See, the thing about “happiness” post-millennium (or perhaps post-Bush) is that it is relegated to something either nonexistent or superficial. Happiness seems to be exist only in game shows, or in children or, perhaps, the uneducated. It seems to be the new religion, this “happiness;” it seems to be the opium of today’s masses (well–I’d say that the happiness is a result of the actual opiate: reality television, sitcoms, marijuana legalization, and Fox News). For the highbrow elite, intelligentsia, academe, etcetera, happiness is the unattainable light. There needs to be a tragic flaw, and the complexities of this era necessitate that the lack of happiness is precisely that hamartia.
Everything “smart” is, after all, sad. Take a look at anything being taken seriously, nowadays. If it’s not sad about the state of the world, it is sad about existence. If it’s not disappointed at human consumption, it is disappointed at the result of non-consumption (economic! failure!!!). If the book does not end in love lost, it is not memorable; if it ends happily together, it gets dismissed as mainstream or archaic or fantastical or unrealistic or a combination of all of those. See, if you want to be taken seriously, you must be equally serious about everything imaginable. Even humor be interlaced with tragedy for it to be more legitimate, perhaps taking seriously Vonnegut’s first essay in A Man Without A Country: “…a great deal of laughter is induced by fear.”
But then Vonnegut, who was most known for social critique and dark humor through his writing, also had this to say, in that exact same book:
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'” *
Happiness is ubiquitous, but perhaps misunderstood. Happiness does not need to come in the form of a new gadget, or a happy family, or a fabulous body, or perfection. I’ve been dealing with actual, diagnosed anxiety for years. I’ve been dealing with body-image issues for much longer. I can’t be the claimant for happiness as a universal constant — I’ve hardly the credibility for it. I’m not saying that every fucked-up thing that happens should be met with a smile. I’m not saying that important issues (emotional, social, etcetera) should be ignored for the sake of happiness–this approach to happiness, in particular, bothers me: it stifles, it postpones, it is not happiness at all; it is a farce.
Suffering exists, and exists everyday, but so does happiness. I’m not attempting to trivialize suffering: Typhoon Haiyan was no joke, and neither is Syria, or the sorry state of American politics and Philippine politics (and any politics, if we’re going to be honest). Happiness is in sunshine, in rain, in the snow, on your bed, with you in bed, crying in the corner, getting married at your church, saying “good morning”–happiness is that momentary suspension of reality: a minute, a second, a millisecond of thinking that nothing is wrong and nothing will be wrong in the near, near future. What goes up must come down, but happiness is remembered by your mind’s memory or, if not, by your body’s. That warm feeling? Happiness, most likely. And it is precisely this feeling, the memories of those feelings for those fleeting moments, that grounds and sobers from this culture of apathy and this grim, delirious, highbrow despair.
If you ask me — right now, I’m happy with a cigarette in one hand and my coffee on the other, reading Vonnegut with one eye and maybe fan-fiction with the other, because hey, I’m not that pretentious.
But what the hell. If looking around for happiness ain’t infectious enough, why don’t you try a few beers or maybe a cuppa tea or a cuppa joe? I heard there’s a shitton of happiness in Colorado right now, but that may just be the news. Who knows.
(In all seriousness, do drop me a note/comment if you feel particularly desperate and helpless at the moment. I’m pretty much online all the time, so you’ll be sure that someone will read about your struggles. If it makes you happy, I mean.)