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October 7, 2013 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Happiness: Just Another Feeling

I can’t remember what I used to wish for on my birthdays, until I was 13. I decided it would be happiness. If I had happiness, everything else was guaranteed. All the things I wanted would have to be present for me to be happy, to live a successful life. I’m not sure exactly what they would have been. A good job, a happy relationship, a nice house, good friends, the ability to travel and buy what I wanted without worrying too much about money, health, freedom, maybe a dog. Once all those boxes had been ticked, happiness would come naturally. Before then, all I could hope for would be contentment.

We focus so much on the future, what will be. It seems as though the main reason we attend university is to prepare ourselves for the future. We’re at that stage in our lives where we haven’t yet settled; there’s hope yet. An Art History major should give me some knowledge good enough for a dinner-party conversation. But it doesn’t make me happy, knowing this. It’s more that I am content in the knowledge that I’ll have something behind me.

What I really want is success. I want a successful relationship, a successful job—a successful life. Too often, happiness and success get roped into the same category—with success comes happiness. You’ll feel moments of joy at achieving what you wanted, but it doesn’t last. Success only provides temporary good feelings, and as The Flaming Lips so reverently put it, “it’s hard to make the good things last”. Neither are really that important to a meaningful life. Success may be an attainable goal, but you can always climb higher, and happiness is only fleeting.

Overall, it’s relatively hard to change the way we ‘feel’ without drugs. There are certain factors that contribute to our feelings, like major ‘life events’, and factors like the amount of sunlight we are exposed to. No one feels happy all the time. It’s a scale, and everyone has varying base levels. You don’t need happiness, and success is too subjective to be able to pin down. Freedom, friendship, acceptance, an open mind. Those are all more important for a meaningful life than whatever feelings they cause.

You could go to bed earlier, drink green tea, work harder, accept the things you can’t change. None of that will make you happy. The only thing that can really make you happy is serotonin, which is a chemical in your brain and largely out of your control. You can choose to be positive and put yourself in good positions, you can choose not to care. But whether you are happy or not is a consequence, not a choice.

Life isn’t always all that great; it can be pretty dire. With all the ignorance and the hunger etc. So do whatever it is you want. Maybe you could go about achieving enlightenment by joining a cult or finding your spiritual side. But you may as well relish in what you have. Fuck the rest of it. Just realise that happiness is only a feeling, like all the rest of them. Woody Allen puts it best in Annie Hall, proclaiming: “I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable.” We really should be thankful to be miserable (sometimes) and content (occasionally) and even happy (there will be glints).

Instead of focussing on the absence of happiness or getting stuck in the trap of feeling sad about feeling sad, remember how little importance your feelings really have. When you’re dying, I assume your thoughts won’t be focussing on how you felt throughout life, but rather what you did (whether you ‘succeeded’ at it or not isn’t relevant). Happiness is so arbitrary and trivial. Meaning and rationality are more important. Remember: it’s not you, it’s them, everyone ends up alone (it’s fine), everyone else is just as confused as you are, and most importantly, everything always looks better on the internet.

Chloe Davies is a second-year BA student studying Art History, Film and Philosophy. She has been Salient’s Film Editor for Trimester Two this year. You can find her on Twitter at @chloelrds

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