We say we want our friends to be happy, because of course we’re supposed to want our friends to be happy, but when a friend says he or she is happy — or when several friends say they are happy, for reasons that somehow seem more perfect than the last reason given — we publically congratulate, wish well, hope for the best, but internally we are pricking specially made voodoo dolls with pins so sharp, we hope these friends of ours feel the pinch for weeks, if not longer.
Not me, you might be thinking. I love when my friends are happy.
But you don’t. Not really. Because when a friend is happy, and when this happiness is shared with you — and what better defines a friendship than the ability to share ups and downs, but mostly ups, since who wants to share downs? — you can’t wait for the happiness to end, because this happiness sheds light on your unhappiness, and your unhappiness, when lit by someone else’s happiness, is uglier darker more debilitating than when the people around you are similarly distraught unhappy drinking to feel better.
Admit it. The last time your best friend told you about a stellar date or about a first time that became a second, and then a third, or when your best friend trilled the news that he had gotten a raise a new job a corner office, you celebrated and you congratulated and you made the obligatory gestures and noises we make when we are obliged to gesture and make noise, but you couldn’t wait for the job to suck, because your job sucks and no matter how many resumes you send out, no one calls back and no matter how many interviews you go on, you never get the new job the raise the corner office.
A new baby? Hope it cries all night. A long-overdue weight loss? Nothing you can do about those thighs. A new apartment? Hope the neighbors are loud. Sold your first novel? Hope it ends up remaindered.
We get unhappy. We understand unhappy. We can solve unhappy. Try harder. Pick better. Do more. Don’t worry. Remember that it gets better. But happy? We don’t know what to do with happy because happy feels fragile and illusory. We don’t get happy because we can’t plan for happy, and those moments when we feel happy, part of you — of us — is waiting for the feeling to pass, for a bird to sh-t on your shirt or a car to cut you off or your coffee to spill, ending your happy and bringing you closer to normal, which is not happy and maybe even not unhappy, but somewhere in the middle, getting by, wishing for more, settling for less.
Because how can we appreciate happy if we haven’t slugged through and survived unhappy? Which you will. Survive and slug through, because happy is possible; just ask that friend you publicly wish well and secretly can’t wait to see fail.