“Are you happy to be back?”
“Well, I don’t know if want to go that far,” I told my colleague, who had just returned to the university after his summer break. I felt my response had somehow diminished me, as if I had admitted to being a pessimistic, ill-tempered curmudgeon. Perhaps if I had been more quick-witted I could have said something like, I am where I want to be and that’s important to me. That would have been truthful. But happy?
I distrust happiness and have reservations about its long-term importance. I waiver between envy and disbelief in response to people who seem perpetually happy. I think some people, maybe women more than men, act as if they are happy out of a sense of social expectation. A few are simply lying through their teeth, some are delusional, some are happy only because they are drugged, and others are con artists who understand that many other people are so broken, lonely and gullible that they will empty their pockets for you as long as you smile and tell them how lovely they look today. Yet the fact remains there are people who seem genuinely happy. In some cultures, they are recognized as saints and holy people. The Dalai Lama comes to my mind almost immediately. So it’s possible, even if it’s rarer than many of us would like to admit.
Don’t misunderstand me; I have experienced happiness, for instance, at the recognition of a close friendship or the realization of my love for someone. I have known moments of happiness during a wilderness trek, a long run, or whitewater raft trip when my body in motion is in rhythm with my immediate surroundings and my mind is uncluttered. I have wallowed in happy bliss listening to a small combo when its members reach an aesthetic synchrony. But that happiness is always fleeting. Those little epiphanies, when an exquisite order is palpably felt, erupt on their timeline, not mine. They cannot be planned but only appreciated and I try to milk their memory as often as I can. However, sustained happiness, say, for more than 30 minutes, well that’s venturing into the realm of the personal unknown.
Many of us raised in the United States believe happiness is our birthright. After all, the Declaration of Independence, one of the essential statements of the American mythology, claims that “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” is an “inalienable right.” However, pursuit is far different than possession and that critical distinction has been intentionally blurred by corporate hucksters and their propagandists in the service of an economy based on orgiastic consumption and the illusory notion that happiness can be packaged and sold.
The way I figure it, the expectation of happiness is the number one source of my happiness. Happiness, by extension, requires that I smash the idea that I am I entitled to it while honing my ability to fully appreciate it whenever it suddenly, almost magically arises.