I’ve been cogitating on something for a while now, and started to write it several times. You see, it’s this theory I’ve got that maybe we need to stop trying to be happy, and I don’t know how to write it without sounding like a right nark but that’s never stopped me before so here goes.
There’s something about the concept of happiness and why we are all so eager to attain this absolute – and so often elusive – happiness. It just doesn’t seem healthy to me. For a long while I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but at last it dawned on me: it’s all bollocks and we should all just stop trying to be happy.
Messages on the internet
I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up with no social media. I navigated my teenage years with adequate confidence and sufficient self esteem and no shadow of comparison cast by strangers on the internet. You might, from time to time, read me mention that I have suffered from depression going back as far as my teens, and that’s true. But I could recognise it for what it was: something which stemmed from within me, not a result of hundreds of images of other people’s perfect lives and appearances seeping into my consciousness.
We all have the choice whether to engage in social media or not. At this stage, it’d be hard for me to have an entire digital detox (although I wouldn’t discount it – maybe I could just blog into the void and hope that you’d read it without my accompanying Instagram announcements that there’s a new blog post out). But what I do know is that it felt good when I deleted my Facebook account permanently years ago, and got rid of people from school who I’d never come across again, and aunties so distant that I only see them at funerals. You soon see who makes the effort to keep in touch, but more than that: you don’t have to see what everyone else is doing with their lives all the time. Because without meaning to, we rank ourselves, benchmark ourselves, compare ourselves to holiday photographs, weight loss transformations, gender reveals, graduations, new jobs, baby showers, stag do’s, glamorous parties, new business launches, weddings, friendships, perfect parenting moments and more.
The cult of celebrity
Over on Instagram, I don’t follow any celebrities. Go ahead, you can check. I never watched TOWIE or the Kardashians or Love Island or blah blah blah – every single person on those shows blends in to one for me. And fair enough if you find them entertaining, but with your entertainment comes a hefty side dish of self loathing because you will never look like that, you will never drive that car, you will never have that amount of leisure time, you will never access those places, you will never touch that handbag.
You’re spending your free time voluntarily looking at something that makes you unhappy without you even knowing it. You see, nobody wants to be unhappy obviously, but I’ve realised that the opposite of unhappiness isn’t happiness it’s just contentedness.
I can’t tell you how sad it makes me when I see young girls tweet “I would kill for Molly Mae’s body”. Listen I dunno who Mollie Mae is but I’m telling you now that she will have her own obstacles to happiness. And if you can’t learn to feel content in general then magically having her body or any other body will not help you.
I get down about my appearance too sometimes, I’m sure loads of us do. But it’s become too normalised these days and that’s one thing that’s got to stop. I’m not saying I think I’m god’s gift. I’ve put on a fair bit of weight in recent years which makes it harder to buy clothes that fit and suit at the same time, and it’s making me physically uncomfy and less energetic. So please don’t think I’m dismissing other people’s dissatisfaction – or more – with physical issues. But despite weight, shape, scars, illnesses, I still wouldn’t swap my body for anyone else’s. It’s not because I’m always brimming with confidence or have undentable self esteem, but because I remind myself to accept myself.
So if you ever find yourself wishing you looked like someone else you really have to urgently assess what you’re exposing yourself to on social media and on television. It’s not going to help you be happy with yourself, in fact it’s a surefire way to become unhappy.
Enough is enough
Ever thought that the key might be to just work at making things enough, instead of trying to make everything perfect? Ever thought for a minute that maybe the sooner you stop trying to be happy might be the minute you’ll be the closest you’ll ever be to it? Cause that’s what I started doing and it’s working for me. That maybe we’re just making things too hard for ourselves? Adding unattainable goals and complexities to life that don’t need to be there?
I’ll tell you what I think has contributed to this over the years: this American concept of the pursuit of happiness. That we all somehow have the right to be happy – which is a subjective concept in itself. How privileged must we modern day people be to believe we have a right to happiness. There are other rights (safety, health, human rights, good working conditions, basic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs stuff) which together can add up to contentment. Why isn’t that enough for us? We could be content with that, surely?
Good moments vs Bad moments
Happiness is so abstract, so subjective, so unattainable to most that to aspire to be happy is only setting yourself up to fail, which will surely make you feel positively unhappy. And where’s the sense in that?
Nobody can achieve a permanent continuous state of happiness. It’s not possible and it wouldn’t be healthy or helpful. So instead of chasing the impossible dream of some sort of feeling of non-stop happiness, perhaps we just need to work on noticing the moments that already exist.
Well what if I have more bad moments than good moments, you might ask? Well that’s fair, and if you really find that despite cultivating awareness of good moments and deliberately making more of them happen, that you’re still having more bad times than good then yeah, I accept that. I’m not one of these ‘It’s a bad day, not a bad life’ people – which I know is intended to be an encouraging sentiment – but I would never dream of underestimating the very real feelings of unhappiness that come from depression, or grief, or illness.
I’m not talking about how to stop being unhappy here, though. I’m talking about grasping at this imaginary goal of happiness, when in fact life is already made up of things that can make you feel happy if you let them. If you stop looking at other people’s idea of what happiness looks like. Otherwise that goal will always move away the more you try and reach it, like waking the wrong way up an escalator.
Even if it were possible to be happy all the time, you don’t even need it. Beyond the basics from Maslow’s pyramid, you just need to make sure that you and the people you care about are well. That their minds don’t hurt, that nobody is abusing them sexually or physically or financially, that you’re not with someone who makes fun of you in front of other people, or who stifles your development. That’s all you need. That’s the foundation. Once you’ve got the foundation you are more likely to have moments that feel like happiness, if you take the time to notice them. You’re more likely to feel content, to feel hashtag blessed, to feel grateful or pleased or satisfied with your lot. After all, isn’t that what happiness feels like?