Sunday, June 22, 2008

Are you happy yet?

How 'bout now?

This is a question I've encountered a lot since my return from Korea. Am I happy? Well, if happiness is a relative state, I guess I can say the answer is yes. I am happy. Err... I am happier than when I was in Korea. Because there I was definitely unhappy. That seems so much easier to define.

Okay. So wait. Is happiness, in fact, a relative measure? Is it defined more or less in opposition to not-so-happy feelings? Is happiness the negative space (or should I say the positive space?) which surrounds sadness, angst, stress, anger... Because although I am not sad, angsty, stressed nor angry, neither am I happy. But I'm not unhappy.

It seems that happiness arrives in fleeting moments and often occurs only in retrospect. It's not that I don't enjoy many of the things I do, but do I recognize that joy in the moment? Or does it only occur to me as an afterthought? Or in contrast to some other experience or moment in time?

Or is happiness a feeling of contentment? The feeling that all is right with the world? Does it feel like the gods are smiling on you? Maybe like nothing can go wrong?

Does anyone in this country really feel happy? Really?

I have struggled with the concept of happiness for a long time. I don't always know how to recognize it when I have it. I often long for it, but when I think I have it, I feel uncomfortable- but not because I think it'll slip away too quickly. On the contrary, I feel bored with the contentment and long for a challenge, a struggle- something that will unsettle me.

And it's not as though I don't believe in my own happiness. I do. But I guess it's the fact that I believe in the happiness of everyone else-I am talking about on a global level- which motivates me to question my own right to contentment. I know, the Founding Fathers laid out our rights to the pursuit of happiness a couple of hundred years ago. But what if that pursuit impedes another's happiness? And what if, only by virtue of being An American, I am impeding the happiness of millions or billions just by pursuing my American version of happiness- even a modest one?

Hey this is not guilt I'm talking about. I'm talking about our responsibility. To each other. To challenge ourselves to think about our happiness and our contentment and wonder, "how does my happiness affect other people in my world?"

So in the context of "the greater happiness," I guess one could say that I'm making uncomfortably happy my goal. But I don't know if I'll ever be aware that I've reached that goal. And I'm not sure how I would define my state of happiness now, except to say that well, I'm not depressed...

1 comment:

Julie said...

And I often wonder if personal happiness is really the goal for me. Is it really my goal to be personally happy as an individual. I can't say that it is - particularly because I'm married and I have children. The collective stability of my family has to trump my personal happiness, or my kids would have no chance of survival.

And, as you mention, how do we justify our own individual happiness when so many others suffer as a result of my pursuing happiness? Would global stability increase the "happiness" of everyone?

Happiness is difficult to define and hard to understand. And I think there is truth to the saying "happiness is fleeting." As I think about this, I wonder if a better quest is deep joy. The kind of joy that one feels in relationship with a long time friend. The kind of joy that comes when a baby smiles for the first time. The joy that reaches us to the core.