I have written in a previous blog that the most important thing that parents can give to a child is the ability to take them for granted.  This somewhat rueful perspective comes from my experience, as a teenager, of trying to care for both of my parents during their bitter divorce proceedings. How relieved I felt when they both happily remarried and I was free to live my own life.  I had about thirty years, but within the space of two years in the early nineties, each of their partners died. Mum moved up to Sheffield.  Dad, drawing a full war pension for brain injuries sustained while a fighter pilot, continued to live in his house in Somerset, worryingly dependant on the ministrations of a motley assortment of pub friends and racing pals.  Once more I needed to perform my balancing act of care, with each parent again somewhat resentful lest I spent too much time looking after the other.  My Dad died in 2007, just as I was about to get him out of respite after a spell in hospital. Mum is 92 and still alive and living in her flat, although she suffers seriously from dementia.  When I am tired and facing another crisis, another Christmas,  I seriously wish I could have taken them for granted?  But they programmed me well. 


Martin Heidigger has written that concern, which may be felt as pain, deprivation, danger or insoluble conflict, is our emotional answer to the fundamental burden of insecurity in human life.  As a teenager, I was too aware of having to shore up the home base, before I could explore and enjoy the possibilities of my own existence.  Freedom from concern and a kind of happiness are attainable if certain of the fundamental aspects of life, family, friends, steady income can be taken for granted and not questioned. 


It is said that isolated communities living a simple existence away from civilisation in the highlands of Papua New Guinea or in the Amazon jungle are among the happiest in the world.  Are they?  How do we know?  Is this just our projection, the romantic idyll of the simple life?  Perhaps the consistency of their existence, the predictability of the seasons, the cycle of death and rebirth is a deeply reassuring backdrop to the everyday events. But  human beings do not tolerate consistency terribly well.  They easily become bored. 


‘You just take me for granted’ is one of the most common accusations that wives throw at their unconcerned husbands.  One might question why.   Do they have so little self confidence that they need to keep their husbands on the cusp of anxiety just to gain the reassurance they are cherished?  Perhaps a frisson of anxiety is as necessary to keep a marriage spiced up? 


By the same token, perhaps a  challenge is important to maintain interest and stimulation in the workplace.  Humans are so creative because they are so neurotic. Anxiety and depression are the engines of change.  If humans did not believe that life could be better, there would be no progress.  And in progress and change there is a kind of satisfaction, a form of happiness, a feeling of being alive.   


But isn’t the notion that we can take anything for granted just a delusion?   And aren’t we just consoling ourselves with our delusions: the enduring love of our family and friends, the existence of God, the permanence of our job, the security of our savings, the justification of our actions.  Don’t we chose to believe in these because they make us feel secure and give us hope.  So if these things are components of what we call happiness, then happiness is a delusion too?  Yes, of course, but some would argue it’s best not to know that and to live our lives as if it wasn’t.    


When did knowledge and understanding ever make us happy?  Updates on the news, the major events occurring throughout the world is now accessible in our living rooms 24 hours a day.  Does this information make us happy; there never seems to be any good news.  The doctor gives us detailed prognosis of our illness.  Does that cheer us up?  Reality and science are not cheery subjects. They don’t give us hope. We know we are going to die, that there is no evidence for an afterlife, no heaven, no saviour, no Father Christmas, no tooth fairy and the world is going to become uninhabitable in the not too distant future.  Whoopee!  I might as well cut my throat now! 


So Heidigger is right.  Human life is fundamentally insecure.  We need our myths and delusions.  Perhaps in response to my experience as an adolescent,  I became a doctor and a therapist.  Care is what I do!  But this gave me an experience, a perspective on life that has informed my writing and the way I respond to my patients.  I believe in what I am doing.  That’s my delusion and I am hanging on to it. The secret in life is to make our neuroses work for us.