The problem with happiness

Happiness is the enemy is a quote from Niki Lauda, he goes on say it weakens you, suddenly you have something to lose. I revisit the idea often, it’s not that I agree but maybe that I understand the difficulty in striving for something never stopping to imagine how it might feel to actually have the thing you are striving for. In that sense, the idea of happiness is imperative to success, not so much the realisation of happiness, but the intangible desire of inhabiting a reality you made with your own achievements. It might be an overhang of capitalism, consumerism, probably.

The problem with happiness might be the belief that it is a kind of filmic destination, a stage in your life cycle, an environmental shift that justifies all of your hardships. I came across a saying lately that as long as you want what you have you will always have what you want. It echoes Dorthy’s sentimes in The Wizard of Oz: if i ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that a religious afterglow? Maybe it’s a practical solution to a historical problem, I mean – what were all of those wars really about? If people had literally stayed in their own backyards we might be sitting in a very different present.

One of my first lecturers at university warned against the impending dangers of over-qualification, he was convinced that once we all had under graduate degrees we would need post graduate degrees to compete in global markets and so on. Maybe the problem with happiness is that it no longer belongs to the individual and the marketing of institutional happiness is prevalent to the point of gross exhaustion. I have been at those dinner parties where people smile politely listening to someone talk about how they are ‘happy taking life as it comes’ only to see the vultures circle when the ‘happy’ person excuses themselves and the bittersweet ambitious robots (I admit to being one) can’t help swapping perplexed banter – ‘truly? happy with what? taking life as it comes? where’s the drive – where’s the excellence?’ and the awkward silence that follows, realising that the ‘happy’ person has chosen to be happy. The rest of us, we have chosen to delay happiness – we want it to be hard won and very, very shiny.

I have always had designs on bliss, it used to mean having the freedom to meet my own needs, on my own terms. That structure mostly worked when I was single and reasonably carefree, my needs were the responses to personal necessities. Developing a second life as a creative, and a third life as a professional, triply complicated my initial processes. Entering into a relationship where I realised I had little control over my raving-bigger-than-the-universe feelings of love further complicated my happiness so I outsourced that part of myself to be managed externally on account of my achievements in the physical world. My inner landscape proved to be a kind of pseudo war zone, part of me constantly campaigning for a glorious future, and the rest of me fighting to eclipse my long term goals with counter arguments of the soul, the poet, the lover frequently bombarding my pragmatism and logic.

The more I fell into love, the more isolated I felt from myself, the more terrified I grew – noticing my vulnerabilities, my new found and seemingly involuntary actions of placing someone else’s needs above my own. I chartered my happiness on the page, the page has always been my point of anchorage, it is the one place that all parts of me honour with equal measure. My creations of Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick, Rushing Dolls, Blue-Crowned Lorikeets and the many swirling themes of dramatic feminine strength, beauty and power – gave me points of light, like stars in a very dark sky to navigate myself towards. I had no idea at the time, that my stars, the stars I needed, the motifs and strength of my ideas would one day give energy to others.

The ‘others’ are people who I admire and deeply respect, I have met many different souls, some are very successful people who are lonely in their bliss, or people disconnected from their authentic selves finding the strength to search for their own points of anchorage. I identify with them all, the range of emotions in my work comes from the truth of my own experiences, my own problems, with my own perceptions of happiness. I believe we are all blessed in unique ways, there is a detailing to every person that makes them special, the more I contemplate my path, the good and bad, the more I come to acknowledge that our differences are characteristics to be celebrated.

I read somewhere recently that you shouldn’t expect your needs to be met in a relationship, I wonder how that statement applies to the relationships we have with all the different parts of ourselves and the long years we spend trying to reign ourselves into one cohesive whole. We imagine this whole to be educated, loved, free and successful. We imagine that once everything fits together and we know who we are, completely, a wave of euphoria will wash over us for the rest of our days, we will be fully operational, our full potential having been unlocked.

If it true as I have heard many times, that the person you want to be is just a decision away, the problem with happiness might be the variety of people to become, the spectrum of vocations on hand, the and-or mentality of dating as an individual pursuit whereby you meet your own needs and the other person adds value to, not a missing piece to, who you are. I would like to do everything at once and looking over my life I often have. It used to pain me hearing teachers at college preach about applying yourself completely or your future would be all doom and gloom. In reality, the days continued, the world kept turning, regardless of how well I did in a test, or if I failed another test miserably. Whether I had the boyfriend of my dreams, or a close relative passed away, the cruel and delicious world continued.

As a poet it’s a part of my job to be something of an open wound, nobody is too concerned with page after page of how great life is and how love is easy and how death is just a fact of nature – no – people want pages that bleed, that intersect between sex and culture, that challenge and alarm and give the world mystery. I want that too, in a way I cannot explain. There is a profound happiness in translating my soul to others. There is a profound truth in inviting rawness and emotion into my heart to create with integrity of feeling. The problem with happiness might be how limiting it is to have one word, one piece of string, to wrap around the earth’s surface, one idea to salt an open wound the size of Mars. I might just challenge Niki Lauda and find something to lose that weakens you into happiness.


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