BE Happy (the impossible demand)

I never pretend to be happier than I am.

Doing so, as anybody who does it knows, is exhausting. Nonetheless, there is a lot of pressure to turn it on, crank it up, and act as if you’re having the time of your life. We cut people a little slack if they’re sick, or just lost their job, maybe were recently divorced or widowed, or otherwise are dealing with a major event. Short of that, the prevailing cultural message is often to whoop it up by god, git yourself a beer, watch the big game, and smile damnit. Because we’re having fun! (If the available “fun” really isn’t to your liking or quite your style, well too bad.)

When I was younger, I thought “happy” was the goal, a place a person could reach, should strive to reach, and once achieved, just stay. As I grew older, I of course absorbed that happiness is one state of many; none of them are meant to be permanent. I came to see contentment as a better goal. Further: people who think a lot can pretty much scrap Happy Land as a destination. Thinking and happy are at cross-purposes. Which is not to say thinking isn’t enjoyable or worthwhile or valuable in and of itself. I happen to be a big advocate of it! And for those so dispositionally inclined, thinking is a place to live.

“Don’t worry, be happy”? Well, naturally! I hadn’t realized it was that easy, silly me. Can you tell I can’t stand this sort of soft-headed pablum? Who has a delightful and stressfree life that calls for no worries? That kind of mantra suggests but for our negative (pointless) thinking, happiness could be ours! The message – and others of its ilk – strips worrying of any legitimacy. How realistic is that, for anyone?

I’m pretty sure most of us recognize that money in and if itself doesn’t buy a happy, worry-free existence, and if we don’t we should from the rampant examples. Frankly, what it seems to buy is better drugs. (I mean, what does THAT say?!) Yeah, I can already hear it: better to have the worries of the rich guy, yes? To a point it’s true but only to a point; studies in recent history suggest that once a certain level of financial equilibrium is achieved, i.e., basic needs and reasonable comfort, additional income does not provide more happiness. (People, and maybe Americans in particular, really don’t want to believe that.)

Still, the pressure to be, to act, happy persists. And many oblige. Personally, as I said at the outset, the more conscious I’ve become of this, the less I feel obliged. When I’m comfortable around other people, I have an energetic, social personality. I’m quick to smile or laugh, and dare I say, be funny. It’s not forced, it’s my natural inclination. Few would call me reticent or shy. All that being said, when I don’t feel as I’ve just described, I don’t pressure myself to keep it up. With intimates, if I’m tired or sad or somehow less-than-cheery, I say so. The curious thing is that I find that people don’t really accept that from me. They don’t like it when I’m not jolly. To this I now think: tough (okay, maybe not quite that bad). It’s limiting and unfair to expect me or any human being to maintain a constant state of being “up” or “on.” Who is that one-dimensional? Who is not subject to the continual ebb and flow of human emotions?

The word “mask” comes up a lot in this context; what people show to the world to hide their true selves, the ones they think others will find unacceptable. Wearing a mask though, boxes their owners in, and makes it that much more difficult to reveal other dimensions when necessary or desired. Naturally, people are fearful of rejection should they remove the mask. And it’s true when you’re used to seeing another person behave pretty much one way or show only one “face,” it can be quite a surprise or even shock when out comes a different, sometimes less palatable side. Initial reaction aside, I think in the end, within the right context, most of us prefer the “real thing” and have more to gain from it. When someone takes their mask off and stops working so hard at acting happy, it touches other people and gives them permission to remove theirs as well.

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2 thoughts on “BE Happy (the impossible demand)

  1. Jim Link

    Colette! You should check out a book by Pascal Bruckner titled Perpetual Euphoria: On The Duty To Be Happy……..He complains about and dissects our obsession to be happy all the time. Unless of course you’ve already read it…….Maybe I’ll even read it myself!

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