There are certain aspects of our lives that you can quantify. Winning sport, how many lovers you have had, how much disposable income you have (net worth is a far more intricate process to dissect), how many kids you have had and possibly for some, how many Christmases you have left to enjoy. Now, the latter is obviously the hardest to diagnose and clearly the most worrying thing we all have to put to the back of our minds and deal with. Death is a natural process that we all go through, whether it be our direct bodies leaving this earth for some distant place, be it six feet under or three million miles up, or our pet cicada Johnny presenting itself as a delectable treat to the neighbourhood crow. I don’t have to tell you that it is a scary thought, contemplating a life without a loved one, a friend, a pet or even a world where you are no longer required. However, whilst death is a certainty, happiness is not. Happiness can come and go with people or it may never be present at all. So, can we ever fully gauge that we are currently feeling a particular level of happiness? Of course we can cry for joy when something great happens to us and we can lament at a lost opportunity that has reduced our happiness, but that may just be a temporary pick me up or a lapse in our usual balanced state.
I think I am generally a happy person. Although in saying this, as I get a bit older I have become trapped in this state of youthful ignorance and adult responsibility. Everybody goes through this to a certain degree but it’s probably more attributed to our comfortable upbringing than anything else. I doubt that Mandela, Gandhi or any troubled youth ever really sat around for a few hours and thought, I’ve just watched an entire series of Arrested Development and could definitely watch another but I really should be looking at my Land Law assignment. I know what gives me pleasure but I also know that our society seems to believe in punishing yourself for 1/3 of your day in order to achieve something good (money) so happiness is often an afterthought for keeping yourself busy in order to avoid those extremely lonely and isolated feelings that modern society holds so dear. Okay, that’s dripping with cynicism and of course it is not completely true. Then again, most people do end up working jobs that they do not wholeheartedly enjoy so it is often compensated with a more moderate state of just going about your business.
I know when I am happy. I know when I am unhappy. I’ve been both unhappy and happy today. Happiness in the extreme is the most wondrous feeling, the chemical explosion of pleasure, of contentment, of absolute joy. I had it the first time I jumped on a trampoline, the first time I kissed a girl and the first time I ever achieved something I was truly proud of. But keeping that feeling? We know it cannot last forever, that’s what makes it so special. And then I have been unhappy. Desperately unhappy. A broken heart, an injured body, an injured mind, burying a love one. Fortunately these feelings don’t last forever either. They can be brief or they can be prolonged. The extremities of emotion are rarely shown in public, rarely shown to strangers so it is a difficult one to react to if someone breaks down on a train or grins from ear to ear whilst walking through a busy intersection.
I read an article recently which was alarmingly backward in regard to men showing emotion. The writer did make a fair point when he admonished the rise of fashionable faux emotion in press conferences but I completely disagreed with the general premise of the article. I understand that people still do view emotion as a weakness albeit not nearly as frequently as they used to. Those days when we called a spade, a spade and didn’t worry about whether person B & C were offended by person A’s seemingly innocuous comments. The growth of grief porn, of political correctness smothering free debate and an almost irrational desire to keep everyone on the same wavelength is as damaging as it is liberating. Whilst it is fantastic that people actually give a shit about each other, it often causes legitimate debate opportunities to be squandered for another routine PR exercise. However, within this broader context of whether our feelings are challenging our growth as a nation, we cannot allow outbursts of emotion to be viewed as a weakness. These true expressions are everything that makes me happy (and ultimately unhappy) and they really do enrich everything about society. I get it, there are hypochondriacs out there who will whinge about every little thing possible, like waiting 45 seconds to be served at a bar or witnessing a mild car accident but it’s better than being a boring dickhead who watches 24 hour parliamentary channels or a keyboard warrior who labels a person who appears a little different from the norm ‘a faggot’ or something along those lines.
Anyway, back on point, happiness does not have an equation we can solve and produce an answer to our issues. There are theories, most of them seem to clash when it comes to highly contentious legal drugs like caffeine or alcohol, and some of them are valid but not to the point of being without opposition. My happiness comes from spending time with friends, writing articles that no one reads, listening to good music, reading on the beach, playing footy and basically, anything to do with sex. These are pretty generic pleasures and yet again, they cannot automatically bring me up to a level of happiness where outside contexts don’t bring me down. The context of happiness is contentious as well. I could be doing the thing I love with a heavy heart or seeping rage and it won’t make me happy. It may ease my pain but it won’t make me genuinely happy or even content, it could even make me more upset, more angry, more dissatisfied with the direction of my life. Herein is the conundrum of happiness. Happiness doesn’t have to come from a stimulus but there usually needs to be some sort of context of why you achieve such happiness. Is happiness our natural state or have we become (or always been!), neutral speculators of our emotions?
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
Hemingway quotes are easy to access, he’s arguably the quintessential American novelist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t pull them down from the pedestal and critically analyse them for the sake of my cheeky little blog. Sure, he has an extremely valid point. It is as pertinent as ‘ignorance is bliss’. Was Hemingway referring to happiness in a temporary sense or a more sustained period of immense joy and contentment? I believe I am intelligent. A dreamer, yes, but also intelligent, and as I have stated, I think I’m happy on the whole. Maybe I am not happy in my actual self, just happy when I am surrounded by things that stimulate my senses. I like discovering new things. I’m not rich but I feel I have wealth. And I also have issues. These issues can put in a deeply upset, deeply unhappy state. Not unhappy enough to contemplate the ultimate question but enough to alter my perception of the world. I hate feeling this way. How do I change it? I don’t know…. I just wait. I just look for things to distract me and maybe become happy again. And that is satisfying I suppose. But I don’t usually wake up like that. So, was I born a neutral spectator? Maybe I’ve just developed a sense of optimism and am usually reasonably happy. Obviously people go the other way, even to the point of an extremely dissatisfied self. Can they help that? In some instances, absolutely not. It can be completely out of their control, left to their minds to decide where they are and how they feel.
We seek happiness like we seek companionship. We seek it and we sometimes know where to find it, we sometimes don’t. Nine months ago I was wandering drunkenly along a busy Parisian street where I bumped into a lovely French Canadian girl. We talked, we held hands and then we parted ways. I didn’t really care, I was just happy. I was happy although it wasn’t my expected emotion. So here’s my quote about happiness, take it as you will… ‘Happiness is temporary. It is sometimes surprising, sometimes expected. Sometimes it will stay for hours, other times it will last for seconds. It may come back, it may never return. You can’t buy happiness but you can find it. You can find it but you can’t always keep it, or bottle it up, or grasp it until your final breath and that’s what makes it special.’
Or I could just leave it to the experts;
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
― Albert Camus