This year has been intensely productive. What it has not been, however, is happy. I’ve been miserable – almost insurmountably so – at least since January. Days and moments of happiness have most certainly been present, and I’ve felt a sense of satisfaction with my accomplishments, but no, I haven’t been happy.
Coming to terms with that simple reality is difficult for me for two reasons. First, acknowledging that I am deeply depressed brings to mind all the struggle I’ve had with depression, and the general sense of helplessness I feel there. Second, complaining about my own happiness seems superficial to me. It feel as though my pursuits are aimed at meaning – acquiring resources that will allow me to help others – and that “meaning” is really what I should be aimed for.
Happiness vs Meaning
That’s the question, at the end of the day: Meaning or happiness? The two, so often interwoven, do serve different ends, take different paths, and result in a different priority set – and thus lifestyle. My training in life has split my motives. I have been told that I am not good enough as a person; this means I must prove, through meaning, that my life has a purpose. I have been told that joy is the meaning of life; this means that happiness is really what I should be pursuing. I have been told countless things, all contradictory.
In the end, it comes back to me. What do I want? And is what I want healthy? If I want a life of meaning that requires me to sacrifice my own happiness, is my motive self-destruction – or just a freedom from overwhelming guilt and pain brought in by other sources? Have I given up on happiness as an end to itself because I see it, so often, as unobtainable?
But I have been happy before. Beyond “small bursts” of happiness in my life, I have had long stretches where I felt – for the most part – free from depression. I know it’s possible. But is it my top priority? This first entry of mine is an attempt to convince myself that happiness is worthwhile.
Happiness as a Worthy Aim
I will define happiness here in the simplest possible terms: A state of being that creates emotional, psychological, and physical sensations that we as humans recognize to be “positive” – with positive being a highly personal term.
Happiness is not limited to the physical state of happiness. A bliss-causing pill that debilitated me would cause great unhappiness. Even if I was experiencing the chemical sensations of happiness, there would be a psychological and emotional sense of something lacking. So we are talking about a broader sense of fulfillment, with all its ties to – and at times necessary sacrifices of – happiness.
It is easy for me to say that I don’t deserve happiness (and, on my darker days, even feel that I deserve unhappiness). The reality of humankind is that we don’t deserve much of anything. If we are the products of a deity, we certainly don’t deserve happiness. If we are the products of chance, life is still not our fault. We are effects, not causes – at least to start. It seems that we are born in debt.
Religions have said that debt is owed to a creator being, but for the life of me I can’t figure out which deity that should be. Shiva or Rama or Thor or Zeus or God? Buddha or nature? Myriad Gods or just one? And the concept of being in debt varies from faith to faith has well.
I’m getting side-tracked. The point is, no one deserves to be happy in this really pragmatic, cause-and-effect sort of way. Yet the most common aim for humankind is, indeed, to be happy. I’m not going to worry about causes and conditions here. We just want to be happy, at least for the most part. But does that happiness interfere with something more?
Yet how can there be something more if what we want, as a collective, is happiness? What would “more” be oriented toward? If there was a choice to be made that made everyone unhappy, but for some greater “purpose,” what could that purpose possibly be? It seems that the only circumstances in which happiness can and should be traded is when a greater happiness – such as happiness or continued life for more people – is on the line.
To this end, with happiness as the universal value (with acknowledged exceptions and, most certainly, varied definitions of happiness), there are several potent arguments to make on behalf of pursuing ones own happiness as the ideal.
6 Arguments for Happiness
1) Happiness is its own value.
If we assume that happiness is the ideal state for humankind, then pursuing one’s own happiness is good simply because it increases the overall happiness present in the world.
2) Providing an example of happiness as a core value.
Many in today’s world make themselves miserable on behalf of some other aim (profits, worthiness, etc.). However, these attempts are often misguided pursuits of happiness itself. By prioritizing happiness as its own aim, you create an example of that priority structure for those you care about – and most notably you create habits that will be an example for your children.
3) Happy people make others more happy.
If you are more happy, you’re naturally more resilient and able to help others through issues, distract them in a positive yet fulfilling way, and otherwise assist in their happiness.
4) Happy people, statistically, produce more.
While it’s important to see happiness as its own pursuit, those concerned with productivity and meaningful work should be assured that those who are happy statistically produce more; they are capable of maintaining focus, energy, and vision for longer, and resisting a sense of being overwhelmed or helpless, in ways that the unhappy can’t.
5) Happiness allows for greater clarity.
There’s a great body of research, not to mention an impressive array of philosophy, that agrees that humans are wired to pursue happiness. Many of our great problems are maladaptive attempts to find happiness – or resolve blocks to it. By seeking happiness, we can overcome these maladaptive traits, poor habits, and pathologies that would otherwise fog our vision.
6) Happiness extends lifespan.
Presuming that life is power, and that the ability to change this world effectively ends at death, than continued impact is diminished by unhappiness. Happiness typically leads to better fitness, lower rates of heart attack, fewer self-destructive habits, etc. Again, the math simply makes happiness a more pragmatic choice.
My Happiness Journal
In my personal pursuit of happiness, I’ve made many discoveries and had plenty of setbacks. I still don’t know how to juggle them all. As I start to make concrete efforts in my life to improve my personal happiness, I will keep a journal. Any tips, suggestions, or thoughts are welcome.
It seems that the objective in most lives I see is simply to be happy. I can respect and admire this, and support it as a fine pursuit.
However, there is a common misperception that states that happiness is the freedom from unhappiness. As a result, our culture has begun an orbit around a relief from unhappiness that features a wide array of solutions that are less than healthy.
Caffeine is an ideal example. What caffeine does isn’t making you more awake. It simply makes it so you don’t feel the effects of being tired; the stress reaction it induces forces your body to be alert despite a need for sleep.
Alcohol and marijuana do something similar for stress, anxiety, and general emotional weight, and even sexual experiences, certain romantic relationships, video games, and overeating follow a similar framework: they relieve the pressures of unhappiness that, while they still exist, don’t have to be faced down at that precise moment.
In moderation, I can see this is acceptable, or even a useful step in recuperation. But what must not happen is gaining a belief that such cursory freedom from pain is synonymous with real happiness.
These “solutions” often pose their own problems, and while negative side effects are of note, the biggest issue is that these emotional pain killers fail ot address the root causes of unhappiness. Even if resolved, however, that final state wouldn’t be happiness either. We must also pursue happiness.
But what is happiness? To me, to be happy is to have a meaning-filled life, and I find that meaning in creating quality, having healthy and fulfilling relationships, being physically/emotionally/mentally balanced, and pursuing my art. The novacaine approaches to unhappiness are not only a slim to non-existent part of constructing happiness — they are often deterrents.
So I decline the option to merely be “less unhappy” in my life. Instead, I’m willing to pay the price — even when it includes greater unhappiness for a time — to cultivate real happiness.
Philosophy and religion have tried. We are willing, almost instantly, to place “happiness” on a pedestal. But what is it that has earned this glorified state?
Is happiness an emotion? If so, is happiness just an emotion, and what makes it so positive? So worth having? Is it the release of endorphins? If so, is it just the release of endorphins? What makes it different from merely being drugged?
If I could put you in a state of suspended animation, wherein you did nothing, but you experienced every chemical and emotional symptom of happiness, from now until the end of eternity, would you accept my offer? This is, after all, the ultimate happy ending. Would you say yes?
The streets are lined with burnt out druggies who have answered yes to that question. I’m not one of them.
Happiness is not the same as the emotion of happiness, or the chemical reactions of happiness. It is more than mere sensation. Happiness is an action, not a passive state of being. To be happy is to fulfill your purpose. Purpose is the true attainment of self.
The “self” is a fluid thing, changing from year to year, even day to day. The ego, the illusion of continuity that has been imposed on the idea of self to convince ourselves that what we are is consistent, is not the greatest self. The greatest self – the truest self – can only be found inside the moment. To be happy is to seek to fulfill that self – its wants, its desires, its passions.
There will be no happy ending. There will be no punch line. There will be no final page which assures eternity that we will remain perpetually glorious and right.
Reality is not waiting for us somewhere. It’s here, it’s now, and it’s infinite. Nothing we’ve ever done will vanish. Nothing we are doing will fade. We like to devalue the past in favor of the future, but why? The happiness of the past is permanent and infinite. A good life is the pursuit of this real happiness in every moment.
Sometimes “real happiness” will mean sadness, too. If the self is sad – wants to be sad – is really sad – then the greatest happiness is that sorrow. Happiness, real happiness, will include the full spectrum of emotion.
A dream is not achieved through its attainment, but through its pursuit. Conclusions will not ever be happiness.
Let’s relinquish happy endings. Instead, let’s pursue something better. Happy lives.
I will make this brief (and my next entry will be about the Cali trip again):
Last night I went to a concert (more on this later as well). My date and I didn’t really click (she was cool, don’t get me wrong! But no real spark, and we didn’t seem have much to talk about.). The concert, however, was absolutely killer (I’ll try to link in a couple videos I snapped from Anberlin — wicked stuff).
But I got home, I rested up, and got up for work this morning. I got ready casually, and just felt joyous. I feel really, really good. Euphoric. And why?
Because my life is exactly what I want my life to be. As of my last weigh in, I’ve lost 58 lbs. My job is good, and even if I lost my job, I have a Plan B (and Plan C, and Plan D). My finances are good enough that I can pay my bills, go to concerts, travel, and go out to fancy places when I feel like it. My personal sense of joy and accomplishment are just great. I am exactly who I want to m
And then, on the way to work, I got a speeding ticket. The officer pulled me over. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” he said.
“Yes I do,” I said. “I was going over the speed limit.”
“I clocked you at 33 in a school zone,” he said.
“Yeah, I didn’t realize I was going that fast,” I said. Then smiling, I said “Well, technically, I didn’t realize I was going that fast — then I saw you, and then I realized very quickly that I was going that fast.”
He smiled back “Remembered your speedometer?” he asked.
“Yes sir,” I said. And he wrote up a ticket, and told me I had a mandatory court date.
How did this effect my mood?
Not at all. I still feel awesome! The ticket won’t be a big deal. Everything will work out. I know that. The time for the court date and the $150 to go to traffic school from there? Not a big deal to me.
Why should something as insubstantial as money effect me? Money is a symbol. If I need $150, I can get it. I can work on my businesses and make some sales, I can get rid of stuff I don’t need, I can work a few extra hours and get more on top of my workload. And $150? That’s petty cash.
I want to be forever like the lotus, springing from the water without getting wet. Having the water bead and fall off. That’s what real happiness is. It’s having such a foundation of happiness, and knowing such joy, that you can’t be swayed by the variances of each day. That at the end of the day, no matter what has happened, we still have joy.