Happiness, first world problems and Parenthood


Last night I watched the film Eat.Pray.Love. I know, I know I’m a bit late to the table on this one (the film came out in 2010, the book, 2006). As I mentioned in my recent Little Loves post, I was looking for something relatively frivolous which would take me on a vicarious trip to some exotic places (heaven knows it ain’t going to happen in real life any time soon). Essentially I think I Googled something like “films set in exotic locations” and possibly threw in the word “romance” to make sure I didn’t end up mistakenly watching Bridge Over the River Kwai or some other equally non-frivolous cinematic offering.

What I got was not a piece of fiction, but a memoir. The memoir of writer Liz Gilbert to be precise – a woman who, at the age of 34 decided she wasn’t really happy with her nice life in New York, her husband, two houses and successful writing career, and instead opted for divorce, a brief fling with a younger man and then a round the world journey of discovery to seek out enjoyment (Eat) in Italy, devotion (Pray) in India and then finally, enlightenment (Love) in Bali, Indonesia.

This is a bit of a clichΓ© but I actually laughed, cried and by the end felt something a bit more than “oh what a pleasant film” – just occasionally a story will do that to me – send me into research mode after the credits have rolled, wanting to know more about the circumstances behind the journey, what the protagonist is really like in real life, and how things panned out for her.

I then read a lot of negative reviews which criticise Gilbert for funding the entire journey by pitching it as an idea to a publisher and using a huge advance payment to make it happen. She is also criticised for being a white, middle classed, priveleged first worlder who never really scraped the surface of any of the realities of the countries she visited.

I actually found myself wondering what made her feel so unsettled in what should have been such a happy existence and this put me in mind of Gretchen Rubin and the Happiness Project. Rubin, of course, freely admits that she is priveleged and has lots to be grateful and thankful for and puts her project in this context, pointing out that happiness is not something which anyone simply achieves and then maintains for the rest of their life. Happiness can be fleeting, it is one of life’s highs but no-one’s life is one long high.

The great thing about having money and using it the way Gilbert did, is that she proves it is possible to evolve and learn lessons from past mistakes. Is she a happier person now than she was in her early 30s? I don’t suppose her attitude or outlook has changed, but she has projected herself into a place where the environment she lives in is much more favourable to achieving a happy and balanced life.

The other difference of course, between Gilbert and Rubin is that Gilbert is not a parent, and by all accounts never wanted to be one either. That, for me, is where the inspiration ends because to go on a physical and spiritual journey the way she did – its just not possible with children in tow. And, as Rubin reveals, the day you give birth to your children is not the day you arrive at your terminal destination – a place named ‘Happiness’ – it is just the beginning of another complicated, beautiful, frustrating, wonderful, demanding journey, but a journey where the actual scenery remains the same day in, day out, and that can feel limiting.

Or maybe what this film reminded me of is that I once had a vague notion of ‘one day’ becoming a travel writer – one of those jobs which always strikes me as a ‘dream career’ – and yet I never had enough confidence in my abilities as a writer, my abilities to self-promote or my abilty to survive alone in a strange place and somehow craft a story from thin air.

Maybe what Liz Gilbert reminds me of, despite all of her privelege and money, is that sometimes, you’ve just got to take a leap of faith in whatever shape and from whatever platform.


And then the fun began...

18 thoughts on “Happiness, first world problems and Parenthood

  1. What an inspiring post Sam – firstly for me to watch the film which I too have never seen and secondly to go and live out the dream. Now to work out what the dream is! I think that having children does that to you a bit. As for you, you have an amazing ability to write and could definitely be a travel writer! When your children are a bit older, you should start a travel blog, at least that’s part way there. x x
    Suzanne recently posted…Why I Will Not Apologise to My ChildrenMy Profile

    • I was so happy when I read your comment Suzanne – I’d love to be a travel blogger, I just don’t understand where the funding comes from… It’s all very well a published author to go and make a confident pitch to a publisher and receive an advance but what if you’re not a published author? I’ll have to figure that one out! X

    • It definitely was thought provoking watching this movie Louise, although I’m sure a lot of people take it completely at face value but there is more to it than that. I have watched a few clips of Gilbert in interviews and the like, since and its very interesting to listen to her talk. She essentially advocates that those of us who feel like we have limitations to our dreams just bide our time and “make a plan”, which certainly has its merits. In the meantime I guess we accept that this is the season of our lives in which our happiness is entirely bound up with our children. X

    • I definitely had my reservations about Gilbert’s motivations (or seeming lack of real *story* of her own you know?) – it kind of made it seem a bit vapid at times, especially staying in the ashram in India, but I think she actually did end up having the most amazing outcome and ended up in a happier place and that in itself is inspiring. I think I need to take the first step towards becoming a real writer – it feels like something I have been procrastinating around my entire life. X

  2. Beautifully written. I must admit, I started the book, but never quite got around to finishing it, nor have I ever seen the movie. Now, that I’ve read your post, I’ve got to hunt it down once again (both movie and book) and finish what I started. I have to say, I echo your sentiments about a dream job. I’ve just resigned from my teaching job to take care of my daughter, and have pursued my writing in the meantime. It was a hard decision, but there was something so liberating about taking that first leap. Though, I must say, after the initial jump, it does get a bit more difficult. Confidence wanes with the ebb and flow of writing (and parenting), so it does have its challenge. Would I have it any other way? Absolutely not.

    Thank you for sharing such an enlightening piece, Sam. Wishing you a great rest of the day!
    Maria recently posted…How Motherhood Makes Me RuthlessMy Profile

    • Ah thanks so much for the compliment Maria. I certainly wouldn’t say that this movie says anything profound but what I felt it did was to put us ‘normal’ people on a footing with the protagonist – we’re not all spiritual, mindful, zen, of higher intelligence – we don’t all fall into enlightenment. I think maybe what people like to criticise is that the journey seems very very self indulgent and introspective – selfish even. If she had reached enlightenment by actually going out into the poorer suburbs of India and Bali and volunteering to work with the community then it would have maybe given the viewer more of a warm feeling towards her, but you know, she chose to indulge herself and she got paid very nicely for it and kind of ‘went viral’ with Eat Pray Love which I don’t think she was expecting at all. I think that fact alone makes her humanity shine through. I’ve seen a few clips of her and a TED talk that she gave and she comes across as an extremely likeable and relateable person so I’m happy that she found happiness. Xx

  3. Ooh I do like that film, though the book is better, I love seeing the places she visits. I get why people criticise, she is a bit self involved, but I also find it inspiring. As like you say she was brave enough to take a leap of faith and try to find happiness. We all only get one crack at life so I think we should try. I’ve been thinking lately what I will do in a few yrs, learn something new, try a new career etc and family will always come first but I hope I am brave enough to try something new when the time comes! Thought provoking post as ever my lovely πŸ™‚ xx
    Caroline (Becoming a SAHM) recently posted…All About You Link PartyMy Profile

    • It was weird watching it actually because even at the time I was feeling inspired and entertained but something was definitely a bit off. I guess she does get her friends to buy a poor Indonesian woman a house in the end so it isn’t completely lacking in altruism. I definitely want to do more adventurous travel one day – I think it is definitely more than a physical journey, but a journey of self discovery too. My sister met her husband (of 18 years now!) in Darwin Australia on her year of solo travel. I know you’ve travelled too – it’s worth it isn’t it? Xx

  4. Great post. I really enjoyed the film and went through the same emotions as you. I think she was very brave to give up the life that we are supposed to have and jump into the unknown. I have a little dream of taking a year out and take Oliver to see more of the world, will I ever have the balls? I doubt it but I like the dream πŸ™‚
    LittleOandMe recently posted…Baby products not worth the tears…My Profile

    • I think she gave up a lot but I think at the end of the day she was always going to have something to come back to – it was a career move as much as anything else. I always think its a brave thing to travel alone though. And then you do read about people who take their young children for adventurous sojourns round the world and that seems even more astounding to me! I hope you get to live that dream one day Xx

  5. Indeed, sometimes you really do just have to take a leap of faith… If that means looking back over your shoulder, pooing you pants and then realising that you’ve ACTUALLY done it, well I’m all for that. I suppose I did do that – just not on such a grand scale as Gilbert. Years ago, at a real low of mental health and exhaustion, I took myself off on a singles holiday. Not one of ‘those’ singles holidays but one of being in your own bubble but with companionship if wanted. It was spur of the moment and it was my Eat, Pray, Love… I loved reading this Sam and will keep it in mind to watch/read, thanks.
    Carol Cameleon recently posted…The Ship of Hard Knocks ~ poem #WonderfulWorldofWritingMy Profile

  6. I fondly remember reading Eat, Pray, Love when it came out and really enjoying it.

    She might have found it equally effective to pull her out of her funk to just get outside, help her neighbor rake her leaves, mentor a child, whatever! Do something worthwhile for someone else instead of sitting around wondering why you’re not happier. I guess it wouldn’t have made as good a story as traveling around the world to places that start with “I,” though.
    Jenny @ Unremarkable Files recently posted…Dear Bus Driver: I am So SorryMy Profile

    • Sometimes Jenny, I don’t know whether you’re being serious or not (ie – did you really enjoy it?!). I guess in the end at least she got her friends to buy her new (but poor) friend a house so there’s that? Places that begin with “I” – I see what you did there πŸ™‚

  7. I absolutely loved that movie and its’ great to get so much out of a movie sometimes isn’t it. I cried too and laugh too. Feeling very much the same at the end. πŸ™‚ Great post. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme
    jenny recently posted…Siblings {June}My Profile

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