I’m sitting in this coffee shop not doing much of anything and something caught my eye.
It was a sign advertising the store’s iced dirty chai latte. It says “Our Iced Dirty Chai Latte Will Make You Happy!”
Let’s unpack this. To start, I kind of like the directness, but I wasn’t sure why I thought it was so funny. It’s the audacious promise that this coffee will make you happy, but even that wilts under scrutiny. Places advertise “World’s Best Coffee!” and nobody bats an eye: surely that’s a much stranger promise than some marginal happiness.
Finally, it occurred to me. It was because, contrary to popular cliches, we aren’t expected to pursue our happiness.
Don’t get me wrong: much of our culture is based on self gratification. But gratification is’t happiness. Don’t believe me? Indulge in all your favorite vices for 12 hours and tell me how happy you feel.
That’s because we’re capitalistic and gamified. We’re expected to count and compare, fighting against others (or our social media impression of them) and ourselves. What’s the best? The coolest? Whatever the product is, there’s a premium placed on a superlative “-est” at the end.
We care about the product as proxy, that it can transfer its superlatives to ourselves. But we don’t care if we enjoy it.
We’re trained to exist this way because there’s no way to market happiness effectively or control for it. You can’t sell a sunset. But you can create a fashion line and sell that beauty.
Don’t get me wrong! I am not above materialistic desires. Things and food are amazing. But they all too often are sold by the justification of some quantity. Even something as simple as choosing a salad as “healthy” is different than choosing a salad because your body actually feels better when it has vegetables.
That’s a thing. Seriously. It took me a good few years to finally settle on doing things for myself. Much of what I do are things I “wanted” to do, but it was shackled to a queasy sense of obligation: I “wanted” to cook, I “wanted” to meditate, and the fear and complexes I mentally attached to these issues poisoned me from the beginning.
More than wanting to do them, I wanted to avoid them.
The ensuing guilt cut both ways and made me think, logically, that I must hate these things if I always avoided them. This bred more avoidance. I call this the procrastinator’s circle of angst, but I used to call it life.
Epiphanies are quick to realize and slow to act out. I still sit in this circle. Sometimes let fear and routine encroach on my opportunities for happiness. Often I’m slower on my gains and fall back into problems and self-imposed limits. But sometimes I exceed them. Sometimes I opt out and, suddenly in myself and the moment, I choose something else.
Sometimes I get a dirty iced chai latte.
Sometimes I want to be happy.