I remember back in middle school when I thought I understood the meaning of life. Such is the naive hubris of young teens. When I got to high school, I realized I had been wrong the whole time, and I revised my understanding of life’s philosophy accordingly. Naturally, having then discovered the real meaning of life (as opposed to the silly hypothesis of the young teen), I wanted to tell people about it. That’s why I started blogging in the first place. Oh, foolish me.
I am old enough now to realize that I have only ever been wrong. Coming up with some general life philosophy or an explanation of life’s meaning always leads me to recall my early teen days of misguided self-confidence, and that recollection makes the search for meaning suddenly seem juvenile and silly. The endless cycle of finding out I’m wrong leads me to be wary of generic life statements that set out to explain why and how we are and should be, so I’ve tried to stop bothering with philosophies. Surely in my older days, I’ll look back on myself of 2012 and realize how wrong I am once again.
Regardless, I’m choosing to ignore my past mistakes to once again walk down the path of expounding my foolish wisdom. Please forgive me for being immature.
I think we live within a cult of happiness. It seems to be the one thing everyone can agree on: If you’re unhappy, you’re doing something wrong. Happiness is our number one value. It’s the objective. You know: “Turn that frown upside down!” and “All you need is love,” and “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
I think the Pursuit of being Royally Pissed Off is just as inalienable a right.
I don’t think the goal in life is to be happy. I think the goal in life is to experience a complete anthology of possible emotions, among which is happiness. But if you’re unhappy, I don’t think you’re doing something wrong – you’re just collecting something for your emotional anthology. With that said, if you are never happy, you are doing something wrong. But you’re also doing something wrong if you’re never sad, or never angry, or never alienated or disturbed.
I find it curious that, being a society which puts so much value on happiness as the end-all of our efforts, we enjoy dismally horrific shows like Law & Order: SVU. Why do we eat up sensationalist media stories like planes crashing and child abduction? Why do we love artwork like Edvard Munch’s The Scream and depressing music like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or plays like Hamlet? Are we really pursuing happiness? Or are we pursuing completeness?
I recently attended a talk by Chuck Palahniuk, the writer of Fight Club. Someone asked him about what conditions he needs in order to write. He said, “Two things: I have to be miserable, and there can be absolutely nothing else I can be doing at the time.” Personally, as a writer and composer, my best work comes when I’m feeling down in the dumps. When I’m pissed off and have nothing better to do, I cherish that emotion like it’s an exotic bird that I can nurture and set free through my work.
When I’m happy, I just sit around and do nothing. Why do something? Life is good. The artist in me hates it when I’m happy.
So every day on Facebook, when I see my friends and colleagues expound the universal truth of happiness as the icon to which we must pray, I want to say, “No. Wallow in your misery.”
But I don’t because I’d sound like an asshole.
(P.S. On a related note, excessively valuing happiness is a hallmark of Soviet Realism. Bad times.)