Recently, a friend asked me if I was a generally happy person. “Because you seem to be,” he added when I didn’t immediately answer. A rare question, at least when asked directly, but certainly not an unusual one. I suspect most of us have faced variations of this question over the years.
Happiness has not been my favorite topic. It can be taboo particularly when someone has not achieved or chosen happiness. Admitting to unhappiness seems tantamount to admitting failure. And I can’t help but feel that discussions of how happy one is will lead to some sort of twisted pissing contest in which one or more parties begin internally comparing themselves to others (or what they are reading).
I did not ask my friend how he came to formulate this “generally happy person” impression, so I’ll suppose two things. First, his observations are largely influenced by what I post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We don’t see each other often, so these are our primary means for eavesdropping on each other’s lives. Second, when we do see each other, I’m probably super upbeat and positive. (Duh, silly, I’m practically, but not literally, pooping rainbows because I get to hang out with you.)
So back to social media. People constantly curate (and by curate, I also mean censor) themselves online, sharing more of the good and less of the bad. More of what they want others to know about them, less of what makes them vulnerable. Insert the whole side topic of links between social media and self-esteem and depression here.
Unnecessary News Flash: I curate (censor) myself on social media too.
Yup, that’s right, there are things that I don’t share on social. Like that I’ve cried 4 times in the last 52 hours. And here’s why:
- Friday mid-morning – LONELINESS. More specifically, I was feeling the void of non-companionship, and in that void, I’m always haunted by doubt that I will ever find the companionship I crave.
- Friday afternoon – DEVASTATED BY RACISM. In the wake of the Charleston Church Massacre, as with many recent events fueled by racial tensions, my Facebook feed has filled with articles about white privilege and institutionalized racism. There was a time when I would have claimed to not be racist, but I can not learn about such things and cling to that claim. I benefit from circumstances I was born into. I’m torn to bits when thinking about circumstances friends were born into. I feel horribly ill-equipped to alter the course of systemic racism, and this leads to a whole rabbit hole of thoughts and emotions.
- Friday night – LOVE & GRATITUDE FOR MY PARENTS. I get weepy over this one a lot. I f*cking hit the jackpot with my parents (which is weird, cause I’m pretty sure fetal gambling is illegal in all 50 states). Their love and support blows me away. They’re among my best friends. I would hang out with them on the regular if we were neighbors. («– That’s called foreshadowing.)
- Saturday afternoon – AWED BY A FRIEND’S BEAUTY. As I began to comment on how stunning a friend looked in her new Facebook profile pic, I felt familiar nagging discomfort with compliments on appearance and directed my thinking toward non-physical qualities that made this woman beautiful. I also started mentally clicking through the many people I know who are beautiful inside and out, until my awe had little awe-babies and it got a little overwhelming.
Four cries. (It’s been an emotional couple of days.) Two fueled by pain and sadness, and two by joy and gratitude. Two and two. Unhappy and happy (although I think gratitude can have a dark side which I won’t get into here). Checkmate on the teeter-totter.
Four is hardly a decent sample size. It’s certainly not enough to confirm or deny my general happiness. Which I’m not trying to do. So why have I written 650+ words and still not gotten to the point?
I was, as my dad would say, a happy sick kid. I wasn’t sickly, but when I was sick, it didn’t get me down. I’d laugh and smile even while retching into a coffee can late into the night while Elvira hosted campy horror flicks like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. There are few periods in my life I can readily recall as being dark. The darkest of them occurred four years ago. It followed the demise of a relationship, after which, to be blunt, I no longer felt I was interesting as a person. (Brake check. Don’t get caught up on the utter destruction of my self-confidence. It’s still not the point.) You know the quote, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Sorry, Lord Tennyson. I don’t agree. But “to know true joy you must also know true pain”* rings like a monster gong. The brokenness I felt during my darkest days unlocked magnitudes of emotion I had not previously accessed. It also changed my relationship with happiness.
I want to be happy, and yes, I am a generally happy person, but I’m not fixated on finding, achieving, or choosing happiness. Life is full of ups and downs. The ability to feel all these feels on the great spectrum of emotion with such overwhelming potency – that is a beautiful and magical thing!
*I don’t remember the specific quote, but if you know it, please share in the comments.