The Problem of Happy

Pajama pants make me really happy.

I currently have 3 pairs that I love: one blue with light blue and white reindeer and trees, one with a pretty green and white pattern, and one old pair with snowmen and bleach stains.

When I look at them and wear them, I feel little bursts of positive feeling and a smile on my face.  And when I am shopping and see some more cute pairs, I wistfully long for the happiness they would bring me if I purchased them and wore them on cool evenings.

This is not something I have studied in depth, so I’m just speaking from personal observation and probably not reaching any profound ideas here.  But I have been having a problem with the concept of happiness for a while, and it is difficult to put my finger on.  But in looking at my pajamas I saw a message that comes across in a culture influenced by consumerism: life should be constant strings of happy moments.

Frankly, this message is ridiculous and very effective at getting people to buy things.

Buying things does make me happy.  But happiness is just a feeling, not a state of being.  It’s not something humans experience at a constant level, just like we don’t feel sadness all the time (not to be confused with depression, which is a topic where I don’t feel knowledgable enough to discuss).

I think at some level I have believed the message that you can feel happy all the time, if your life looks like x, y, z.  Even though I know this is not true.  (Sometimes I distinguish ideas of knowing and feeling; as the feelings come from the deeper part of the brain, I imagine that I have to convince my limbic system of something in order to really believe it.)

Then I think of another question: what do people mean when they say “happy”?  I’m thinking of language used often: “I’m glad you’re happy.”  “They look so happy.”  “This will make you happy.”  Do they mean the fleeing feeling?  Or do they mean something closer to satisfaction, contentment, pleasure, or joy?  What do I mean when I say “happy”?

This subject has been on my mind lately because I am dissatisfied with a few aspects of my life: my job, my health, my weight, money.  It’s easy to picture a “happier” me.  Even then, am I picturing a me that feels happiness more often?  When I reflect on my life, I realize that I do feel happy often, especially since I get that feeling from simple pleasures like pajama pants and an orange cat who frequently occupies my lap.  I also feel frustrated, tired, annoyed, and contemplative often, but this seems like part of the range of normal human emotions.

One of the things I like about being an atheist and not following any religion is that I get to define life on my own terms.  However, this can be a difficult process, especially in the area of emotions where I feel my education growing up was lacking.  Before, I might have felt a more clear direction or purpose to life – love God, love each other – and I will admit that that direction or anchor was nice to have.  Every now and then the meaninglessness of life hits me in a negative way, and the daunting task of defining my own purpose in a purposeless world looms ahead.  When I step back and realize I’m chasing the feeling of happiness, I feel silly because I know I cannot constantly feel happy.

For now, my answer is to pursue better health and fitness, continue working at my job until I can pursue another opportunity, and appreciate happiness when it comes.  Along the way, I want to find ways to be more fair, more loving, and more helpful to people.

And enjoy the process of exploration of life without a guide.

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