“Are you happy?” one of my sisters asked me yesterday morning.
The question surprised me. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before. My first impulse was to reply, “Of course I am—can’t you tell? Do I seem unhappy?” But some reaction stronger than that initial impulse kept me in check, and I paused to think about the question, and about my answer.
Am I happy? I was sitting at my desk at work, responding to the first round of morning emails and trying to organize the day’s tasks, and my sister and I had been texting one another intermittently throughout the morning, catching up on this and that. I started applying the question to the various pieces of my life like a puzzle piece or the key to some riddle. Work: yes, I’m happy at work; home: yes, I’m happy at home; family: yes; friends: yes; health: thank God, yes; day-to-day needs: yes. And most of all, spiritual life: by the grace of God, yes. I started laughing. Oh, the goofy human heart—to be so full of happiness and so (basically) unaware.
Wow. I have a damn good life, and I’m happy.
A few months ago I watched Happythankyoumoreplease , an artsy, indie, angst-ridden film about young 20-somethings living in NYC and trying to figure things out. At one point the main guy character* asks one of the main girls (his best friend), “Are you happy?” And she answers with a surprised laugh, “Of course I’m not happy.”
As if being unhappy goes without saying once a person hits adulthood. The question then becomes, not “How do I find happiness?” but “How do I deal with the mess that is my life now that I’ve grown out of childish delusions and accepted that I can’t ever be happy?” We young adults are supposed to take for granted that we’re not happy. That we’re not going to be happy, at least not in the long run. Maybe it’s an outlook based on the realization that feelings are fleeting things. I won’t always feel happy, but is that really the point?
Anyway, it hit me today, as I reflected on these different outlooks, that the key lies in that “of course” response. “Of course” eradicates thought. And once you eradicate thought, you lose depth. The response becomes a shallow one. “Of course I’m not happy” and “Of course I’m happy” are equally shallow, thoughtless responses to the question “Are you happy?”
“Of course” means “This isn’t even worth thinking about.” It implies that you’ve got all the pieces and all the answers. So if you’re “of course” not happy, it’s because there simply isn’t anything to be happy about. Why discuss it? And if you’re “of course” happy, then you’re taking everything you have for granted (or you’re lying). And in either case, you completely obliterate the key element that assures lasting happiness: gratitude.
Gratitude that looks at life as it is and says, “True, x, y, and z aren’t going so great, or these circumstances suck, but I’m alive. My basic needs are met.” Or that takes a step back from heady, giddy cheerfulness and says, “Thanks for this.” Either case requires the realization that something (or Someone) else is involved in everything that goes right in my life.
So I stumbled on the realization with some surprise–and a lot of thankfulness. I’m happy.
Quite frankly, I probably don’t deserve to be.
And there’s no “of course” about it.
The question remains: Are you happy?
*Actually, I admit–I’m pretty sure the main guy asks the question, but it may be someone else. Either way, the point is: the question gets asked.