What I'm really tired of, these days, is being told to be happy. I'm not sure if it's my generation in particular that's constantly inundated with the happiness message, or if it's just the way of the world in general, but I wish it would stop. Choose happiness, they say. Just Be Happy--in a pretty italic font--glares from a mug in the break room. Do More of What Makes You Happy! This, from the title of a self-help article.
Listen, it's not that I'm already a curmudgeon at the age of 25. That's a whole separate issue. It's just that the idea of being happy all the time sounds really dull to me. Happy is a shallow emotion. It's a little flimsy, a little too light, a little too short-term. Chasing happiness sounds like a terrible way to live, and kind of boring too.
The problem is that happiness as a life motto leaves no room for the beauty and depth of all the other things life delivers, all the joy and sorrow, deep contentment and quiet melancholy, that make up the crests and troughs in the waves of our lifespans. Without any sadness, would we recognize happy when it comes to find us?
And moreover, is a happy life really the end goal? To me, it isn't. All the things that sustain me, the things I love and need, often don't make me happy.* Writing, for example, doesn't make me happy, and yet it's the most valuable and fulfilling thing I do. Writing is the thing that feeds my hungry soul, it's the expression of the engine within me, the way I make sense and peace with the world. But when I sit down with a pen and paper, or with my fingers hovering over the keys, I wouldn't describe the feeling as happy. My dog doesn't always make me happy, but I wouldn't trade Cedar's sweet, whiny presence in my life for ten thousand moments of happiness. Volunteering with a team of 8-year-olds doesn't always make me happy, and yet I continue to give my time, because it is important to me to empower these little girls to live brave and bold lives.
I don't want a happy life. I want a life full of meaning, one the spans the width and breadth of experience. I want more I ask myself not if this will make me happy, but rather will it be meaningful. Writing is meaningful, working with my dog in the field is meaningful, volunteering is meaningful. I will always hold up the things I do, the pursuits of my heart, hands and mind, against the scale of meaning. Does it give me purpose? Does it bring me any joy? Am I a better person for the experience, highs and lows and everything in between? Does it teach me, can I learn? Is it something that connects me to my community, my habitat and my family? These are the things I'd like to be bombarded with, the questions I think we should ask ourselves. A big life, a bold brave life, won't fit in happy. But it suits meaningful just fine.
In the end, happy isn't so bad. A little happy now and then, little champagne bubbles of happiness, are nothing to scoff at. You'll forgive me, though, for wanting more than a few bubbles every now and then--when I could be swept by a wave.
*You know what makes me happy? Drinking. I'm the giddiest, best, happiest drunk you've ever met. But somehow I think you'd be hard pressed to find a person who says well hell then get after it, pal. Go drink! Drink all the time, in fact. Because that's what makes you happy!