I’d like to talk a little about happiness. We’re all trying to find it, right? I am at least. It’s a trope so widely circulated that I hesitate to use it, but what the heck. You know: money won’t buy you happiness. I think we all have an inkling of what makes us happy, like being with people you like and eating a bowl of ice cream. The downside of happiness is that it’s always fleeting. It says hello, makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, then takes its leave without saying goodbye.
This should be somewhat comforting. If happiness is fleeting, so is sadness, right? All emotions are but temporary. But when you’re sad, it feels like you’ll be sad forever. When you’re happy, you can already feel it slipping away.
What kills me is that happiness is really just a state of mind. I can be happy literally any moment. I can will myself to be overjoyed about how comfortable this blanket feels, and there’s no reason that that my joy can’t be equal (or greater) than the joy of a man who just bought a yacht. But of course, I don’t. I pin my happiness on things out of my reach, like that cool T-shirt I really want. If only I had that T-shirt, my brain whispers to me. Think of how cool you would look! Think of all the friends you would have! Shut up, brain.
It’s very likely the man that just bought his yacht or Porsche or (insert fancy schmancy object here) is not too happy anymore. Maybe his bliss lasted for a day or so. I don’t know what you’d call this state of bliss (uber-rich people: what is the word I am looking for?). In any case, after a period of hours, the yacht has failed to provide the fulfillment said man had hoped it would. We buy things to fill emotional vacuums. No one ever buys a shirt because it’s a pretty shirt. Well, maybe they do. But when I buy a shirt I buy it because I have visions of me in this rad shirt feeling like a million bucks and making a boatload of friends. Chances are, the man probably imagined that a yacht would bring with it cadres (binders?) of women, and maybe of those, he would find a wife he really loved and settle down with, and finally he’d fulfill that secret dream of his, living in a treehouse in the middle of the woods.
This equation never works. I buy a shirt. I wear the shirt. Nothing happens. It’s just a shirt, I realize. Just a shirt. This is why I imagine perfumes are the most anticlimactic purchase you can make. Perfume ads must be in a devilish bargain with our inner critic, because they’ve mastered the trick of making us believe that with this perfume, we will transform into the belle of the ball and be pursued by an unshaven European man wearing a tuxedo. You cave and buy the perfume. Nothing happens. You look at it again and see it now. It’s just a bottle of liquid! ‘You paid $50 for this?’ my brain shouts at me in disbelief, the same brain that fell for the promise of the European man. Oh, brain.
Happiness is relative, yadda yadda. You are surely smart cookies and have a grasp on the basic tenets of new-agey wisdom. We’re children of the ‘90s, after all. Where I start to worry, though, is when I get to thinking about my future. See, I’ve always been enamored with this idea of The Big Dream. I’ve loved the movies all my life and I’ve never really deviated from my ambition to be a writer-director. To consider doing something else is too painful, too earth-shatteringly destabilizing, that I can’t even bear to fathom it. But this question of happiness keeps nipping at my ankles, prodding me to answer: Is this really going to make you happy? As far as I can tell, it is. I love cinema, I truly do. Sometimes, though, I imagine myself living at an orangutan sanctuary somewhere in Southeast Asia and being truly content. You know, meditating and surfing and just being all-around happy with life. What would be the difference between happiness attained that way versus happiness earned tooth and nail, by achieving my dream of success and fame? Can you quantify happiness? Or a better question, what makes one kind of happiness more precious than the other? In the end, isn’t it the same? Couldn’t I be just as happy right now, at 9 on a Wednesday night, chilling in my room? Who says I even need to fly to Thailand?
“No! What are you saying, you crazy hippie!” my brain fires back. My brain gets scared by the work involved in assuming a “happy” state of mind. It’s too impatient and impulsive. It gets to poking me about Thailand, and being in shape, and yes, that shirt. Truly, my brain is the most effective slimy salesman out there. If only you did this and had these things, it coos, why then, you’d be happy. Again, it seduces me. I cave. I buy the damn shirt. A few endorphins rush in, quickly depart, and then it’s back to square one: back on the prowl for the next quick fix. A few endorphins. Disappointment. All of it hollow, fruitless. I know this and yet I’m still a slave to the material promise of happiness. Out of laziness? Impatience? Whatever it is, the cycle is self-perpetuating. When it comes down to it, who can resist the perfumer’s siren song, the glass vial of concentrated happiness? So effortless. Forget fifty bucks. People would pay a million for that.
Contact Alex Bayer at firstname.lastname@example.org.