Your Happiness is Ruining My Life

I’m kidding. Your happiness probably has no bearing on my life whatsoever.

But on waking yesterday morning, incredibly congested, head fuzzy with a cold, I couldn’t help thinking that my friend’s happiness was totally ruining my life. It was her wedding that evening, and feeling ill and far too sorry for myself, the last thing I wanted to do was get dolled up to attend a massive celebration and act all happy and shit.

This post is about the meaning of happiness. Really profound stuff.

I bring this up today because at this very moment I’m not suffering from a surfeit of the stuff. I went to the wedding (which was lovely), stayed far too long and talked myself hoarse. I even did a bit of dancing. Despite my discomfort, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The next morning I’m tucked into bed with both the aforementioned cold and case of laryngitis.

On the menu today: endless cups of fresh ginger tea, bottomless bowls of bland vegetable soup, and general unhappiness.

So, happiness.

Pretty much all of us strive to obtain it, most of us have no idea what exactly it consists of, and frequently the things we want most in life end up being the hugest obstacles to achieving it.

I’m not the most philosophically minded person, but several months ago a woman was posted on a street corner by the side entrance to our apartment asking people what “happiness” meant to them for a conceptual art project she was working on.

Since she wasn’t trying to wrangle my credit card information out of me for monthly contributions to some charitya I stopped to chat when she asked me.

Happiness is such broad concept that what it means from one person to another can range from the gut-wrenchingly poignant to the utterly mundane.

Those everyday experiences that bring you joy are easy to pinpoint: Your first coffee of the day. Having your cat fall asleep on your lap. If you’ve spent the past three hours gardening in the sun, happiness is a cold glass of water. After running errands all day at a frantic pace, happiness is finally getting home — just placing the set of keys on the console in the hallway feels fantastic. Not to mention getting into pyjamas — oh, the glee of getting into pyjamas! Having a really good bowel movement. Riding a bicycle down an incline on a sunny day. Happiness is the giddiness I feel when the Jackson 5’s “Want You Back” plays on the radio.

The conceptual elements of happiness are more difficult to grasp; it’s an irritatingly vague concept. Wikipedia (which is pretty much the arbiter of all encyclopaedic knowledge) defines happiness as “a mental or emotional state of well-being characterised by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.”

That’s a pretty dry definition of something all of us are desperate seeking. It’s disappointing because it doesn’t tell you how to find it. But that’s exactly what we have philosophers and gurus and self-help authors for, right?

My answer to this odd happiness question?

That it can be a constantly elusive creature — at least it used to be for me — because I was never happy. I would tell myself that once I did X or once I got to Y, I’d be happy. But there was always one more milestone to reach, there was always one more accomplishment to attain. And once I would reach my goals, well, there I was, not at all as pleased as I had thought I’d be.

Happiness is shutting out all that nagging driveb and the anxiety that comes with it; happiness is utter contentment in the moment.

Ok, so I’ve been going to lots of yoga classes recently and it kind of shows. I promise I’ll be less cheesy next time.

Still, happiness is some serious stuff.

  1. Not that giving to charity is bad, it is very good — in fact I encourage it — but those people who ambush you on the street are a nuisance. I’ve found the key is to not make eye contact with them.  (back)
  2. Hopefully not to the total detriment of ambition.  (back)