Our Constant Pursuit of Constant Happiness

22 Feb

I read a quote a little while ago that absolutely shook me to the core: “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.”

Think about that for a second. It’s terrifying.

It made me so upset because I realized that a lot of my immediate happiness depends on things I can, & typically do, lose. People leave, experiences end, & moments fleet. And then I am left alone again, typically with a dull pang of sadness.

I guess the only real way of explaining it is considering Christmas Day. You plan, decorate, invite, bake, & get so excited. And then the day finally arrives & seems to go by so fast. Then suddenly, it’s December 26th & you have nothing left to look forward to anymore. The magic has disappeared.

This is how my life has been feeling lately. A roller coaster that builds & builds planning the next party, date, or hang out, only for the steep descent down to rattle me back to normalcy.

In all honesty, I feel like a has-been. Like I used to be so cool. When I lived abroad I had all these wonderful experiences, met so many people, did so many exciting things…& now my life has no true meaning. I wake up, commute, work, commute, sleep.

I know, you probably do the same thing too, right? Well, doesn’t it suck.

How are we expected to live in a state of constant happiness when our lives are so completely bland. Maybe we’re all a little depressed deep down, but we just don’t call it that, instead we brush it off as the average & accept it.

But do me a favor & ask yourself right now: Am I happy?

Personally if you have to think about it chances are you’re not. 

But shouldn’t you DESERVE to be?

Happiness is a strange thing. We are all expected to be it, but in the long run, we don’t really value it. We choose money over happiness, we choose stability over happiness, & we put other’s happiness before our own.

Happiness comes in waves for me. It’s a rush of euphoric emotion that is completely overwhelming, but then the squall dies down & all is still again. And I keep trying to get the rush back. I keep trying to cut corners & mimic previous actions, hoping to get the same effect. I just want to ride that wave forever. But that just doesn’t seem to happen.

Look at this pie chart that represents this idea. For a society that strives for perfection, we sure as hell settle with ‘average’, ‘normal’ & in this case ‘pretty happy’ real fast. It’s a strange concept. Is it truth, or just modesty? Did 50% of the people surveyed mentally negotiated to themselves before responding? Negating out things like crippling debt with young grandkids before shrugging & saying “I guess pretty happy”.

Is that really acceptable?

Maybe it’s just American.

It wasn’t until I visited Europe that I realized the belief of constant happiness was a very American concept. We are the unwavering optimists of the world. We do promote that good old ‘American Dream’ after all! We are told at a young age to try our best & we will be victorious, that we can be anything we want if only we push ourselves hard enough.

Well, what is ‘enough’?

Where does the line between our capabilities & incapability begin? And is it ever okay to accept that? Can we just be content with progress or growth instead of always pushing the limits to be ‘the best’?

Let me tell you, spending time in some fairly pessimistic countries is rough for a born & bred American optimist. People don’t automatically say ‘good’ when you ask them how they are & a plastic smile is certainly not the best remedy for a broken heart.

And it’s pretty off-putting. So we label the French as “rude” or Czechs as “unhappy”, but America, how many of us, the great nation pumped with smiles, high fives & gold stars just for participation right out of the womb are really not as chipper as we seem?

Apparently a whole lot. I mean why else would there be a multi-billion dollar anti-depressant industry? Where a simple pill, the quick flick of a pharmaceutical switch, can have those chemicals balanced again in no time! And before you know it you’ll be dancing & smiling like all those actors in the commercial & so hyped up in a chemical fog that you will never feel down again! (Note: this is only if it WORKS. Some people experience all those pesky side effects including nightmares & increased suicidal thoughts, but you don’t really hear the narrator mention those over all that cheerful music!)

^This is telling you to add more anti-depressants to your anti-depressants in order to cancel out side effects…makes sense.

So while most Americans seek solace in medicating their unhappiness & most Europeans prefer to just wear it on their sleeves sometimes I wonder who is truly happier?

A.) Those who set high expectations & are devastated when they’re not met

B.) Or those with lower expectations who are pleasantly surprised when things go extremely well

Guess it goes back to the age old glass half full/half empty debate.

However, who is even allowed to be unhappy these days? Wide spread anti-depressant access wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t some sort of stigma associated with unhappiness in this country. Personally, I believe there totally is. Self-help book readers receive sympathy, therapy attendees receive judgement & no one truly wants to hear how you actually are today.

Let’s face it: Unhappiness/Depression/Long periods of sadness = weak. 

You are admired more for putting on a brave face & living an absolute lie no matter how much you may hurt deep down. You’re strong, actually. And this polite game of sweeping one’s dark emotions under a socially accepted rug is all fine & well until it becomes deadly. 

This is 17-year-old Draven Rodriguez.

He gained fame for his laser cat yearbook photo, something that he insisted be published to mirror his unique sense of humor.

Draven Rodriguez killed himself this past Thursday.

The details are still unclear, but it was definitely suicide. However, family & friends do not paint him as those gloomy ladies moping around in anti-depressant commercials. He was “vibrant” & “made friends everywhere he went”. He was a member of anti-bullying campaigns & had “an incredible mind”.

He was also, like most suicide victims, quietly suffering. And now he is just another statistic. Another story that will never be told because there was no one to listen or possibly no one he thought would listen. 

Although this is an older graph, it does show an interesting trend. In 2007, the most populous demographic killing themselves was arguably the most privileged in U.S.A.: a white male, ages 45-59/30-44. Each instance is different, but what could have been the cause of this? Was it the pressure from their jobs? The stress of being a father? Or was it because these are people who are least allowed to be ‘depressed’ in our society. I mean afterall, I don’t see too many anti-depressant commercials depicting an attractive 30something buisnessman who needs to be wound up again.

Maybe it’s because this is when a man reaches his prime, & is expected to be his strongest. He is typically settled in his career, & a real family man or provider of a household. But it is a demographic that is also anticipated to feel the most pressure & unhappiness.

Do you know who else fit this demographic?

And just like Draven Rodriguez he would also be described by his sense of humor, uniqueness & overall big personality.

But Robin was sadly so much more than what we all saw. He battled a dark side that society did not allow him to express. So he hid it with a smile & humor until it tragically consumed him. And this seems to be happening all too often. 

We need to realize that happiness is just not an everyday thing.

It comes in moments & experiences. In little exchanges or encounters. In warm breezes, or yummy meals, or laughs with friends. And then, just as soon as happiness comes–it can leave.

As is sadness. It is real & painful. It causes tears & anger & emotions that cannot constantly be pushed to the side. Humans are designed to experience a wide spectrum of feelings, it is our nature. It is healthy.

However, we need to create a society where we can express all of these emotions in a safe environment. Instead of prescribing & diagnosing, we need to learn to speak & listen. Instead of shaming others we need to SUPPORT others. Then watch how much the suicide, mass shooting & bullying statistics go down.

So yes, right now in my life I am not jumping up & down 24/7 with happiness, but I am not crying myself to sleep every night with unhappiness either. I realize that happiness can only truly exist if unhappiness does as well. There must be a balance. Unhappiness must exist in order to appreciate fleeting moments of happiness. And happiness must exist so it gives us hope that this life really is worth living. And only then is when we can find inner peace.

JG 🙂

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