Sunday, 17 July 2011

The View from Here

A view has never been at the top of my list of priorities when choosing somewhere to live. While I'm certainly going to be sad if the mooted plans to demolish the building across from my apartment in Budapest go ahead and I lose my vista of uneven roof tiles, it wasn't that vista that made me choose the flat to begin with.

But I know a view is important to plenty of people. In fact, a number of my friends like nothing more than to show me theirs - and, as a result, I've often stood looking out through their various windows, pretending to have my breath taken away by distant mountains, panoramic landscapes or cross-sections of medieval cities. I'm aware that, for many people, what they see from the rooms they live in affects how they feel about the place in which they spend their days.

I have to admit though that, until today, I didn't really understand the satisfaction a good view gives. Then I read these lines of Auden's:

'...though one cannot always
Remember exactly why one has been happy
there is no forgetting that one was.'

I instantly agreed with Auden about happiness enduring in the memory, yet it seemed to me he could have gone further in what he said. Not only is happiness almost always remembered; it is frequently the actual remembering itself that first makes you aware that you felt the emotion.

At least, that's the way it's been for me on too many occasions - letting some forgettable worry  (did I lock the front door, did I leave the stove on?) dominate my attention, I haven't noticed the pleasure I feel. Only later, recalling the moment, I've recognised that I was happy. Peering through the window of memory, I've been thrilled by the distant view.


  1. I can count the number of times that I've experienced pure, unadulterated happiness as an adult on one hand. Normally, I find myself in the role of an observer, analysing what place a particular experience will occupy in the narrative of my life, questioning whether my emotional response has been appropriate.

    Under these conditions a trip to the Grand Canyon is disappointing, but a students' end of year show at Hastings Art College is exhilarating.

    Happiness, or the nearest thing to it, seems to come when I'm least expecting it.

  2. Steerforth - I know exactly what you mean. I suppose one question is, are we actually meant to be happy? Does happiness fulfil a function or is it more useful for our survival to be anxious, self-doubting, neurotic et cetera?