I have noticed something… disconcerting.  I notice it when I drive around this city… I notice it as I sit at coffee shops (overhearing the conversations at the tables next to me)… I notice it in the newspapers… on social media… at the check-out queue at the supermarket… and I can’t help but wonder:

Why are so many people so… miserable?

As you may know by now…  I visit a LOT of coffee shops.  We may not spend our money on cable TV or credit card debt… but I have certainly blown an embarrassing amount of cash at coffee shops!

Mostly, I visit coffee shops that have decent play areas and activities for the kids.  That way, I can get in a bit of work… (and some good coffee)… while the kids  run and play with other kids or participate in activities.

On Wednesdays (which is my “ME-Day” – because Adelaide looks after the kids on Wednesdays) – I visit coffee shops that aren’t meant for kids – and Joburg has LOTS of wonderful coffee shops… (with free wifi… good coffee… and yummy cake!).

Here’s a pic of one of my favourites:

Baklava Cheesecake from Tashas.

Baklava Cheesecake from Tashas.

Sorry – I’m going off-topic… (Baklava Cheesecake can make me do that…)


So – when one sits alone at a table at a coffee shop… drawing… or writing…. or whatever.  One tends to overhear a LOT of conversations from patrons nearby.  And I do not exaggerate when I say that at least 70% of these overheard conversations consist of one or more of the following:

  • Gossip and skinner (usually about a relative or friend not in present company).
  • Moaning about jobs and work.
  • Grumbling about money and the costs of living.
  • Complaining about the coffee shop service / food / waiter / decor / music / menu /etc.
  • More gossip (and I mean… the spiteful… UGLY… gossip! – this isn’t merely the discussing-someone-behind-their-back kind of gossip… this is knife-’em-in-the-gut and hock-a-loogie-into-their-eyeball kind of gossip.  This is mean… and VICIOUS gossip).
  • General whinging and bitching about people who are different (to the whinger).  Ie:  different race, different social class, different religion, different sexual orientation, different culture… etc.
  • Jealous Gossip (bitching about people who are, apparently, “too” beautiful… or “too” rich… or “too” clever … or even:  “too happy” (“Just wait, one day, she’s going to catch a proper wake-up call!  Then we’ll see how bouncy she is!”)
  • Worrying and complaining about various health ailments.
  • Worrying and complaining about “the kids”… (whether the kids’ school, the kids’ friends, the kids’ awful fashions, the kids’ stupid teacher, the kids’ lack-of-prospects-in-this-country… etc).
  • And – of course – worrying, complaining and grumbling about the country (in general)… the crime, the government, the taxes, etc… etc..

The above topics are usually held around the “Social Tables”  (Social Tables are friends, relatives or an occasional work colleague – meeting for a social chat).

I also overhear a lot of what goes on around the “Business Tables”.  Usually one (or more) of the following:

  • Moaning about prices… money… costs of living.
  • Bitching about too-heavy workloads (for too little pay).
  • Bit of gossip (but significantly politer than the Social Tables) – usually about a boss or a colleague (not in present company).
  • Grumbling about meetings… and who said what to whom… and what was REALLY meant by it.
  • Complaining about the service / the waiter / the food / the parking / etc.
  • Bitching about the internet connection… the lack of useable plug-points… the waiter’s apparent lack of knowledge on how to “fix” the internet connection.
  • Grumbling and complaining about the country, the laws, the politicians, the corruption, the crime, the tax system, etc…

In a nutshell – I overhear a LOT of moaning, complaining and general misery.  And lots – and LOTS of gossip.  There’s more gossip in coffee shops than there are coffee beans.  They should be called “Gossip Shops” (with some coffee on the side).

But – I was wondering (and I’m still wondering) why I overhear so LITTLE of the following:

  • People complimenting the waiter, the owner, the barista or the chef on a job well done.
  • Uplifting, inspiring stories shared amongst friends.
  • Laughter…  genuine belly-aching laughter (acidic gossip-sniggers not applicable).
  • Intense discussion over an interesting new IDEA… and specifically, ideas that could change the world for the better in some way (people love to bleat about a problem – but it seems that very few of us are willing to take action towards positive change).
  • Exciting plans discussed… whether a new venture, a complete change of life, a family road trip, whatever!
  • Other people (not in present company) affirmed and valued (which is basically the opposite of gossip).
  • Ideas or campaigns to do something positive about the state of the country… or the state of the world.

Why are so many of us so MISERABLE?

And negative?

I mean – Jeez!  Is life SO awful?

Have we become SO blinded to the beauty around us (and the privileges that we have) – that all we seem to see and acknowledge is everything that is WRONG with the world… and WRONG with others… and WRONG with ourselves??

If anything, my many hours in coffee shops overhearing many poisonous conversations (with a few, rare, happy conversations slotted in-between)… has taught me a thing or two about humanity and about myself.

I don’t want that to be me.

I don’t want to be that person with poison flowing like lava from my mouth (and attitude)…

And I will admit – that on many occasions, that HAS been me.

I have gossiped.  I have whinged about problems.  I have been a misery.  And yes – I understand that everyone needs to vent a bit… and rant a bit… and get some stuff off their chest… (and I’m not saying that we should never be angry or upset).

But…it seems to me that many people have their default setting stuck on “Miserable”.  And for me – that’s such a shame.

And (did I mention?)… I don’t want that to be me.

I want to laugh more… celebrate more… be thankful for this precious life… grateful for every moment that I’m alive.  I want to continually be aware of how fortunate I am… how blessed I am… how many beautiful people are a part of my life… how many amazing ideas and solutions are waiting to be discovered and embraced!

And I want to discuss those ideas… and solutions… and figure out ways to initiate, implement and create positive change…

I want to laugh… huge, belly-aching howls of joy… with tears!  (my cousin Clare is one of the people who makes me laugh like that… I really need to see more of her!)

I want to cry – because I’m deeply moved or touched by something or someone (I don’t want to become immune or indifferent to the stories of others).

I want to be generous with my smiles, my time, my money, my talents and my life.

I want to be known as a “giver” – not a “taker”…

I want to be known as a “doer” – not a “complainer”…

These are big “wants”, I know (and they’ll take a fair amount of change, growth and attitude adjustment).  But I also know what I don’t want:  I don’t want people cringing when they overhear MY coffee shop conversations.  I don’t want to infect others with my bitterness and resentment.  I want to be a HAPPY person – not just for my wellbeing… but also for the wellbeing of others.

I have just finished the book, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert – and of (the many) nuggets of truth that struck me…  this particular quote hit a nerve:

“I keep remembering a simple idea my friend Darcey told me once – that all the sorrow and trouble of this world is caused by unhappy people.  Not only in the big global Hitler ‘n Stalin picture, but also on the smallest personal level.  Even in my own life, I can see exactly where my episodes of unhappiness have brought suffering or distress or (at the very least) inconvenience to those around me.  The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world.  Cleaning out all your misery gets you out of the way.  You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else.  Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people”.


I concur.

I think that happiness is the first step towards making the world a better place!

Who’s with me?