The Trouble with Happiness

“The trouble with men,” says the immaculately coiffured woman as she waits for her coffee to be made, “is that the good times never last. At first, he buys you chocolates and says you look like a goddess. But before you know it, he’s taking you for granted.”

Her friend makes a non-committal mmmm noise.

“So I’m breaking up with Matt,” the woman says.

“Matt?” her friend repeats. “I thought you were dating Steven.”

The woman laughs and pats at her hair. “Steven? No. I started seeing Matt a few weeks ago. He’s nice, but he just doesn’t make me happy anymore.”

Her name is called, and she collects her insulated paper cup from the barista. She carefully takes off the lid, adds two sachets of sugar, stirs and tastes. “Mmmm…” she says, her eyes half closing. “The first sip is always the best.”

The trouble with happiness, is that it’s not there to be lived in. It’s there to be anticipated, tasted, savoured, and relished. What’s wrong with living in a state of gentle contentment, punctuated by short, sweet bursts of happiness and the occasional tang of sadness?

“They” tell use that we’re supposed to aim for happiness, as though it’s a goal in itself rather than a delicious byproduct of good living.

 “They” say we can be happy if we buy these shoes, watch this movie, drive this car, live in this house, marry this man/woman, have these kids, take out this mortgage, buy this furniture, take this vacation, buy these souvenirs, drink this coffee, exercise with this machine, read this book, attend this religious gathering, and admire this celebrity.

“They” say that if you’re not happy all the time, you’re not trying hard enough. Or you don’t own enough. Or the people around you are dragging you down, and should be cast aside. “They” don’t always say it in words, but they say it in marketing campaigns, self-help books, and check-out lines.

Have you ever tried living in a state of constant happiness?

Have you ever tried eating your favourite dessert for every meal? Within days, you’re no longer savouring the delectable sweetness. Then you stop enjoying it altogether. Before you know it, the lack of variety in your diet has made you sickly and weak.

As a society, we’ve largely come to recognise the illness known as depression. We know that if we feel sad all the time, something is terribly wrong. People living in this state of constant sadness are recognised as having a legitimate illness, and there are treatments designed to help them regain their equilibrium.

Feeling sad is normal. Feeling sad all the time is unhealthy.

The trouble with happiness is that it works the same way.


Filed under Opinion

7 responses to “The Trouble with Happiness

  1. What a lovely and thought-provoking post. I agree with you that people who are forever striving for happiness never seem able to recognize that it works better as a destination than as a permanent address. I think we’re all better off with a baseline of contentment, a set of as-yet-unattained goals, and the occasional punctuation of both joy and sadness.

  2. I think that you are right. You can’t just be in a state of constant bliss ALL the time – there will always be things you wish you did, things you wish you were doing right now, things you wish you could do in the future. So I think rather than feeling that more can make you happy, people need to be content knowing that they are content for the now.

    • Absolutely. It’s so easy to fall into the “if I only had this, I’d be happy” mindset, though, isn’t it?

      BTW, I absolutely adore your blog. I love your Now and Then structure, and find myself eagerly awaiting the next instalment of your story.

  3. I think one of the important parts of growing up is realizing that, no matter how great something is, it is always possible to have too much of it at one time.

    This whole “the right lover will make everything okay” mindset makes me think of the Joni Mitchell song “Song for Sharon” (from, yes, Hejira), particularly the lyrics:

    Dora says “Have children”
    Mama and Betsy say “Find yourself a charity
    Help the needy and the crippled or put some time into Ecology”
    Well there’s a wide wide world of noble causes
    And lovely landscapes to discover
    But all I really want right now
    Is find another lover.

  4. That was really well said. I pictured some high up speaker saying it in his speech. It was amazing. It is hard to remember, also, that we are so busy worrying about what and where happiness is and its really in the journey. We have to find it, feel it, and make it what it is. We need all the anger, sadness, tragedy, and loneliness, to bring out the beauty and happiness. Beautiful post. And I did not even have to read a bunch of awful posts to notice how good this one was. It was simply eloquently, and perfectly put.

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