Maybe we’re just meant to be happy.
That may sound a bit simplistic and silly on the face of it. “Duh . . . who doesn’t want to be happy?” Still, when we consider all of the hoops we jump through in order to NOT be happy, it’s kind of amazing. Happiness, for many of us, always seems to be a future event rather than something we enjoy in the present moment.
- I’ll be happy when I finally get out of high school.
- I’ll be happy when I finally get laid.
- I’ll be happy when I get a good job.
- I’ll be happy when I get that new computer.
- I’ll be happy when I get a new car.
- I’ll be happy when I fall in love.
- I’ll be happy when I get married.
- I’ll be happy when I get divorced.
- I’ll be happy when the kids are grown up and I have some time for myself.
And on and on and on. That approach is valid, to a certain extent. We do get some measure of happiness from all of these things and events, but it never seems to last. It never seems like real happiness. It’s like we’re microdosing instead of getting the whole pill.
One of the problems is that we always look at happiness as something that happens to us, rather than something we generate on our own. We see this reflected in the way that we talk about the process. “You make me happy.” Or, “this made me sad.” Or, “I couldn’t believe how happy that made me feel.”
The way we verbalize it sounds like there are these bubbles floating around the universe that we occasionally have collisions with and it changes the way that we feel. “Uh, oh, I just ran into a sad bubble, so I’m sad now.” Or, “Oh, man, that happy bubble felt good. Yay!”
Since we don’t control those sources of happiness, since they’re things that happen to us rather than by us, we never feel as if we control our own happiness. Yes, we can try to maximize our lives so that we run into more happy bubbles than sad bubbles. We can get rid of the negative people in our lives. We can find jobs that don’t totally suck. We can intentionally pick out books or videos that are uplifting, rather than depressing. But that’s still giving that power of happiness away to exterior sources. We’re still just trying to control the exterior sources rather than realize our own ability to be happy just because we want to be.
So a good first step in being happy is to just claim our own emotional states. That means realizing that our happiness, sadness, joy, depression, anger, love, etc. are all things that we are generating ourselves. They don’t come from outside of us – we’re making them up as we go along.
Put another way, it’s not a simple stimulus/response interaction. We don’t have to automatically respond to our life’s events in certain pre-programmed ways. We can – and do – interpret them. We just usually interpret them in a very unconscious way. We’ve been taught that some events are supposed to make us sad and some events are supposed to make us happy and we never stop to question why.
For instance, marriage = happiness and divorce = sadness. We accept that equation instantly, despite the fact that about half the marriages in our country are miserable experiences and divorce often feels like being let out of a prison. As the bumper sticker says, “It is better to have loved and lost than to go on living with a psychopath.”
Now, once we’ve gotten there, when we’re willing to accept that WE are making our own emotions happen rather than colliding with random happy or sad bubbles, then the next step is to actually ask ourselves why we’re choosing those emotions. A good yardstick to use in that process is evaluating whether they’re actually doing anything for us. Are they making our lives better? Are they moving things forward? Are they improving the quality of our lives?
By way of an example, I used to love, love, LOVE my self-righteous anger. If I really, genuinely felt that I was right and someone else was wrong, I was willing to argue all night and fight to the death to defend my position and change the other person’s opinion. I was angry because I had every right to be angry.
In my defense, I don’t think I’m exactly alone in that process. Social media groups often feel like the Five of Wands, where everyone is madly swinging their opinions at everyone else, all of us sure that we’ve got the real skinny on what’s true and what’s not. Our current politics are even worse.
A peculiar thing happened to me, though, where I reached a point of realization that anger just didn’t work very well. It was this sudden revelation that every single time I got angry, it made things worse instead of better. Every single time. Without fail, if I lost my temper I ended up with shit on my shoes and feeling like hell. Far from changing anyone’s mind about the issue we were arguing over, it just convinced them that I was an angry asshole and there was no reason to listen to me.
And so I just gave it up. Sure, I get irritated or impatient, just like any other human being, but I haven’t been angry in several years. Not because I’m some kind of Mahatma Gandhi, but simply because it doesn’t work. It’s like trying to use the wrong key to start your car. If you know it’s not going to work, why would you do it?
In the same sense, sadness and depression are emotions that just don’t work very well for human beings. They make life a lot harder, instead of a lot easier. They freeze us in place and keep us from attaining our goals and feeling connections with life and joy.
They are basically an unnatural act, in the true sense of that term. When we look at young critters, what’s their primary activity? Play. Puppies, kittens, young humans, young apes, any young being gets up in the morning and plays until they’re so exhausted that they fall over. And then they get up and do it again. We’re born happy and we have to learn how to be unhappy.
Now, it’s true that into every life a little shit must fall. We aren’t going to feel happy and positive when someone we love has just died or we’ve just gotten run over by a truck. About 90% of the time, though, NOTHING IS WRONG. That means that in about 90% of our lives, we can make that simple choice of how we’re going to feel: happy or sad? Can you imagine having a life that was 90% happy? Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
It doesn’t have to be some bold, existential statement, either. It doesn’t have to be some phony Pollyanna stance that everything in life is sweetness and light. It can be a simple act of pragmatism. Happiness makes us feel connected with life and our fellow beings. We move forward toward our goals and opportunities for growth seem to appear out of nowhere. Depression makes us miserable and we feel that we have no choices and no growth in life.
In a nutshell, depression doesn’t work very well. Sadness doesn’t work very well. We can give them up, just like a bad habit, because ultimately that’s all they are.