Don’t Worry, Don’t Be Happy

We put so much emphasis on happiness that we make ourselves miserable trying to attain it

There’s a perfume called Happy and it smells terrible on me. If they made a perfume called Curmudgeonly, it’d be my signature scent.

I’ve never been a particularly cheerful person, although I may be selling my crankiness a little hard. Like I’m making myself sound like Oscar the Grouch or Mr. Potter or Regan in "The Exorcist" or someone equally prickly. I’m not. My friend Paula says only idiots and Labrador Retrievers are happy; at least I’m not as cynical as she is, although I do see her point.

Generally, my demeanor is not sunny, and I’d like to think that that’s OK. I kind of feel like we put so much emphasis on happiness that we make ourselves miserable trying to attain it. Work hard and you’ll be happy. Earn a lot of money and you’ll be happy. Make a gratitude list and you’ll be happy. Develop a strong spiritual life and guess what? Happy, happy, happy.

We end our emails in smiley emoticons even when we don’t mean it. We put our happiest face forward on Facebook, so much so that it becomes Fakebook. Oh, look at my stupendous dinner! Read all about my thoughtful husband! MY BABY IS PERFECT! I MEAN IT! I haven’t slept in two months and all my clothes are burp cloths but I AM SOOOOO HAPPY!

All to which I say: SHUT UP!

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For a country that’s worked the pursuit of happiness into our Declaration of Independence, we’re really not that happy. Year after year, studies reveal that America doesn’t even crack the top 10 in happy countries. You know who’s happy? People in Iceland. I know! Björk never struck me as being all that cheerful, either.

What I am proposing is that we get over it. Get over feeling like we need to try to be happy all the dang time. Like, when tragedy befalls a friend, do we really have to try to cheer them up, or can we just admit that what they’re going through is really awful, and it’s OK to feel really awful about it. Would that really be so bad?

What if we all said to each other to “have a tolerable day”? I mean, they can’t all be good, and why can’t that be acceptable? If all your days were good, they’d kind of blend together dully and you’d be Aunt Bea. Do you really want your emotions to run no deeper than Aunt Bea’s?

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The times I remember being really happy were great, but they were also fleeting. I was stupid happy on my wedding day. I was delighted when I got a scholarship to study in London. I completed a marathon and felt a huge rush of happy when I galumphed over the finish line.

All of those times made me happy as shit, but all those times went away. And I’ve worn myself out with therapy and books and meditations and aromatherapy, all aimed at stupid, elusive happiness. So you know what I aim for now? I aim for less crankiness and more contentment.

You can’t take from me the feeling I get when I come home for lunch and sit in the sun with my dogs. They flop next to me while I read a book and eat a stupid salad, because good health is supposed to make me happy. Those 50 minutes, when I look at my smiling dogs’ yellow fur glowing in the sun, are 50 minutes I wouldn’t change for anything.

One time my power got cut off because without knowing it, I’d agreed to paperless billing, and I never noticed the emails saying hey, pay your bill. So when I came home that summer night, I called the energy company and paid over the phone, then I had to wait for several hours till the power was restored. I sat in my house with no TV, no Internet, no phone.

I remember eating a peach and watching the sunset. I was aware of every bite of that peach. I heard every cicada and noticed each leaf rustle in the breeze. Life felt good and that was enough for me. My peach and my pink sky and my cicadas were enough.

And that’s all I really want. Not some screeching, screaming yellow happy face. Just for what I have to be enough. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of being OK with what I’ve got.

Tags: well being