Does cycling make you happy? Does it make me happy? Bear with me.

I saw the Hot Club of Cowtown last night. I could drone on about the ins and outs of hot jazz/western swing, but in some ways all anyone needs to know is that theirs is very happy music.

Happiness is odd.

A mushroom growing in a 'wound' in a tree

A mushroom up a tree. What’s not to like!?

I have trouble imagining myself playing Hot Club of Cowtown recordings when alone. I have trouble imagining them playing live to anything other than a crowded room. Their kind of music and, more broadly, that kind of infectious, good natured, uplifting and happy spirit, is – I thought last night – something that’s only really possible to experience in the company of others. Happiness, in this sense, is essentially, crucially, a shared, communal experience.

I largely cycle alone. I enjoy cycling with friends when it happens, but an important benefit, to me, of cycling is that often it’s just me, alone with my thoughts and free of the distractions of company and communications – electronic or personal.

I had a good ride today, albeit on a fairly average route. My legs were good, the traffic was light, the weather stayed reasonable for the most part; even the final eight or so miles into a stiff headwind wasn’t too soul-sapping.

I spent most of the ride thinking about happiness and that I don’t quite know what it is that I generally experience when I’m cycling, but it’s nothing akin to the happiness of a ‘Hot Club …’ gig.

For a start, I’m alone; I’m also putting in effort, having to deal with hazards, having to be alert and all those other things that are inevitable aspects of riding a bike. I can find myself feeling angry – at pot holes perhaps, or fly-tipping, or something more abstract. And it’s not unusual to find myself with a fairly blank mind – which can be no bad thing at times. But whatever I am when I’m riding, I don’t think I’m ‘happy’.

I know this might be largely – perhaps totally – a question of semantics. That acknowledged though, I am coming to suspect that happiness for humans is something of a shared activity. For me, solo cycling, instead of happiness as such, is all about my general well-being and state of mind; is all about some kind of peace, some kind of mental space, some kind of contentment.

The Hot Club of Cowtown

Incidentally, this was another good gig put on by Empty Rooms Promotions, bringing high quality live music to the people.