At some unidentifiable point in history, somebody began spreading the rumor that we ought to be happy all the time. I’m not sure where this notion came from or who has been endorsing it but somewhere along the line, we decided to reduce the human experience to a single two-point scale: on one end is dejection, on the other, elation. There’s nothing in between. Happiness is the goal, we all decided. If you’re not happy, you’re miserable. And you must endlessly strive to fight your way back.
Here’s the problem with this mindset: we’ve been arbitrarily polarizing our emotions. If our day is not drop-dead phenomenal, we’re failures. If our lives begin to stagnate and slump, it is the absolute end of our existences. We don’t simply let things be okay anymore. We don’t allow them to be so-so. They’re phenomenal or atrocious and that healthy in-between just doesn’t cut it.
Here’s what we all need to remember: Sadness is not the only alternative to happiness. There are an infinite number of options to choose from when we are not feeling inspired and most of them are just as – if not more – beneficial to our overall sense of well being than feeling constantly happy.
Instead of being happy, be interested. Develop an insatiable curiosity for the world around you – the sights, the sounds, the intricacies, the opportunities. Go to the library and check out fifteen books on different world religions. Book a plane ticket to Chile and learn about a different way of life. Take up an intense, unyielding fascination with the planet that surrounds you and all that there is to take in. Do not be happy or sad or angry or upset about any of it. Just be fascinated. Be enticed. Let yourself grow and change and learn without passing judgment on the process.
Instead of being happy, be ambitious. Set your sights and your standards high. Decide what you want out of life and don’t worry about happy or sad as you pursue it – let the chase become all the high you need. Go to bed each night with the steady affirmation that you’re one step closer to whatever it is you’re working towards. Let happiness and sadness become nothing more than passing distractions and let pride in your investment become all the satisfaction you need.
Instead of being happy, be useful. Devote yourself to something that’s bigger than you are – a cause or a commitment or a project. Work relentlessly and tirelessly to change something, help something, make something different in a way that it never would have become had you not come along. There is no greater way to realize our own power than to use it to alter some small corner of the Universe and remember that we’re capable of making a change – both for ourselves and for those around us.
Instead of being happy, be creative. Throw your sorrows into creation and expression and artistic growth. Let what you want for become what you share with the world and learn, once and for all, that there are no truly isolated experiences. We’ve all been hurt and we’ve all been reeling and the more we share those sorrows, the more we come to understand that we’re far from the only ones facing them. Let your lack of good fortune be your way of connecting with the world and let your heart bleed alongside everyone else’s for a while when it needs to.
Instead of being happy, be brave. Look at what you’ve never dared to do with your life and finally ask yourself “Why not.” When there’s no clear explanation for what comes next, you get to steer your life wherever you’d like – so why not in the direction you’ve never dared? When happiness isn’t a realistic option, you’re left with very little to lose. It might finally be a good time to explore that crazy tangent that you never dared to try.
Instead of being happy, be alive. We spend so much time chasing satisfaction that we forget it’s not the point of the whole she-bang. The point of your life is whatever you decide for it to be: it’s success or accomplishment or excitement or love. Happiness is simply the feeling that indicates we’re headed in the right direction. Happiness isn’t the end goal, it’s the subtle suggestion. It’s the after-effect. It’s the product of a chock-full life and if we want to truly grasp it, we first have to turn our attention to the life that we’re so carelessly leading. And then we have to live the absolute hell out of it.