Monday, August 30, 2010

The elusive happiness

I had two rather interesting conversations with young people that have left me pondering.

The first... I got a text message that read:

"I have this weird feeling right now. I think they might call it happiness."

As I read this message I pictured the face of the teen behind it.  So often filled with pain, tears and heartache. To think of a smile.  A genuine smile without the added cynicism or forced movement of the face, but one where the eyes laugh is an amazing thing to think of.  Although a second thought came to mind - generated either from my experience or my jaded outlook of the human condition, "will it last?"

The second...I happen to see a twitter update that read:

"Why must nothing ever go right for me? When i try so hard to make everyone happy and i can never get that in return."

 I was instantly drawn to respond to this young friend.  I think, perhaps, it is because I identified with it so much.  I remember a time in my life when I was pretty void of feeling.  There was nothing, good nor bad.  I had great friends, but I felt so lonely even when I was with them.

Perhaps it is my American background that brought to mind the famous words of the declaration of independence concerning the "unalienable" rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".  In both of these young people I see that even though they may be free to pursue happiness, it is a pretty elusive target.  If you were to define happiness what definable characteristics could you give it?  Perhaps we should look past the obvious uncertain statement of my first message and realize that it is hard to know if we're happy, because we don't even really know what happiness is.  All we know is that we want it.  If we have to resort to looking up happiness in the dictionary than our hope of ever really achieving it seems far fetched.

In my own life I have given up the pursuit of happiness.  Here are my reasons:

1. It takes too much to maintain.  I may feel happy when I buy the new car, but the feeling quickly fades when I get the car payment.

2. It relies too much on expectation.  The feeling of happiness is very contingent on how people treat me, but if they fail to meet what I expect them to do then happiness is ripped from me.

3. It is too dependent on external situations.  The happiness equation is only in balance when things are under control, and life experience has taught me that life is unpredictable.  If something isn't part of the plan, I will most likely be unhappy.

The very word unhappy is an interesting word in and of itself.  After all if were to define the opposite of happy I would wager most people would say sad, not unhappy.  So if the opposite is indeed unhappy can someone be unsad?  The ridiculousness of that concept appalls me as I write it.

I intend to write a follow up to this with what I have replaced happiness with in my life, but I would love to hear your definition of what happiness is.  Please share.