Everyone wants to be viewed as having it all together. We see this phenomenon played out daily–perhaps most glaringly via social media outlets like instagram, pinterest or facebook. An image of perfection is presented to us–broadcast over the world wide web in bite-sized portions meant to be devoured and lapped up by all the wanting minds desiring to be the best, the most accomplished, the most adored… those desperate to reach the apex of their daily existence… judging themselves against an image, project or posting where every element of what is offered up is edited, manipulated, staged and “filtered.” Yes, it’s a term given to a lens that masks and mars and distorts reality–but, it’s not just limited to an iphone app. We are taught that if we don’t appear, at least superficially, to be buttoned-up, with our backs straight, smiles plastered and posed just so, Stepford-ized to the max…than we’re not truly succeeding in this life. Somewhere… we have failed, fallen and faltered. The appearance of happiness is the standard by which we think we are all being evaluated and compared. And to an extend it’s very true. If we do all the steps society deems appropriate– get a degree, find a career, find a partner, get married, buy a house, have a family, work ourselves towards an early grave, retire, etc. then we should be happy, right? Most of us know that that’s not how it works, but people still fall into that trap. It’s still ingrained in our DNA. It’s in our core.
I have witnessed the behind the scenes world of w hat goes into those supposed slices of suburban utopia–behind those adorable family photographs that get touted as “just another day”-the tantrums, the fighting, the crying, the many attempts at getting just the right “candid”– all in this tragic attempt to capture what we are conditioned to THINK is this perfectly untroubled group of humans living harmoniously with a unified goal–a paragon of happiness… . Rockwellian. I look at people trying so desperately to convince others… and probably even themselves..that they are the most content folks on earth… and I get sad for them. They’re so busy searching for this elusive concept of what it means to be happy–something they are taught from early on that if they fail to achieve it through traditional routes then they are a letdown to themselves and their families–that they’re doomed to be absent for the present… never aware of the moment enough to know if they ever actually experience it. They probably don’t even know what it actually feels like to be unencumbered and free of the stress of searching for happiness and truly living it.
Of course, it is all very subjective. I am not naive enough to think that I’m ever going to obtain this state of perpetual bliss. . I’m not going to wake up one morning after a fitful night of sleep to a world where I’m sunbathing in the sublime from dusk til dawn. My brain is never going to accept calm, peace, and complacency. It’s always going to be on high alert– scanning the horizon for the “What ifs” and “what could bes”…. and it’s never going to allow me to rest comfortably in contentment for too long. I’m going to spend the duration of my life glancing over my shoulder after every couple of tentatively taken steps–ready for the boogeyman to finally catch up and sedate my blissfulness. That’s okay though. Unlike so many of my friends and family, I have no shame admitting that happiness is, more or less, an illusion. I do not fear failure because I have been swimming, or more accurately, drowning in it for over a decade. I’ve had time to sit back and reformulate what I want out of life. And what it means for me to be happy.
My personal pursuit of that is all that matters. I know that it may never be a constant, but it is something I can search for and discover in minutes or moments…seconds or segments. I have discovered that in distancing myself from that “American-dream” oriented type of success-associated happiness–that I am able to obtain something that I deem its equivalent in doses scattered throughout the day. I glean happiness from seeing my partner, my parents, my nieces, or my sister smile. My heart nearly explodes the moment that my eyes catch theirs in that particular euphoric state–shining and twinkling as bright as the nearest galaxy–when their laughter can no longer be muffled. When that unbridled optimism emanates from within them and they unknowingly share it with the rest of us in the room… to be near it… to breathe it in… that is happiness. I feel that internal cheer-o-meter rise significantly when I am around to listen to them recount anecdotes from their day, to witness their successes, feel their levels of pride soar higher than I am ever capable of reaching on my own. The corners of my lips immediately curve upwards, the wrinkles around my eyes tighten, my dimple appears in my cheek, and my smile becomes impossible to hide any longer. Whenever I perform a generous act that brings cheer to those I love– I feel the familiar tingle and satisfying glee. Yeah, it’s a selfish act of selflessness. But, I know it gives me an injection of what I believe to be happiness and a sense of general contentment. I am alone enough, separated enough, isolated enough… all day… to know what power a great stimulating conversation with someone I care about can possess. Those isolated instances can and have pulled me out of those pitch black places I sometimes go to when I lose sight of all the good in my life. I think those unexpected moments are happiness. I think finding that connection is happiness.
Sometimes, I will be sitting in the dark at night, nothing but the glow of the television casting the softest glow upon Meg’s face… as she lays her head on my lap… fighting sleep as she tucks all her anxieties, worries and stressors from the day away in the back of her mind…. that look of peace and serenity on her countenance…the trust that she places in me to keep her safe… the love that emanates from within …all of that will culminate in this epiphany wherein all I can think about is how lucky I am. How… HAPPY… I am to be alive to experience that feeling… if only for a minute. How thankful I am to still be around just to have that memory etched into my mind forever…however long forever really lasts.
So, for me, happiness is real, but fleeting. And it is defined by no one other than myself. It’s insignificant in its presentation. It manifests itself in the mundane. It exists in the ordinary, but cements itself in my memory bank as something nothing short of extraordinary. I do not wake up in the morning expecting to find it. I view it as an unattainable and elusive resource. So, when I stumble over it and suddenly find myself standing amidst that rare light… in that glow we all crave but are incapable of scientifically mapping out… I bask in it. I dance. It might not be the happiness that many correlate with financial or material successes…and it may not translate well to documents or posed photographs, but it’s my own special breed of that feeling or emotion. And I quite like it. I live for it. And I’m usually fortunate enough to touch upon it every day…in some form or fashion. I just had to open my mind and lower my expectations from what I was taught that happiness means. I had to recalculate the meaning of the word. I now see the beauty in something as small as a brilliant blue sky, a warm sun, a song bird, and a breeze on my cheek. I see it as a snuggle from my dog when I’m feeling low. I see it as a word of encouragement from a friend with whom I’ve not spoken with in years. I see it as an ice cold coke that my girlfriend buys for me just because she knows it’s my favorite. Yesterday, I saw it when my mom and dad waved at me on a webcam from a ski-resort in Utah…just to make a connection with me from afar. I see it everywhere.