Happiness. Say it with me; you know the word too well. Happiness — the word plastered and embossed on book spines in every Barnes and Nobles across this great, soul-starved country. There’s even an app for it.
Happiness — what we think we feel when we’re noshing on pizza, cuddling chubby puppies or bronzing under California sunshine.
I’ve read the books, eaten the pizza, snuggled pugs and soaked up the sun, but there’s still something wrong. And I fear there aren’t enough Friday nights and Netflix binge-sessions to fix me and fill this vacuous hole.
Happiness is the most valuable stock on the ethereal Dow-Jones.
It’s a national commodity; something scientists claim they can enumerate, replicate and commodify: “Positivity, engagement, relationships, achievement and meaning,” Dr. Martin Seligman, an esteemed positive psychologist, said.
Happiness is a cultural commodity as well; the “American dream,” the itch to be “the next big thing,” and of course “the pursuit of happiness” preoccupy all Americans.
It’s ingrained in our collective psyche as the ultimate goal for Americans to strive toward.
We are a society that builds itself around pleasure and desire it instantly. We are microwave dinner hedonists, wrapped up in nuke-safe cost-benefit analysis.
I can’t fault Dr. Seligman (nor do I want to) — his express version of happiness makes sense.
If we focus on the good stuff, we feel the good stuff; if we make use of our strengths and talents, we feel enriched by the outcomes; if our relationships are satisfying, we are satisfied. When everything has meaning — whether you act for the greater good or the immediate — life is fuller, richer and worthier. Or theoretically it ought to be.
I can’t help but feel that there has to be more to it than that. The way I see it, Dr. Seligman, researchers on the whole, and the pervading culture, all root happiness in transience.
That is to say, that they define it and materialize it in the context of ultimately cursory backdrops: friends come and go, societies crumble to revolutions, talents wither, and goodness is subjective. Where are we then, if and when our happiness is uprooted by the transience of our lives?
Happiness is a state of being. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here. But happiness is not “the” state of being.
The very notion of capturing happiness, or honing it, is a testament to the human condition — we’re all selfish, ego-driven flesh sacks.
I promise I’m not a misanthrope!
I look to Teresa of Calcutta, Benjamin Franklin, the Dalai Lama and even the Big J. C. himself for inspiration.
What unites these figures is their transcendence from human desire. They never treated happiness as a notch to put in their figurative belts.
Happiness could not be parsed into five slices of happy-cake. Their actions are instead rooted in the intrinsic, self-actualized concept of happiness. They had a sense of permanence, and lived their lives in solidarity to their values.
It seems that they all saw clearly who they were and thus, what they were capable of doing. And devoted their lives to realizing their capabilities.
They are a proof that deep-down, happiness is a by-product, something you stumble upon amidst the lashings and blessings of life. Obviously, Ben Franklin and company are held to such high esteem because they are exemplars, outliers and innovators.
I know I don’t want to party with lepers. But the lesson we, the ultra-modern, everyday Joe or Jane, can distill from their lives is the value of, if you excuse the slang, “doing you” or “being you.”
The ideal companion in the journey of life is the self, the true self. Live your true self, unabashed, whether you are the messiah, or a reincarnated Bodhisattva or a devoute Mennonite. Be unrelentingly you.
Happiness always finds a way.And when it is unexpected one is all the happier.
Jared Alokozai is a third-year Literary Journalism and Crimonology, Law and Society double-major. He can be reached at email@example.com.