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Happiness is imperfect and sometimes impermanent, but it remains the greatest gift that any of us can give to another.
The longer I’m sober the more time I have to ruminate on one of my favourite subjects: happiness, specifically the lack of it, and why it’s probably the greatest gift any of us could ever receive.
I’ve been obsessing over the idea of why I think I should be happy all the time and here’s what I’ve concluded: despite what society, pop culture, and any screen that glows and beams its warm incandescent buzz towards you would have you believe, no one is always happy, you’re not supposed to always be happy, and we are currently living in an era that screams and blasts the opposite idea, louder and more magnified than ever before; every second of every day of your life, through advertisements, magazines, movies, and even the people you trust the most and surround yourself with, so it makes perfect sense that anytime you’re unhappy, you feel like a failure, a loser, or less than.
Have you ever met someone who constantly acts like they’re carefree? Like, every time you see them they are laughing or smiling? If someone exhibits this behaviour they are a psychopath and have either already murdered someone or will in the near future. If you’re in their kitchen right now, there are bones buried underneath that creaky floorboard. Run! You see characters like this in movies constantly; everything is always perfect! …until they leave the room, then you realise it’s a tactic to put you at ease and make you lower your guard. They want something from you and they will do whatever it takes to get it. You will, occasionally, meet people like this in real life but, just like the conniving people in the talkies, they too are putting on a show. No one has a perfect life. No one. Rich people aren’t happier than poor people, they simply have access to more distractions: shiny cars and state-of-the-art doo-hickeys that momentarily take their minds off the same sentence that repeats over and over in everyone’s head: “None of this matters, I am worthless and a fraud, and I don’t deserve to be happy because I’m not happy all the time.”
We’re simply built by design not to be joyous and delighted for time eternal. Life never stops and life is a fucking killer. You lose the job. The person you love breaks your heart. You’re stuck in traffic. Someone wearing only mittens sneezes on you while you’re waiting for the bus. You get sick. Your friends and family die. You lose your finger in a horrendous car door incident. They run out of your favourite ice cream at the grocery store. Nathan For You gets cancelled. Common sense and baseline decency seem to vanish.
Great things happen too: you get the job you always wanted, you can finally afford that Nissan, you win a scratch-off ticket, you have a baby, you find a carton of Zima in your attic, you get your picture taken with Paul Rudd, you ace the test, you win the big game! But all of that eventually fades. Here’s the thing: that’s not just okay, that’s normal. That is the definition of what life is: it’s up and downs and highs and lows. The problem is the concept that so many of us have been hypnotised with, by commercials, television and movies, and even our friends and family: that you are not only supposed to be happy all the time, you deserve to be.
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That is simply not the case. None of us are promised anything in life. You could get hit by a bus while you’re reading this, you could die in your sleep tonight, you could stumble across a bag full of unmarked bills from a heroin deal with the Yakuza gone south. You could marry a cowboy hat and win The Great British Bake-Off.
But eventually, you will stop being happy.
Now, I know things have been sounding pretty fucking bleak to this point, but here’s the good news: once you realise that you will never be happy all the time, you’ll be a lot happier. It’s like when you stop chasing a crush or telling yourself that you need something in your life; once you let go of it, it’s more likely to come to you.
The other, and more important part of this formula is to be okay with all your other emotions: sadness, anger, depression, jealousy. Learn to sit with these emotions, acknowledge them. They are a part of the human experience for a reason. I’m certainly not advocating that you fixate on these things, just that you let your mind and body feel them. That’s the only way for them to break up and eventually dissipate. Too often our knee-jerk reaction is to take our minds off of these feelings, to try and mute and dull them. You watch too much television, you buy something you can’t afford, you go out and get drunk or high so you don’t have to confront the feelings, you try and make them disappear, but all you end up doing is burying them. And they will always make their way out. They will claw their way out from the furthest depths of your psyche and they will die trying to drag you down back to where you stashed them. I know this from experience. Emotions I thought I stuffed away came back months later and tried to suffocate everything that was good in my life. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Over the last few months, I’ve lowered my expectations of life. I don’t deserve anything. I will get what comes to me. A lot of it will be good, but the majority of it will probably be shitty. And I’m okay with that. I feel my feelings and I move on, it’s really as simple as that. And when great things do happen, I appreciate them so much more.
We are all beautiful, broken people, staggering towards a finish line that doesn’t exist. We are all too hard on ourselves. You are not perfect. You never will be, because you’re not meant to be. You are human. You will experience great pain and suffering because that is life. You will also get a glimpse of the perfect sunset, a kiss you will never forget, or share a moment with another soul that will forever be etched into your memory. Happiness is knowing that happiness will always fade, but it will always come back too.