Ted Richards talks about his identity and how he maintains the much coveted label: 'happy.' We so rarely talk about happiness or what helps us to sustain it, but this piece is a wonderful insight into one of our model's lives and what they draw strength and a sense of self from.
It was a Tuesday, stood in the center of a supermarket isle that I realised I was happy. Funny thing, fifteen years old, acne scared, knobbly kneed and ever so frightened of failure. Yet, I was happy. It is a label that does not pop up a lot when people talk about themselves. I find it curious that all great heroic origins, from Scarlet O’Hara to Spider-Man, begin with tragedy. Therefore, when describing myself using labels, the one I like to employ most is ‘happy’ and this piece will talk about why this is, and three tools that help me maintain this coveted label.
Not that I don’t fancy the day I’m clear skinned and sharp featured, but I genuinely like how I look. Even if my beautiful face is covered in acid tomorrow, or my beloved belly swells tenfold, at the very least, my hands are bigger than the current President-Elect of the USA. Thoughts like that help me sleep. Moreover, I love the clothes I wear. There is nothing quite like a tattered pair of converse, a solid coat or a shirt louder than a jet engine., I’m comfortable with what I look like and would not change a thing.
On a macro level, you can trace all this to the lottery of birth. I am white, middle-class, heterosexual and male. It certainly is not the case that happiness is unachievable or absent for the majority of people who do not fall into these categories. Rather, this is an acknowledgement that, structurally, I face few threats for being who I am. Therefore, having never gone for an interview, attended a party or walked down the street and thought that my odds would look prettier if I were of a different creed, I am afforded an unfair degree of comfort in my identity.
Firstly, I am happy because of a persistent interrogation of character. Comic books, video games and science fiction are great loves of mine. These are not fields of interest that breed popularity at secondary school. Yet, something I stumbled upon, around the age of fifteen, was that if you owned who you are then it can never be used to hurt you. In hindsight, going to school dressed as a pirate was perhaps overdoing it a bit.
On a more serious level; traits gained from relatives better forgotten have led me to exhibit deplorable behaviour growing up. Therefore, it is a demand that I constantly call to question the actions and impact my character has on other people’s thoughts and feelings. This is work that will never be complete. Who I am, why I do the stuff I do are tedious questions, but ones that need to be answered and it makes me happy that I constantly get to answer them in new ways.
Secondly, I am happy because of my friends and family, those whom I choose to surround myself with. The best part of me, the part which allows me to be a self-reflective toff and huge geek, has always been my loved ones. It is by their good nature that I get to make mistakes about my character and be held accountable. It is soppy, but my loved ones are the main source of self-reflection and inspiration every day. It is easy for me to be happy with who I am because my friends and family constantly remind me of it, often in the best way loved ones can; a cracking sense of humour. Laughter and a sense of playfulness about my character affords more security than it is often given credit for. My friends and family are vital attributes to who I am.
Thirdly, I am happy because I enjoy employing a great deal of what Gramsci called, ‘optimism of the will’. If self-reflection is the main carriage, loved ones are the wheels and tracks whilst optimism is the engine of my happy character. I think that this is easiest to explain with a broader brush using my favourite subject, history. There is a large list of areas demanding change in contemporary society, but broadly, it seems unkind to my grandparents to claim to live in a worse world. It is popular to say at a party, but 2016 does not have a nickel on 1348, 1814 or far too many 20th century dates to list.
I think history tells the story that whatever kind of day it has been, tomorrow holds the possibility for being a better one. Whilst certain radicals would attribute this to individualism and others would credit collective action, I remain optimistic that whatever is behind relative prosperity will constantly work for tomorrow to be better. It may not. Things can go south at any moment and they do. Market failures, military coups and labour exploitation are not tough to locate in world headlines. Be it radical or incremental, my character and history tells that the point is to change and do better than before. I am optimistic not only about my character continuing to do better, but the human race. On its own, this thinking doesn’t change the world, but it is not a bad starting point and my beauty sleep is not complaining either.
I have gotten to a point where I am suitably self-aware to say that I am happy, with good friends, a great family and a starry-eyed gaze into the future. Things will go wrong I am sure. However, they will also, with some work, and the tools I have described, get better.