Thoughts on Happiness and Sadness

Experience has taught me that no one is happy. But perhaps that is my own pain projecting what I, in some sadistic, self-centered, subconscious attitude, hope to be true (how sick is that)? I mean, if no one is happy, then perhaps that means my own unhappiness is somehow lessened in scope. Misery loves company and all that. Or that bullshit about how if we’re all unhappy then no one is.

Maybe. Or, perhaps there’s just the stark fact that never once in the history of my living upon this planet have I ever encountered a human being whom I could describe as being genuinely and enduringly happy. I have seen happiness, yes. I’ve even experienced it myself. But observing some fleeting happiness here and there or feeling momentarily happy is not the same as witnessing someone who is constantly or at least predominately happy. This I have never seen. I’m not sure anyone has, really.

Is it possible that “happiness”—whatever that may mean in our individual minds—is a projected state of being that exists only in theory? We all have this idea of what happiness might look like, and we all know quite well that reality doesn’t match this idea. Perhaps the resulting deficit, which is created when reality fails to meet our projections of what should be, is then interpreted to be the opposite of happiness, something we call “sadness.” If so, then what we are calling “sadness” is actually just the normal state of reality, or, if you prefer, simply what is. Sadness, then, is not actually a term of measurement that describes a necessarily negative experience, but rather is a term used to describe normalcy. But because the term “sadness” has a certain meaning and definition, the context of which we all know quite well in our various languages, we are inclined to experience the normalcy of reality as though it is a bad thing, something to be mourned and feared and wept over—something to disdain, in short. And yet all that has really happened is that instead of accepting reality as it is, we projected something better in our minds, something we called “happiness,” something that may or may not be attainable. When our projections failed to manifest in reality, we characterized ourselves as “sad” rather than “happy.” But in this sense, “happiness” is an imagined stratum of experience that, in all likelihood, is unachievable. Thus, we are consigned to sadness—a sadness which is no less projected than our version of happiness is.

In other words, our sadness is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the default consequence of not dealing with reality as it is. In fact, reality, when you really think about it, is under no obligation to be either “good” or “bad.” Indeed, reality is neither—it simply is what it is. It is we who assign meaning to our experiences. It is we who burden reality with our expectations and our sense of entitlement. Existence, which is sterile and neutral on its own, is colored only by that which we end up bringing to it. We are therefore the creators of “happiness” and “sadness.” They are experiences to be determined by us. But we behave as though they have power over us, as though happiness is some set quality that we can either experience or miss out on, and “sadness” is the default setting when “happiness” has been missed.

But if we are the creators of “happiness” and “sadness” (and we must be; otherwise reality is biased on its own and we don’t stand a chance), then that means we can, each of us, be as happy or sad as we choose to be at any given time.

This hypothesis (which is by no means verified, mind you) suggests that I am the author of my own sadness, and so are you. Why, then, don’t we choose to author happiness? What is keeping humanity from making that choice in their minds? What stops us from simply deciding to be happy rather than sad in the same way we might decide to get out of bed rather than sleep in?

The answer, I think, is that we believe happiness is an arbitrary state of being that might befall us or not befall us depending on how the chips fall. Perhaps we believe happiness is some sort of karmic reflection of how we behave, and thus we are motivated to do good rather than evil. Or perhaps we believe happiness is the byproduct of dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s, and thus we are motivated to move meticulously through life without ever making mistakes. Whatever the case, we believe happiness is something that happens to us in the same way we might contract cancer or go bald. As such, we approach life as though it’s a lottery, one we might win but which, when we’re honest with ourselves, we know we probably won’t. Sadness is therefore the default position we assume when we lose this lottery.

What if happiness is less like a lottery and more like a buffet? What if it’s just there for the taking? What if happiness is a decision anyone can make at any time? What if—(and the implications here are staggering)—sadness is just as much a buffet? That would have to mean that most if not all the humans on this planet are loading their plates with one experience (the bad one) when they could just as easily load their plates with the other (the good one). This is a truly appalling thought, however. Why? Because it suggests that the thing we call “the human condition” is really just the biggest fucking waste of time and space and resources that has ever gone down this side of existence.

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