If you were to conduct a survey of the entire human population of the world and pose but one, simple question – “What do you want in life?” — I’d bet my entire Will & Grace DVD box-set that 99.99% of mankind would respond with “To be happy.”
Just as a man dying of dehydration might stumble in the direction of a distant mirage, so, too, do we create optical illusions — albeit emotional ones — based on atmospheric conditions. Our changing social landscape sees our stakes in happiness placed in the unattainable, and it’s as deliberate as it is self-destructing. While it remains well documented that sex sells, nothing shifts product (be it a quinoa salad or the latest Prada) quite like a million dollar, mega-watt “genuinely happy” smile. It’s a damaging cycle — and nobody’s immune.
I guess it’s just as Sylvia Plath observed in her Unabridged Journals: “Life is a gentleman’s agreement to grin and paint your face gay so that others will feel they are silly to be unhappy” — and all these years later, we’re still competing against one another to paint our faces the gayest. Social media, for instance, is the ultimate 21st century tool in conveying an illusion of happiness while simultaneously feeding our own innate feelings of inferiority. We share our lives through rose-hued snaps and statuses, striving to convince others — and ourselves — that we’re happy. We’re the ones raising the bar.
Maybe it’s time to call a truce, and accept that we’re all a little unsure about the whole “life” thing. A little scared that we’re not doing it right.
It’s sad, because the reality is that we’ve all grown conditioned to think of happiness as a would be or could be; a glowing horizon beyond all the gross life-hurdles and personal/professional challenges plaguing our foreseeable futures. The closer we get, the further away it appears. We use happiness as an excuse, a way of justifying our perpetual dissatisfaction with life in the middle-class first world and all the trivial struggles that come along with it.
The pursuit of happiness really is a silly thing, often rendering well-educated adults as intellectually stunted, running in circles, chasing their tails. Strangely enough, we tend to find threads of happiness in the promise of happiness itself; in our projected futures, in the things we wish we have but don’t. “I’ll be happy once I land that job” or “If only what’s-his-face loved me in return, then I’d surely be happy.”
When we travel, for instance, we spend months in the glorious suspended state of “holiday anticipation” happiness. We excuse our daily miseries under the guise of what’s to come. How is possible not to be overwhelmingly, irrefutably joyful while lying, pina colada in hand, on the deck of an oceanfront Balinese resort? Yet, when the time for our vacation arrives, we feel a faint, almost unrecognizable sinking sensation. This is it — this is the projected happiness we’ve been subconsciously grasping at, clinging to for so long. And it’s not all we wanted it to be.
You see, our happiness lies in our expectations and, by nature, our expectations are high, always a little higher than we’re able to reach. It’s the top shelf stuff, and we’re on minimum wage.
Perhaps if we were to collectively abandon the rote idea of happiness, dial back our rose-hued filters, call it out as a fictitious state of being, an intricate marketing tool employed to convince us of our own mediocracy; perhaps we’d then, too, be able to rid ourselves of the self-inflicted pressure that comes with the never-ending chase.
Perhaps then, when we stop looking, we’ll actually find it.