The Jays had just embarrassed the hell out of the Atlanta Braves. Luke and I had chosen our destination*, determined our timing, and planned our entire trip around seeing the team that he has watched, at the least convenient times possible, since he was three years old. Still, walking into the cold night air surrounded by drunk people Rasmus jerseys gave me a weightless, infinite feeling that could only be described as happy.
I’ve never been into self help books and my daily writing tends to verge on goofy than particularly profound. I groan at the endless streams of slogans on Pinterest that are supposed to motivate me to #eatclean or #livelovelaugh. Happiness is hard to write about because putting your feelings down in a meaningful way means others have something concrete to tie your happiness to. After all, it’s a dangerous, offensive thing to imply that at any point in your life you were anything less than happy.
Even without realizing, so many people hold other people’s happiness as a currency of personal value. I have one of those doting personalities that are obsessed with fixing emotional turmoil even if I know that picking the right movie or taking someone out for dinner isn’t actually the answer. Even the most hardened person, the one who says they don’t care what others think, would be left questioning if their partner, best friend, parents confessed to not usually being happy right?
It’s completely irrational to assume that happiness is a natural state. Happiness is portrayed as something that naturally occurs when all of your needs are met which is why the common acceptance of a midlife crisis seems so contrary. The idea that I had to work at happiness was such a struggle because it seems selfish to admit to not being naturally happy.
The mentality that satisfaction leads to happiness also sets dangerous infrastructure for proper understanding. I still think so much of the generation gap could be closed without even discussing iPods if we were able to separate the concepts of happiness and gratitude. We have the mental capacity to grasp this; someone might be very grateful if they were provided with food and shelter after their home burned down, but no one would expect them to be happy. Still, I used to feel an overwhelming anger towards myself, like something was wrong, if everyone was kind to me and I couldn’t shake a mood.
The revelation that I could be grateful and happy with what I had but still not actually happy was a liberating revelation that shaped my current life period more than independent living, university, or entering the work force. All of these things may have influenced my eventual happiness, but this breakthrough was not achieved through them.
We also need to separate the ties between happiness and personal virtue because it’s so in denial of privileges. You can be a pleasant, talented, graceful person who has happy moments but it’s nearly impossible to be truly happy and comfortable when you’re hungry. Optimism and happiness shouldn’t be mistaken for each other, neither should resourcefulness, or any other character trait. It’s very comfortable to say happiness can be achieved by anyone at any time; it’s the thought that gets us to sleep while others lie awake because they don’t know what’s going to happen about rent this month.
I'm so fortunate. I have an encouraging and loving family, a partner who I adore, a kitten that seems to at least appreciate my ability to feed him, an apartment that makes me feel at home, and enough resources to get from day to day for this point in my life, and I’m still not always going to be happy. This doesn’t make me broken, ungrateful, or even depressed. I’m not here to be your early 20s cliché. I’ve simply given up the attitude that I’m going to be happy all of the time and I’ve been much happier since then.
I’ve been truly happy for about a year now. Not consistently, not always, not logically, but I feel a whole happiness, an everyday completeness, a life not highlighted by happy days that I try to accumulate and use as a way to measure myself.
It was the spirituality of my baseball stadium exit, not just the great memory of the Braves coming back and succeeding the next day, that made me consider moving to a city with an MLB franchise, any MLB franchise, one day because it’s finally occurring to me that as someone previously obsessed with cramming chores efficiently into every evening who occasionally had melt downs over missed buses, I am not impressed by athleticism or human ability but am liberated by baseball’s freedom from time constraints.
I make notes about what makes me happy, knowing they’ll change but at least acknowledging the moments as they pass. I buy all of the fruit I want even if it means I can’t afford butter. I calm myself down to both Jessica by the Allman brothers and Ellsworth Kelly’s earlier works. Sometimes I paint furniture just to go through the relaxing wrist motions, always accompanied by public radio podcasts. I indulge in the frivolous aesthetic value of peeling the ugly, irrelevant labels off necessary products. I’ve finally given myself permission not to read when I don’t feel like it, even if I love books and have equated the action with virtue for far too long. I work hard and a lot and am learning to relax just as much because it makes me work better. Writing makes me happy, and sometimes sharing it does too. Sometimes.
The biggest struggle in my quest for happiness was being rude. I try to let go of the past but I’d be lying if I said that being bullied for being so nerdy, so annoyingly different as a child hasn’t shaped my life in ways I’ll likely never understand. The compulsion to be polite, to be liked, to be well mannered is much more than social grace. In fact, I’m not always these things, but I have always tried to the point of exhaustion. The mouth that was always so outspoken about politics and feminism had the hardest time telling someone why they hurt me. Ignoring jerks is the biggest freedom I’ve ever allowed myself. Everyone feels as though they have a demand on your time, and although I try to be generous with mine, I’m slowly understanding I’m not meant to be a dart board for bad attitudes, even, and especially, if I want to change the world.
It’s not over, but when I go to sleep, I actually sleep. It takes a lot of effort to do the things I know I need to do, and even more for the right reasons. Exercise gives me plenty of endorphins, but not when I’m heaving on the bike because I’m embarrassed for eating ice cream. I have those days, but now they are days. Sometimes even a day. So yes, there is a ‘happy’ ending; I’m happy, except for the days I’m not. And that’s okay for as long as it is.
*Bring back the Expos!
** Although not being happy does not mean you’re depressed, if you even have an inkling that something is seriously wrong, why not check out if people can help? http://depressionhurts.ca/en/