Happy. I’m so happy. Be happy. Have a happy_____.
Staples of American conversation. Relatives to our pride and joy (now those are some emotions) standards fine, nice and good. Bulwarks of our quick and easy shorthand, writing to and writing off of people.
Time eating away at our days, happy can feel as nourishing as a junk food snack. Dispensing in a clean efficiency the intimacy that could possibly invade a conversation, a relationship, a family.
I’m not anti-Happy. That sounds so negative, let me rephrase that. I’m pro-Happy. I just wrote Happy Easter in the cards I sent just this week. Why? Because I meant it. It’s part of our shared human lexicon, much like hello, goodbye, what’s up!
In fact, it has taken me many years to build a strong enough gut to express that no, sometimes, I’m not happy. Nor fine, good or nice.
There is plenty of research and a plethora of books on the topic of happiness. So much that it appears that maybe happy is not everybody’s default setting. Reading a stack of self improvement mags yesterday, I found at least a dozen articles on some version of feeling/being happier in one magazine alone. Happy sells.
Don’t worry, be happy!, Smile =) !, Have a nice day!, Happy Days, and in 1979 McDonalds introduced the Happy Meal. I grew up in this era focused on swinging the country’s weary pendulum from the end of the Vietnam war to a brighter, cheerier, treat yourself(ier) decade determined to move onward and upward. And all of those sayings and cultural phenomenons of three and half decades ago have cemented their place in pop culture American history, and seeped into our common vocabulary.
Trying to stay happy all the time though is a full time job. There are consequences for swinging to opposite extremes. When you are on one side of the satisfaction fence, that other grass looks a damn sight better. And when you cross that proverbial line, you find that maybe there is somewhere less exhausting in between these two places.
In 2015, we are living in a post-recession/depression time, so it can be a relief to see articles and people focusing on attaining happiness. After all, that was certainly not an address many lived at in those painful years of day to day survival. But what I sense, and hope is happening, is more an acceptance of the reality of life.
Happiness is an untenable state. Not unattainable. Untenable:
(of theories, propositions, etc) incapable of being maintained, defended, or vindicated
(Note: this is the British dictionary definition, and what I think untenable means, the American definition is a little bit different; must be a result of all my Jane Austen immersion.)
Happiness is a fluctuating state. Not that we don’t try to maintain. But above all, we are, and life is, dynamic. And as we discover more and more about the intricate form and function of our brain, of genetic code, and of the symbiotic relationship between all of our body’s systems, it becomes clear that happiness is simply not simple.
We are complex beings. We were created that way. Not cloned, not downloaded with the newest software update. We all come into this world wired a unique way, grow up in an environment that may or may not compliment our particular temperment, and then, view and share the world as only each of us can. Sometimes it means a generally ‘happy’ person, sometimes it means a bit more than meets the eye.
There are some pretty common understandings about what does and doesn’t cause happiness to flourish. And if that’s not enough to continue to pursue, we learn new things all the time. We know well that the pace of life in 2015 can be impossible to keep up with. The same can be said for the speed at which we acquire new information.
I ran across a quote in Women’s Health yesterday, in an article on improving memory. It was in the middle of skimming that this quote stopped me:
“The average person likely fields more facts in one day than people encountered in a lifetime a century ago.
I read it again, slowly, and sat, stunned. That factoid encompasses in one consise sentence why there are seemingly endless books and seminars and programs and songs devoted to the pursuit of happiness. There is a merry go round of learning, and not enough time to jump off and just be.
It makes sense why movements like “Pioneer Living”, “Tiny Houses”, and “Simple Life” are rapidly gaining traction. When we experience fear and instability on a personal or a national level, and when it feels like you have no control in what constantly flys at you and your family, the impulse is to gather closely what is safe and makes sense to you and shut out the noise.
A major life experience can cause a similar response. Two weeks ago, I lay in a hospital bed not having any idea what my life was going to look like in the next day, even the next hours. It’s times like these when what you value and love become finely focused, what you want to hold on to is what you love, what gives you joy.
Yet it’s often the grind of the daily that blurs perspective and makes happy just a fairytale story.
While recovering at home last week, I felt better and could pay attention longer, so I had the chance to catch up on a couple of movies. My favorite was Hector’s Search For Happiness. I loved it. It made me happy. In the best of ways. And it’s at the end of the movie that Hector experiences what has eluded him, eludes many of us.
Others may find happiness simple, easy and an inealieable right. It’s just that it isn’t.
The author of Ecclesiasties was a King who was famous for his wisdom and had within his grasp everthing that would seem to make life happy. His search for the meaning of life holds in common just about everything that we face today in our own search for a fulfilling life.
“What do I think of the fun-filled life? Insane! Insane! My verdict on the pursuit of happiness? Who needs it?” Ecc.
If King Solomon concluded this about happiness as a permanent state of being, where does that leave us?
A good place to start? Let’s stop requiring of ourselves and others to “be” of a certain mindset and mood all of the time. What about giving up. And beginning a new quest. One built not on tradition or manners, social norms or expectations of what should be.
Happy shares it roots with “happenstance” and “haphazard”. I like that. It’s one of those elusive feelings, that you just run into, are surprised by and not, well, happy to see go. Maybe happy is a rest stop, a place to sit, to laugh, to dance, to throw a party.
Jesus’ life wasn’t what we would label as happy. And his death and resurrection broke every human expectation of a redeeming King.
At His tomb, three days later, three women, Mary Magdelene and the other Mary, and Salome, along with the guards stationed there, saw a stone rolled back by an angel of immense light. The soldiers were literally scared stiff; and the angel spoke to the women, telling them first the news…
“He is not here. He was raised, just as he said….now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples…” The women deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb..” Matthew 28:1-7, MSG
Deep in wonder and full of joy. In the other gospels the women’s reactions are; stunned, astonished, beside themselves, head swimming, weeping, awestruck, terrified. They had just lived through two excruciating days of uncertainty and loss and then silence. Happy wasn’t going to be enough to tell this story.
Happy Easter days are good things. So is sharing words wishing someone happiness. Happy days, times, memories are precious, because in their very essence, they are fleeting.
I’m just wondering if we too often assume that happy is the state of being that God wants us to live in. Happiness is a bandaid on a bleeding wound. It might work for a few minutes, and then it is not enough. It takes more to heal a hurting heart, a hurting stituation, a hurting world. Do we really have the time to spend ignoring and covering up the very real and complex emotions and feelings just below the surface?
And we value having it all together, don’t we? I can handle this, it’s all good, I’ll be fine, nothing I can’t handle on my own. Keeping people at a distance may provide inital relief. Our independence might impress a few. You might be able to pull a bandaid off on your own, but when it comes to rolling away a stone in front of a tomb you need others. And others need you.
I greeted people this morning at Easter service with that phrase, Happy Easter. I sat in the back row with my extended family, and with one woman who came alone, to my left at the end of the row. We introduced ourselves, and as the service contintued I felt God pulling my heart toward my neighbor.
At the end of the service, as I turned to say goodbye I smiled at her. Before I could speak, she grabbed my arm. “I wanted to tell you that you have such a beautiful voice.” I thanked her, told her that I just love music and love to sing, but that my sister sings professionally and is in Sydney at Hillsong College. But she interrupted me and shared this.
“I came here this morning depressed. And hearing your voice lifted my spirits, so thank you. I know without a doubt that God put you here next to me for a reason.” A hug and minute later, we left in different streams of people out into the cold and sunny Easter morning.
Happy can exist on its own, but can’t be forced on anyone. That would be like planting cotton candy and expecting it flourish just because it makes you feel good. So, what exactly is missing from much of road to happiness advice and how-to’s?
In the movie, Hector left home alone on a journey to find the key to happiness, people join movements alone to meet up with like minded others to carve a new definition of living happily, and a woman came alone to church Easter morning, nudged by a small flicker of hope.
In the end all we have is ourselves. But not really. What really makes happy more than a handful of cloud is the sharing of it with others. Journeys alone are seldom summed up as completely happy expereiences. And sorrow and pain and brokenness do not get healed by our own power.
I hope you had a happy Easter. Also, if you had a sad, mad, challenging, calm, or painful Easter; you were not alone. You are not alone. We were made to live in relationship, in community, to share the hard and the lovely, the bitter and sweet together.
Not Me. Not You. Not Alone. WE.
PS….This took me three days to write and revise, no surprise I suppose, writing about Easter redemption. Sometimes I start something with one voice and in my frustration and discontent with it, leave it to sit, often thrilled that I didn’t publish it right away. I pray God will always use my writing to bless others, even if it may just be me at times. Thank you for taking the time to read here, for whatever the reason, and really, for taking a chance on togetherness.
If we’d only stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time. ~Edith Wharton.
LINK: Intro to Nobody Loves Me, Derek Webb, The House Show(2004). This guy is a former member of Caedman’s Call, an indie/folk group well ahead of it’s time (pre-hipster). It was one of my favorite groups in the early 2000’s. He is genius songwriter, musician, and was also way ahead of his time in adressing the truth. One writer called him an agitator and unafraid of addressing messy Christianity. The whole album is worth a listen, not just for the songs, but for the freeing and challenging words he throws down for all of us.
Bonus: The Importance of Community