Wednesday, July 21, 2010


There has been a lot of death, disappointment and worry in my life and the lives of my friends in recent years. More so than seems fair, all told, and there seems no shortage of challenges up ahead. My friend Tom barely survived being shot by a sniper in Iraq a couple of years ago. My friend Beth was killed in a horrific car accident in 2008.
Friends are out of work. Friends are coming back from wars to a jobless recovery. Personal debt seems to be spiraling out of control as the American taxpayers who saved the financial industry and the world economy look up in horror at the giant banks now driving them to ruin again. Half the country cannot even bring itself to agree on reality, lest it cede some annoying truth that it fears will keep their favored party or leader from power.
These can be called fairly shitty times for a number of reasons in my personal life and the world at large.

However, I would not say that I am unhappy. This is not because I’m a moron, or a deluded optimist. I should point out that this also does not mean that I’m “happy all the time” either.

In the media over the last few days, in radio, on television, and in magazines, I’ve noticed one of those possibly sinister synchronicities.
You know what I mean, -those days when you hear 5 different news stories in one morning about how coffee may help you stay younger because of some report somewhere, by some bunch of dicks you never heard of at some fuck-all institute somewhere… and then the next day you hear 6 more reports that say just the opposite, only to then start noticing an omnipresent ad campaign about some new coffee substitute called “caffeine water” that will give you the bullshit anti-ageing benefits you think you heard about on the drive in to work but with none of the health risks you think you might have seen on the TV late last night…
The synchronicity I think I may be picking up on this time is a confluence of research, studies and findings on “happiness” and the lack thereof in the modern world. The last straw and the thing that led me to write about this slippery theme was this well written, well researched New York magazine article on the conundrum of parenting’s joys and horrors. To read it you would think that no parents, anywhere on Earth (except in Denmark) are happy in direct proportion to how many kids they have had. Raising kids is no fucking picnic, but I’ve seen my friends with their children and when the tantrums die down, -and when the kids aren’t being out of control monsters there is happiness. I know. I’ve seen it despite what this article maintains with its numerous sources and decades old research.

By the way; I’m pretty sure I never want to hear the words “counterparts in the industrialized world” ever again.

In the past days I’ve seen news items about Danish people laughing through their kids terrible twos and the high rate of suicide in Scandinavian countries/ stories on the modern male’s search for identity and the good times their fathers had that now seem to elude them/ many more stories on women in the workplace and the misery they have earned in the place of the comforts they had pre-feminism/ and on, and on: One lousy fucking story about abstract misery in contemporary life after another. I tell you this is the kind of nonsense that made Camus flirt with ideas of suicide before a car accident took him right out of this world in 1960.

How can we continue to have so much handwringing and anxiety about happiness when nobody can agree on what the fuck happiness is?

Is it purely an emotion? Is it a thing you get or achieve and maintain; is it an outlook, a philosophy? Maybe it’s all of these things but I can tell you this:
-regardless of what it means specifically to you, no one is “meant” to be happy all of the time.
That is not reality, it’s not sensible and it’s not even desirable when you really think about it. The only people who are “happy” all of the time are heroin addicts (if they indeed can get heroin all the time) and idiots, -particularly those half wits on earth whose stupidity allows them an escape from deliberation, reflection, nagging regret or conflict.
And if happiness were freedom from pain?
-Doped up hospital patients in intensive care units would be envied the world over for their state of happiness. I don’t think they are envied by anyone.
I think part of the problem is that the word we are actually looking for when we often speak of happiness (which is only a momentary thing) is satisfaction (which is a lasting thing). Somehow we have relegated satisfaction to imply “barely okay,” or “moderately acceptable.” These are not even parts of the meaning of the word: Satisfaction means having your needs met, or arriving at some means to fulfill them. Satisfaction is a kind of “winning.” Satisfaction is defined by the need and want it completes.

Satisfaction is underrated, and people who don’t think so probably don’t have any. That is in fact why they are “unhappy” and not because they cannot find “happiness.”

Happiness is in fact easy to find. Happiness is everywhere.

Just look at the shiny new cars, the tits on some beautiful girl walking down the street, the smell of a brick oven slice of pizza, a favorite TV show, the bright blue waves on a sunny beach, your pet dog, your neighbor's pet dog, or cold beer. Happiness isn’t hard to find, merely hard to keep permanently. Such is its very nature, it would cease to be happiness if it were everywhere all the time.

Happiness is nothing without its novelty, but satisfaction has no such precondition.

If you want to make yourself happy, go get a bucket of ice cream.
If you want satisfaction, make yourself a hearty Italian meal in your own kitchen from a recipe you’ve never tried before with fresh selections from a butcher you can trust and vegetables from a local green grocer.

I can remember the first time I truly experienced a sense of satisfaction, of genuine fulfillment. I can remember when I realized that, craving happiness all the time is for suckers and juveniles.

One night, after just having moved away from home in the winter of 1990, in the early days of that November, I lay awake in the factory space a friend and I were renting in Williamsburg Brooklyn. It was an enormous late 19th industrial building with 25 foot high ceilings. We had a freight elevator the size of my childhood bedroom, we had a woodshop with table saws, band saws and drill presses. It was freezing. It was cold. It was dark. It was my new home. My first night there, we had no heat. Lying in my loft bed, some fifteen feet in the air, I was looking up at the skylight that hung above. It was a dilapidated steel and glass model that was probably held together at critical points with nothing better than years of coagulated roofing tar. Through the odd spots that had no rust spattered panes I could see the night sky, with its dearth of stars thanks to the city’s bright lights. I stared up, my mind growing increasingly blank at its terrifying independence, listening to the deafening pulse of my own temples, and the beating of my own young heart in the dark…
I thought to myself: “I have to remember this feeling.”

That feeling was freedom.

I think I still believe this, and maybe I even know it. That is to say, I know it the only way you can know anything my friends; I know it to be a fact: It is a lack of satisfaction that murders people the world over century after century, and not unhappiness. With no hope or means toward satisfaction, fulfillment or purpose, life is dim, joyless and scary.

Just ask the Rolling Stones.
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Sue said...

Hmmmmm very deep, thoughtful post SJ. Me, I'm a contented happy person. I'm very optimistic and don't allow myself to be afraid or down in the dumps about day to day events. I see the glass half full and have been that way my whole life. So, do I call myself happy? hell yea, and it's alot more fun going thru life with a smile and a song in your heart!

Like that song, "don't worry, be happy"! :-)))))

Tim said...

I'll be back to comment on this

The power keeps going off.

I commented three time so far and bluey

SJ said...

Absolutely agreed Sue. I'm frankly more distressed at the amount of nonsense in the media agitating people about whether they're happy or not, or happy enough; including advertising.
Like the pharmaceutical advertisements on TV:
"Do you at times feel down, out of control, tired, not happy when you think you should be..."
I mean what the hell?
If you listen those ads long enough you'll actually start to feel all of those things. Not wanting to feel that way is one thing, but thinking it's normal to eliminate it all from your life especially with "medicine" [read drugs] is just insane.

I think most people queried in those surveys that keep popping up are generally doing okay, maybe don't have everything they'd like, and have most of what they'd need. If they want to find unhappiness, they should get serious and survey people in Calcutta, Ethiopia, the Appalachian regions, the lower 4th ward in New Orleans, i.e. people with concrete challenges and obstacles that have nothing to do with whether their money and prosperity are "enough" to make them "happy."