I’ve been seeing this phrase a few times recently while poking around the web: The Happiness Industry. Referring mostly to self-help books, seminars, etc., geared towards helping people find “happiness.” It struck me as one of those phrases much more loaded with whatever basic meaning we give it. It would be a good name for a band!
The eternal quest for happiness has always struck me as a load of shit. It’s not something you should seek, not some perpetual state of being. It’s something that comes and goes daily, whatever your condition, unless you truly are depressed and need psychological help. We’re fed this infantile idea that we must find happiness from the day we’re born, yet we quickly learn it’s impossible to be happy all the time.
Recently, a friend of mine blew out on me, like a tire on the interstate, known her for years. But the past few months, she seems to have latched onto meaningless moments in our recent history and overloaded them with negative, dark overtones that she’s weaved into a conspiracy of harm and disrespect. When the truth is I only see her about once every two months, and then, usually only for a pleasant hour or two eating dinner.
At first I was shocked. Why on earth is she taking these small moments – like a plate of food picked up accidentally at a party – and blowing them up into these intentional affronts that are only the tip of the iceberg?. The iceberg being a handful of these sort of moments, carefully annotated and stockpiled like a demented lawyer fabricating his own version of the truth. I should point out the iceberg constructed here is more like a half-melted snowball in terms of actual reality, but surely in her mind, it’s an iceberg.
Then I realized, I’ve seen this sort of behavior before, the numerous squabbles she’s had with other people, stretching all the way back to how her mother used to treat her as a teenager, the incessant nitpicking and focusing on harmless character traits and episodes that were inconsequential to any sane person. This shit used to drive her into fits of rage, and understandably so. No one wants to be picked apart, especially regarding senseless shit that doesn’t matter. By someone who should be nurturing you, not tearing you down at every opportunity.
So she has herself in this stew of blackness regarding me, someone who has stuck by her through some raw times, some she’s not responsible for, some she’s directly responsible for, over the course of decades, only to come to this strange place where she’s been dwelling on these odd, months-old (maybe years-old, for all I know) self revelations that have lead her to believe I’m a dimestore antichrist. I could understand if I screwed her over in some sense. Tried to bring harm to her life. Lied to her. Said hurtful things to her or her loved ones. No. Never. One of the last things I did to her? Within minutes of her making the email request, providing her with a notarized affidavit that would help her new husband apply for working papers in the U.S. I know … how could I? What kind of monster would do this?
But as any good attorney knows, you don’t use evidence that refutes your version of the truth. Whatever goes on there, I pretty much decided she needs some alone time. Whether that means she’ll stew even more in the dark juices of her troubled thoughts or come to her senses, I have no idea. All I know is it makes no sense to have people in your life who can’t stand you! You can’t do much about that with family members, unless you disown them, but with friends, you need to watch yourself. The good thing about friends is they don’t have to put up with your bullshit, which should keep your toes.
I don’t know … maybe she feels so comfortable with me after all these years that I’ve passed over some type of bridge where she thought it was acceptable to treat me “like family” … which I’d rather not have happen as I’ve noted the sort of standard-issue bullshit that was part of her upbringing. Maybe it’s other pressure in her life? Work? Marriage? Kids? If that was the case, I’d have to believe an apology would have been forthcoming in a matter of days, and that didn’t happen. In her mind, she wants the apology, for the astonishingly petty and short laundry list of personal grievances. Put it this way. Were I to view the things she noted as wrong and worthy of apology, I would need to apologize to strangers at stores 20 feet behind me for not waiting to hold the door open for them. It aint happening.
Before all this blew into town, about the only grievance I had with her came down to her sense of judgment, which I knew was clouded in certain instances. I believe we all pass judgment against each other, all the time, the difference being most of us are smart enough to realize these judgments are best kept to ourselves, unless speaking them out loud would serve some positive purpose. One of the more telling points she threw at me was along the lines of “I stood up for you when I had people in my life asking me if you were gay.”
Man, I nearly shit my pants laughing over that one. I assured her that there was no need to stand up for me in that sense. That even if I was gay, it had nothing to do with whatever issues she or anyone else was having with me otherwise. Her revealing that bespoke more of that sort of gossipy redneck mentality, bored family members sitting around a kitchen table wondering about the sexuality of single people they know, assuming they must be gay, which in their minds is a huge negative and gives them a false sense of superiority.
One of those redneck things. You could reduce your own life to rubble. Be a complete boil on the ass of life. Live a King Midas in Reverse existence where everything you touch turns to shit. But, so long as you got your man/woman/insert appropriate opposite sex partner here, you’re all right. Unlike that single guy in his 40s who is obviously sucking his weight in dicks but keeping it from us because he knows we’d look down on him if we knew this.
Right. And here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane.
What does all this have to do with the happiness industry? I’d say everything. We’re conditioned over the past few decades to spend our time ruminating on ourselves. Are we fulfilled? Spiritually? Emotionally? Sexually? Financially? Are we happy? Are we getting the most from life? Is there anything we could do to change? To make our lives better in some sense? What are our goals? What are we doing to move towards our goals?
Understand that whenever I come across people talking, thinking or writing like this, I cringe. Especially on the web, where it often takes on this sort of desultory and self-aggrandizing tone. It’s pure vanity, so woven into our culture that many of us can’t recognize it as such. My old friend has lost her way to the extent that she’s created this negative fiction about me to assuage some sense of self that’s been damaged, and this must be one of the reasons. Hopefully it won't come as too much of a shock to her after months or years of silence that I wasn't the problem.
Happiness takes care of itself. If you take care of yourself physically, nurture certain relationships, maintain some type of financial stability, do things in your own time that serve some positive purpose … chances are, you will feel some sort of happiness routinely. The world is not a happy place in general. Adulthood and ageing present constant obstacles to happiness. But you do what you can to fight against the pull towards insanity and depression all of us feel.
If you’re busy doing things, you’re not busy dwelling on them. Talking them to death. Seeing things that aren’t there. Creating resolutions on days like this. Such and such must happen this year. This is my goal! That’s probably part of the problem, too, different philosophies on how we live our lives. Some people might misinterpret my disdain for this Type A/goal-driven take on life as lethargy or weakness. Far from it. If anything, I’ve realized constant focus on self is a perverse weakness that masquerades as power and self fulfillment. Generally speaking, if someone is trying to dominate everyone and everything in sight, that’s a person who feels constantly inferior and threatened, and believes achieving certain goals will decrease those insecurities. They won’t.
I’ve said it before: sane, healthy and solvent. That’s all I concern myself with. Everything else, I can shoot towards to fulfill some personal curiosity or desire, but my goals in life are to remain sane, healthy and solvent. And if you think that’s easy, you’d be surprised how many people in your life will lose grip on their sanity at some point, lose their health and have financial problems on varying levels. Life is not a race or a contest. It’s life, above and beyond our perceptions of what it is or should be, and we will fight like hell to hold onto it. This is what I concern myself with, not petty grievances.