. You can’t change other people. You can change you though. You narrate this story. So start to write a new chapter.




   Imagine forgiving yourself completely. The goals you didn’t reach. The mistakes you made. Instead of locking those flaws inside to define and repeat yourself, imagine letting your past float through your present and away like air through a window, freshening a room. Imagine that.





    No, I don’t want to.

    No, I don’t want to write that article for free.

    No, I am not on for Tuesday.

    No, I don’t want another drink.

    No, I don’t agree with you on that actually.

    No, I can’t always snap out of it.

    No, I wasn’t rude when I didn’t get back to a message I never saw.

    No, if it’s okay I don’t want to collaborate with you.

    No, I am not dumbing down.

    No, I can’t do any dates in July.

    No, I don’t want your leaflet.

    No, I don’t want to continue watching.

    No, my niceness is not weakness.

    No, they aren’t the next Beatles.

    No, I’m not going to take that crap.

    No, my masculinity does not mean I shouldn’t cry.

    No, I don’t need to buy what you are selling.

    No, I am not ashamed to make time for myself.

    No, I am not going to your school reunion when you never spoke to me at school.

    No, I will no longer apologize for being myself.



   No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having the space you need to live.



Be humble because you are made of earth. Be noble, for you are made of stars.

    Serbian proverb



The maze

   It is rare to escape a maze on the first attempt. And when we are stuck in a maze, we can’t escape by following the same path that got us lost. We escape a maze by trying new routes. We don’t feel like we have failed when we hit a dead end. In fact, we appreciate the new knowledge. There is now a dead end we won’t try anymore. Every dead end and cul-de-sac helps us escape the maze. To know which path to take, it helps to take a few wrong ones.



Knowledge and the forest

   “Know your enemy.” In the classic Chinese military treatise The Art of War, Sun Tzu offered advice that echoed through the centuries.

   It is timeless advice because of course it doesn’t just apply to war. If we fully understand, say, depression, or a physical disease, or the nature of climate change, or injustice, it helps us combat these things. Without knowledge of our difficulties, we would be in trouble.

   For instance, the average person plunged into the middle of the Amazon rain forest would probably struggle to survive, because they wouldn’t understand all the threats they faced. But Juliane Koepcke wasn’t an average person. She was a person with knowledge.

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