I never thought of myself as someone that gets low in the winter, never noticed any tangible drop in my mood as winter encroaches on the daylight and the temperature lowers, but there’s no doubt that there is an upswing in my mood when Spring arrives.
I was walking through the high street this week with my headphones on, just bimbling home with my hands in my pockets when a guy started waving his arms at me manically. When I stopped and took out my earphones he seemed almost surprised that he had managed to get my attention, but then he gestured at a girl stood next to him and she timidly asked if I had a minute to talk. She had a lanyard around her neck, a tablet in her hand and she was stood next to a display for a charity.
The thing with charity workers, in my experience, is that they are about the nicest people you could possibly hope to meet. I think it takes a certain kind of person to do that work. A fierce commitment to cheerfulness is probably the best way to endure being ignored by almost everyone you say hello to. And they are almost professionally obliged to tell you you don’t look your age when they ask for your date of birth. We all know it’s just part of the game, but it’s still nice to hear.
She started going through her pitch, telling me about the charity and how it relies on wonderful, generous people like me to be able to do the good work that it does and I was all full of the joys of spring, feeling the uplift from that winter sadness that I didn’t realise I had been suffering through, so I agreed to sign up. There is always a moment of slight confusion when you agree to donate. In that moment, as she recomposed herself, I decided that as soon I was done signing up for this charity that I would go to Gregg’s to buy an iced finger and my mood stepped up two more notches.
I think there are three phases to talking to a charity worker. If this sounds cynical I don’t mean it to. I know that they have a hard time and there are certain strategies they need to employ. First they just try to get you to stop and acknowledge them, then they are polite and complimentary and interested in you in a practiced, scripted sort of way, but then if you agree to sign up with them all that lifts and you can share a genuine, close moment where the two of you are in it together, doing something positive and unselfish.
She asked me my title. ‘Is it Sir? Lord?’ I laughed. ‘I’m not a Lord yet,’ I said. When we had finished and I was all signed up for her charity I walked home. It was just after five, the bustle of the high street had thinned a little, and I had a bit more of a spring in my step. I had been in a good mood before but now I had a sense of pure, relaxed calm. Of having done something simple, but good. Of having made a fractional but positive difference.
People who think money can’t buy happiness just haven’t figured out what to spend it on. That same evening I bought the new expansion to a video game I like and all I felt was spenders regret. All I could think was that there was no way that could possible be the best use of my money. I never think that about the trivial sums I give to charities. About those, I think the opposite.
The next day I was walking home through the high street again and they were back in the same spot. She saw me coming and gave me a little wave. ‘Good evening, my Lord,’ she said. I stopped and we chatted again. She asked after my day, I asked after hers, and we made idle small talk like a couple of conspirators righting the wrongs of the world one small, monthly donation at a time. Then I put my headphones in and walked home through the fine spring afternoon weather.