why happiness is not enough.
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” –John Lennon
My goal last semester was to do all the things that made me happy. In July I cut everything out of my life that made me feel inadequate (i.e. unhealthy relationships, unrealistic standards) and decided that my only aim my senior year of college was to be happy. It was fitting because happiness seems to be the buzzword of your 20’s. When people ask you what you want out of life you can say “I just want to be happy” and feel very profound and self-satisfied—until you take a step back and realize that you have no flipping idea what that means. You don’t know if that means you should take the job in San Francisco or stay in L.A. Why couldn’t happiness be more of a clear-cut standard? The concept seared into the forefront of every 20-something mind is, What will make me happy?
You read quotes like the one above and you nod and smile and think that John Lennon was a cool guy who really nailed life on the head. I just want to be happy. Sometimes you lie in bed at night unable to sleep because you accidently drank iced coffee with dinner and you think to yourself, “Wait a minute, if I am saying that I hope to be happy in the future am I indirectly admitting to being unhappy right now?” Then you flip your pillow to the other side, roll over and calm yourself down by reminding yourself that the only reason you might be feeling slightly incomplete is because you haven’t found the thing you’re passionate about yet. Or you haven’t landed that perfect job yet. Or you haven’t found the right girl/guy. Then you get sidetracked thinking about one of those things and you fall asleep.
Then life carries on and you hang out with some of your favorite people, get tagged in 500 hideous pictures on facebook, feel somewhat satisfied at work, get a nice text from your dad and you think, “okay good I’m happy.” But every once in a while there is a little nagging—a little something that just sits around inside of you waiting for a minute when you’re not distracting yourself with music, television, the internet, friends or work. There it is. Right there inside you. That incompleteness. Where did that come from? I’m happy!! John Lennon what the heck, I swear I’m happy!!
Then you’re sad for a minute and you begin to wonder if happiness is enough. You realize that even if you found your soul mate you still might not be happy. Even if you found your “thing” and ended up making millions of dollars off it you still might not be happy. Then you realize that if our sole aim in life is to be happy, all those people who have undergone incredible amounts of suffering must therefore have lived in vain. You realize that all of those unhappy times in life—the ones you learned so much from—the ones that have shaped the person you have become—according to the happiness theory those times were meaningless. Something isn’t right here. Clearly happiness is not enough.
If happiness were enough we wouldn’t be constantly trying to find things to jam into the empty holes in our hearts. We wouldn’t feel the need to find the person who “completes us” because we would already be complete. We wouldn’t need to drink to numb the pain because there would be no pain. We would be content with what we have and God forbid something should go wrong in life we would carry on like soldiers or pretend it never happened. We wouldn’t want to miss the purpose of life by being unhappy.
So then you sit there in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405 and you think:
Maybe we’re not supposed to be happy. Maybe we’re supposed to be complete.
I’ve vocalized on this blog before that I have problems with organized religion—big problems. It’s something that bothers me to my core, but despite the many things I do not like I have to admit that I like Jesus….a lot. I don’t like what two thousand years of humans being humans have turned him into, but I try to not forget that he was originally a Jewish man standing at a well telling a woman that he knew the secret to making her complete. He knew that above happiness people were looking to be made whole. He saw that we can get every single thing we ever want in life and still feel inadequate and empty. I find that beautiful and comforting. We’re all empty and we’re all seeking to be made whole, whether we know it or not. Inadequacy, or the paranoia thereof, is our most faithful friend, always there to keep us from really enjoying our brief time on this planet. Think about it—we only can understand darkness because we understand light. Darkness proves that light is a real thing because darkness, by definition, is the absence of light. In the same way, feeling empty proves that there is such a thing as completion. Inadequacy proves the adequate.
What a relief—there is more to life than being happy. My New Years resolution is to not sell myself short by seeking happiness and to start seeking that which will make me whole.
Here’s to 2012. It’s going to be unreal…and very adequate.