Wednesday, 18 June 2014

On Being Happy

There's a song on my favourite Venetian Snares album that goes like this

I used to understand happy, I know that I used to be happy. I was really happy.
I'm unhappy now and I don't remember what it's like to be happy, I only remember... I don't remember...
I remember being happy only in comparison to not being happy, which is what I am now.

Now I've gone through phases where I've felt this way, as I'm sure most other people have. Of course, I find my way back to being happy again by and by. But this past weekend, a couple of my friends confessed to not having ever been happy. Or rather, to not know what being happy really means. One of them said her mother would have a checklist and say "Okay, so you have this, this, this and this. So you must be happy." Her mother is a truly practical person, I guess. And I suppose that is one way.

To me, though, that seems a cop-out. No, that's not the right word. It's more that it is short changing your life to boil it down to things that can be put on a list. From my perspective, anyway. I would find such a life tedious and pointless. Funny thing is, "pointless" is probably precisely the word that many would use to describe my own approach to life. This, too, came up in subsequent conversation with the same two friends. One offhandedly told me I have too much free time, when I was telling them about the various movies, interesting and otherwise, that I've seen recently. This cut me to the quick and instantly put me on the defensive. I demanded that she explain herself because I wasn't quite sure what she was getting at, but the other friend jumped in and said it made sense to her and that it was said in jest. I still don't get the joke. It seemed to me more an implied accusation. As in, you have nothing important/worthwhile to do so you spend your time frivolously. The reason for me jumping to this conclusion is that it's not the first time I've had that thrown at me, overtly or subtly. My own mother being first in line among my accusers. If not that, then the most generous alternative interpretation that I can think of is that she meant that wistfully. In the sense of "I wish I had that kind of free time." Which would make sense given that she is super busy in her many roles as mom, wife and scientist, and views movies and music and such as primarily entertainment (to me they mean so much more).

But I digress. The point is, I live to be happy. I can't imagine not knowing what happiness is. It is scary to even think of such an existence. And an existence is all it would be. Not a life. To me living, truly living, means to experience joy, which comes through many means. One of the primary joys of my life is a very primal one - simply experiencing with my senses. That's why I would describe myself as, first and foremost, a sensual being (in the true sense of the word). I live to touch and see and hear and taste beauty. Beauty, not in the sense of aesthetically pleasing alone, but in a more wider sense. Beauty is in things that touch your soul. I don't believe in the concept of a soul or what-have-you, but I can't find another word to describe it. Something that strikes a chord in your innermost being. I've briefly touched on how music makes me feel in an older blog post. It is almost indescribable. It makes me feel alive. Yes, that's the way to describe it. I find beauty in things that make me feel glad to be alive. Glad that I'm alive in this moment to experience this thing that makes me feel this way. Life-affirming.

Maybe it's a very selfish way of looking at life. In fact, it certainly is, because if everyone chose to live like me, then the world would simply stop. At the end of the day, we do need people like these friends of mine, who take it upon themselves to put aside their own need for happiness (or lack thereof) and bear children and raise them and work at jobs that have meaning and a purpose and all the rest of that.  For myself, I'm not quite ready to give up my hedonistic life. And I strongly suspect I never will be. There's just too much out there, man.

Also, I should add that you don't need to confine yourself to listening to happy songs and watching feel good movies in order to be happy. On the contrary, I find myself drawn more to works of art at the other end of the spectrum. Mainly because they feel more real. To illustrate what I mean, I'll leave you with the song I opened this post with. It's one of the things that make me happy in the sense I've tried to describe. And it's a good example because, as you've probably guessed based on those words, it is not a happy song. It's not that I take pleasure in the pain expressed in it. I'm neither a sadist nor a masochist. Rather I find pleasure in how beautifully the song conveys the emotion of despair. It is a good song. And that makes me happy.

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