Is Life Supposed To Be Happy?
My friend averageinsuburbia wrote a post last week about the nature of happiness. A co-worker had loaned her a book, with the commendation, “It’s a hoot!” Turns out it wasn’t a hoot. It was totally depressing. When she mentioned this, her friend “reared back and said, ‘Who told you life was supposed to be happy?'” Naturally, this interaction ran through her mind when she woke up one recent Sunday, feeling “so crushingly sad, about everything and nothing at all”, that she couldn’t eat:
“It takes a lot to turn me on food, so when I am not even tempted by the cake I’ve hidden in the freezer under bags of peas and corn, I know something is wrong.”
After she was feeling better (and the cake was gone), she wrote about it. Cause that’s what we do. At the end of her post, she asked, “Is life supposed to be happy?”
What a fascinating question.
Whether or not life is “supposed” to be happy is strictly a matter of opinion, depending on personality, religion, life experience. I don’t think I believe that things are supposed to be one way or another. I’m still mulling this over, but I’m thinking that what matters is what you will into existence for yourself. What matters is how much you are willing to fight for happiness, and what you are willing to sacrifice for it.
Averageinsuburbia said, “I kinda thought that was what we were striving for, ‘Pursuit of happiness’, with the goal being happiness.” Personally, I have spent most of my adult life not knowing HOW to pursue my happiness. To begin with, I didn’t know what would make me happy. And if I ever got a glimpse of what it might be, I sure as hell didn’t know how to go after it. In the meantime, I mostly ran in circles. I wasn’t always unhappy, but I’ve never felt a “Dream Life” kind of happiness – dream job, dream spouse, dream kids, dream house. Maybe we don’t all get to have that kind of happiness. I’ve known people like that, who can’t wait to get to work because they love it so much, and their personal life just brings them so much continual joy and…you know. But most people I know are just like me: we have our moments of true, giddy happiness, and basically our lives are pretty okay. Maybe it ain’t great, but it’s not too bad, either.
For the most part, I’m not happy or unhappy. I’m just living.
It’s only been in the last year that I have come to understand that I can be more. That there are things I can do – and that I’m capable of doing them – that will bring a real, sustained happiness and contentment to my life. For me, that “pursuit of happiness” is a pursuit to be fulfilled. And though being fulfilled involves my career, creative outlets, financial security, relationships, et cetera… ultimately, that fulfillment is wholly internal. It’s how I feel about myself. I don’t think you can be truly happy, in the kind of rainbow happiness that arcs over the whole of your life, if you are unhappy with who you are. Or if you don’t like yourself. Or you don’t believe in yourself. If you don’t believe that you are, or are heading toward, who you could be.
I originally just intended to write about a comment on her post. All of the comments were wonderful and interesting, bringing up such variables as contentment vs happiness, serious vs petty problems, the concept of “supposed to”, comparing our lives with other’s, happiness as an illusion, and the healing qualities of chocolate cake. But the most intriguing comment, to me, came from averageinsuburbia herself. It was actually a list of questions, which really caught my attention. I started answering on her blog, but it just got too long. Besides, I think her questions are well worth sharing here.
Here is her comment, broken down with my responses. Obviously, my answers are based on my own life experience, and don’t take all situations into consideration. And like any opinion, they’re certainly open to debate.
“One thing that really bothers me about reading a depressing story is that I feel afterward that I don’t have a right to be unhappy.”
Whether you had a cushy, easy life compared to someone else’s has no bearing. Should you feel sad for them? Well, that’s compassion, so sure. But their misfortune shouldn’t stop you from finding joy in your own life. Likewise, their hard life doesn’t negate the validity of your darker emotions. We all have “the right” to feel however we feel.
Of course, often we don’t appreciate what we have, and being reminded of that makes us feel kind of bad for complaining about our trifling little hardships – we feel guilty. But we’re only human, so you have to cut yourself a break. You wouldn’t feel the way you do if you weren’t a nice and compassionate person in the first place.
“When do you accept a situation and say “I guess I can live with it” or decide you can’t live with it?”
That is an individual choice. Mostly, we avoid the choice. We don’t like that we have to make it; we don’t want to make it. We want things to go our way without having to put in any extra effort, and we resent that we’ve been “put in the situation” of having to make hard and miserable decisions. So we don’t really accept it, but we don’t put our foot down either. Instead, we silently martyr ourselves – we sacrifice our happiness to the status quo. Only nobody knows it but us. We may think we’ve made ourselves abundantly clear, but as long as you “live with” whatever it is, then what point are you making?
I guess you know when you actually CAN’T live with it. I chose to stay married for 2 years longer than I should have. I chose to leave that marriage when I could NOT live with it any longer. In the meantime, I chose to allow myself to be unhappy. Sure, I had plenty of reasons, but the truth is that choosing to stay was easier than choosing to leave. Until it wasn’t.
“How far do we go to find happiness? How many people are we willing to upset to find happiness?”
How far are you willing to go?
How important is their happiness to you? Are you willing to sacrifice their happiness for yours? Are you willing to sacrifice your happiness for theirs? Is there a place to meet in the middle? Have you expressed to them what would make you happy? Have you been honest with yourself about what will make you happy?
I saved one question for Friday since it got a little off topic and, per usual, I got too long winded. In the meantime, what do you think about all this?
Is life supposed to be happy?
How do you define your own happiness?
What’s your criterion for “putting up with it” or “putting your foot down”?
How far do we go to find happiness?
How much of yourself – what you already are and already have – are you willing to sacrifice for what you could be and could have?
Items of Interest:
Who Said Life Was Supposed To Be Happy? by averageinsuburia
To Be, Or Who I Was Meant To Be: That Is The Question by Mind Margins
Happiness is A Feeling that You Have to Bless Yourself With (aisjournal.com)
Stop Comparing and Start Being Happy (thetruthwarrior.wordpress.com)