It takes a lot of effort to never be happy.
I don't mean misery, I mean that general state of dissatisfaction many of us walk around with every day of our lives. I suspect by now I might be an expert, practice makes perfect and all that, because I've spent most of my adult life observing what's not in my shopping cart. I judge everything on what it isn't, or should have been, or wish it was; I carry the scales of injustice with me just to measure how much I've been cheated. And I know I'm not the only one.
If I just had ______, then I'd be happy.
The struggle: It's impossible to cap the measure of the thing that's not. If I made 10 dollars, it's not 100, 1,000, or 1 million. I've always been a believer in the rules of cause and effect, sure I would find happiness if I just worked hard enough for the next thing, a fruitless quest by a man without a map. I remember my first apartment in the middle of Manhattan, my heart skipping a beat over my escape from suburbia. I can finally be happy!
That was 15 years ago.
Now, I'm 41. Now, I live in Los Angeles. New York is a memory. So are various apartments, cars, jobs, relationships, books read and books written. Happiness has echoed around the edges, but never home to roost. What I've been doing up to now isn't working. Maybe, after all this time, I need a different game plan.
It's not you, it's me.
I'm a lucky man. Heartache has visited me as much as anybody else, but I have people who love me, a job that challenges me, and good health. Though, I'm also a little lost. I'm tired of giving away the power of my happiness. My partner? Not his job. My career? Not it's job. For too long I've clung to the next life raft, desperate, only for it to become the anchor that pulls me under. I've made it the responsibility of anybody, even strangers (!), to make me happy. It's chronic, insatiable, an undercurrent casting shadows across what should be the most joyous occasions. Birthdays. Old friends. Fresh memories. Laughter. Love.
The most wonderful time of the year.
This holiday season, I want it to be different. I don't need anything else to be happy, so I tell myself. I want it to actually be the most wonderful time of the year, exactly as it is, with what I've got. Accept what is, or be miserable. For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
I recently finished writing a novel about a bestselling author who wakes up in a hospital bed following a suicide attempt with no memory of his life, only to be assigned the task of writing his memoir. Henry recalls that all he ever wanted to be was a bestselling author. Yet, when he achieved it, his flawed perspective still didn't allow him to be happy, and so he struggles to remember what made him think dying was his only way out.
Me, 17. I stumbled upon the novel Ordinary People, which turned out to be anything but. I was captivated by the trials of Conrad Jarrett. Judith Guest's story about forgiveness helped me understand the concept of letting myself off the hook. Magical. Since then, I've always wanted to write characters that shine a light on a new perspective for the reader. I remember thinking, if I ever wrote a novel, I would be happy.
My 17-year-old self would be ecstatic that I've taken to writing novels. I already have my happy and didn't even know it.
There's no one-liner that will deliver you happiness, no easy answer. It takes work, I suppose. Some takeaways:
1. The grass isn't actually greener. You can't chase happiness. It's already inside via acceptance of how things are. I've never written a book about happiness, but if I did, that's what it would say. Happiness is the sunshine. Happiness is also the rain. Happiness is rich, poor, health, or not, single, married, co-joined. Happiness is not an if/then statement. Happiness is.
2. Desire has a purpose. That being said, the want of things gets you out of bed to work on whatever burns bright in your heart. Some say it's the pursuit that brings joy. Fine, but new toys won't create happy. Neither will a new city. There's nothing worse than shivering over the same problems under a different sun.
3. Success of others is inspiration, not a cause for envy. She got a book deal? He got the promotion? Great. All that means is that's it's not impossible to achieve those things. It's not a zero sum game.
4. Look back, not for the regrets, but for all you have achieved. Find joy in all that has been accomplished. Your seventeen-year-old self might be happy.
This has been my experience so far. I'd be lying if I said it's working all the time. But I'm trying to remember a new perspective:
Because I have ______, I am happy.