The Happy Lie
If Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy!
But a mother is only as happy as her least happy child.
And a husband is only as happy as his wife (and vice versa).
So, if everyone’s happiness is contingent upon everyone else’s, shouldn’t everyone either be very happy or very unhappy at any given time?
And are we not noticing that this is the very distillation of crazy?
The happiness industry is rotting, if only in my cranky little mid-life brain. What is all this endless caterwauling about happiness?
Why aren’t I, when will I be, how do I get — happy?
When did this become a thing to pursue? (Yes, I know about the Declaration of Independence — I’m cranky, not clueless.) Why does everyone think they are owed buckets of happiness, why are they all telling me how to be happy and implying that I should be happy at all?!
The great masses buy books about it, they read blogs and watch videos about it. I’m guilty, I’ve been sucked in by the silly, shiny promise of easy happiness.
“Oh, you mean I can just be happy? There’s a trick, a miracle, a whispering mantra to accomplish this nebulous abstract thing that will magic away all that is not happiness?”
I say bullshit. Shit directly from the bull.
Did you know that there’s a thing called the Happiness Index? There is actually a list of countries that are happiest (the unhappy are at the bottom — surprise). Yes, even happiness is competitive and gets a list of winners and losers. Norway currently tops the list, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. There’s supposedly real science here — wealthy countries with friendly, functional governments are always happiest, whereas poor, war-torn, scandal-ridden countries fall nearer the unhappy mark.
People get paid to tell us these things.
What about that Norwegian guy who broke his foot and dropped his cell in the dishwater? Or the Swiss miss whose manic Danish boyfriend just took a dump in her living room (and her heart, for that matter)? They are not happy, in spite of their Nordicness. Perhaps they were last week, perhaps they were ecstatic when the Happiness Index questionnaires were making the rounds, but they are so absolutely not happy now.
And, conversely, you cannot tell me that there isn’t happiness — lots and lots of it — in India, a country that sits at #122 this year on the list. Perfect fleeting moments in ordinary days make people over-the-moon happy all the time, all over the world. That is my belief.
Isn’t happiness a thing sort of like the wind, blowing in and out at whim, breezy now, still now, a gale now? If humans pay attention — humans everywhere, in every situation — don’t we find fleeting moments of something we could call happiness?
I’ll not argue the fact that there are humans, everywhere, for whom happiness is elusive, unknown even. Humans who feel as if they live, and may well live, at the bottom of someone’s boot. Humans who suffer the injustices meted out daily by other humans. That’s enough to make everyone unhappy, no matter where you are on the index.
But how can there be happiness without unhappiness? That would just feel like — tepid. Like dry toast. Mediocre, nothing. Not bad, not good.
How can we imagine that happiness is something to be quantified, qualified, measured? It’s so fleeting and makes little sense.
For instance, I live a life — an American life, #14 on the Index (you’d think we’d be higher, what with the pursuit of and all) — that outwardly shows no reason at all for unhappiness. I want for none of the basics, I have love, friends, relative health. Food, wine, song — it’s all here. And yet, I find ways to be unhappy. I feel unhappy sometimes and then I feel guilty about that, which makes me feel more unhappy.
And on the flip side, I have moments of perfect giddy happiness when there are things around me that might not seem happy-making. Miscellaneous pain, illness, money woes, struggling kid, mold — it’s a long list, you have one, too. But happiness will bubble up from this seeming cesspool of potential misery — unbidden and unexplained, like a kind of madness.
OH, wait! — I feel happy!
How can such a crazy little unexpected gift be captured and analyzed? Are we so arrogant as to assume that we have much control over, or understanding of, happiness?
Yes, we can get in touch with our perfect pure selves (good luck), we can practice gratitude (good idea), we can give and love and smile and sing and it may connect us to some current of happiness. But that can happen to anyone, anywhere — even in poor Togo, which hovers near the bottom of the unhappy list. There’s a happy guy in Togo, I’m willing to bet. Perhaps Togo needs a little help and I can’t imagine the announcement that they are happiness losers makes anyone feel better.
Lost in all the straining and striving for this elusive high called happiness is a small, but key, truth.
It’s a lie.
We’ve been sold a lie about this great big theatre piece we’re all briefly part of. We should, none of us, be chasing happiness. We should, I think, seek contentment. Seek peace, calm, kindness and safety. Slow down, smile at a stranger, enjoy your tea but let it cool a bit.
Contentment is the prize — if you have relative contentment woven through much of your time here like a gold thread, you win. You will have highs (happiness) and lows (unhappiness) — they are not to be avoided and there’s not much to be done about them.
Life, you know.
Contentment, however — that just requires a deep breath, a moment, an appreciation of the loopy mad wonder of it all.
Calm down, stop the chase, enjoy the view. This is it.