#34: in which I am tasked with defining ‘happy’

I’ve started this roughly 10 times. Typically, as I’m falling asleep, I figure out how I would like to approach this. Then I fall asleep. And by the morning, I remember none of it. The key stipulation here, as dictated by my youngest sister, is that I cannot reference family or friends.

I am, either by nature or by creation or, perhaps, by both, a cynic. However, it is, to coin a phrase, a dynamic cynicism, in that, I represent the following dichotomy: I excel at righteous anger, and righteous anger needs negative things to even exist; and, yet, I am a dreamer, a fount of ideas and aspirations that have no grounding whatsoever in reality. This means happiness, in any form, must overcome two fronts: the search for negativity to fulfill my daily quote of indignation, as well as my failure to live up to the dreams concocted in my head.

Happiness is a complex emotion; to find happiness is to celebrate something without regard for how others view it. It is impossible to examine happiness without, to some capacity, examining lack of self-awareness, which is an inherent oxymoron. This means, at its core, happiness is an expression of unsolicited self-ignorance created entirely by a true and real feeling about something. Which, granted, sounds somewhat terrible and definitely sounds like nonsense. But perhaps that is because the idea of any unsolicited emotion runs counter to a cynic’s belief. As a cynic, you are reacting to the world around you by questioning it; happiness, while a reaction to something, does not question  what prompted it.

I have often ignored the idea of happiness in exchange for the pursuit of contentment; it seems like a much more attainable goal. The difference exists in its lack of upward mobility: I am content, therefore this is okay. As a sentence it seems dismal; as a life goal, it feels shockingly simple, a way to say to oneself that while not everything is going well–a job, a relationship, a whatever–it is still possible to say things are all right.

Contentment, you see, is denial–a denial of self in order to satisfy the cynic’s belief that things could, and probably should, and most definitely will, be worse.

Ignore for the moment the impossibility of attaining contentment when you feel the world always on the precipice of disappointing you, and consider: in what way is John Lennon’s “Imagine” a good song?

“Imagine” exists solely as the last gasp breath of the hippies. You may want to believe in the possibility of the song, but no one actually does without being made fun of by other people. The idea of imagining a supposedly better world where everyone gets along is incomprehensible because dissonance between people is natural. The idea that happiness or world peace or brotherly love or whatever can exist simply if we imagine it, if we try hard enough to stay positive, does not match the civilization that humanity has created for itself. It’s not that it’s wrong or that it’s right; it’s that such belief imagines a humanity that has never existed.

The question that “Imagine” then forces is: Are we fools for not believing in it or are we idiots for doing so?

And no matter how you approach that question, it is impossible for “Imagine” to be anything other than overwrought dynamic cynicism. It is not a good song. It’s a big dream that Lennon had no intention of attaining; it is Lennon in his Working Class Hero t-shirt–a model of want, not will or real.

This does not mean it’s impossible to make the world a better place; it means that making the world a better place isn’t a dream or a pop song; it is, instead, a fight against both cynicism and contentment, which means, making the world a better place is the fight for happiness–a better world is a world in which people have unguarded celebratory reactions to the world around them.

As Donald Trump spoke last night in what people continue to call “presidential” tones, I sat on my couch screaming rather incoherently at the television while my wife probably debated if a dog muzzle would fit on me.

1) There is nothing presidential about not sounding unhinged for once.
2) Trump still managed to be racist as ever (like, VOICE. Because only immigrants commit crimes).
3) Trump still has no idea about any actual policy plan, and that appears to be his governing plan.
4) Trump is proof that contentment has a ceiling.

Rage / Anger is by far the easiest expressed emotion. It requires no actual thought. To be controlled by anger is to be controlled by nothing; you are hampered by anger only after the fact, if at all, if you bother with self-reflection. Anger is the base human emotion, and it drives most of civilization.

Trump’s ascendance to the White House has been exhaustively covered by the media. Everyone wants to talk about the forgotten white people in forgotten industrial towns. It’s a chance for the media to celebrate whiteness without having to justify it; it allows the angry white man to be celebrated for his determination to challenge the status quo or whatever other bullshit drivel the media keeps pumping out. Black Lives Matter, a group fighting for the mere recognition that an entire population of people, based on genetics which determine skin tone, have been forgotten, are labeled as terrorists; white people whose class status has changed because, in large part, of policies crafted by the very people they keep voting for, are part of a ‘revolution,’ according to our president.

But what all of this really is a group of enraged people wailed enough to get what they think they want, and, in turn, we get a seismic shift in the international order.

It’s easy to be angry because it’s easy to feel like all that emotional rush amounts to change. But, in reality, anger soothes only for the moment, and after the moment, the consequences must be reckoned with. And, far too often, we have no idea how to deal with the consequences because to do so requires we actually stop and think. And anger requires no thought. Thought requires time; it requires patience; it requires self-awareness; it requires an awareness of the world around you; it, most of all, requires you recognize the impact decisions you make have on multiple levels: yourself, those around you, and those who you will never meet.

The hard part is this: screaming incoherently at Trump made me feel better about myself in that moment. But it did nothing to improve the world for my soon-to-be-born child. And if I do want an improved world for my child, then I cannot believe in contentment; I must believe in happiness.

If I exclude family and friends as drivers of my happiness, as I’m supposed to for this piece, then I think the happiest I have ever been was sitting on a ledge at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, AZ. I had never been to Arizona before, but I had long believed for whatever reason that it was a place I belonged. I struggle with the Winter Blues (immensely) and the idea of place filled with sunshine seemed like a logical landing point for me.

However, I did not expect to be overwhelmed to such a degree. As I sat on that ledge with G., I stared at the red rocks and green shrubbery and insane blue sky and realized that for the first time in my life, I understood the phrase, ‘this is home.’ It was an immense feeling, matched only by marrying G. (sorry, Hannah, I’m going to cheat a little here). And I realized that happiness, for me, is the creation of ‘home,’ by way of finding the pieces of the world that fit accordingly with myself: the desert sky; a day spent golfing; a Saturday filled with college football; a really good hamburger; a Coca-Cola after swearing I would stop drinking it.

The strength of anger is that no matter how destructive, you can always justify it by saying it’s ‘how you feel.’ You ‘feel’ that immigrants are stealing jobs–even though the large percentage of them accept jobs no American actually wants–so you’re justified in feeling angry about them and demand a wall be built and demand they be deported. You ignore the economic ramifications; you ignore the increased cost of goods caused by your anger; you ignore the way you have been fooled into blaming The Others for choices made by the wealthy to continue to enrich themselves. But it’s cathartic to yell and to blame; it’s a release because to look at ourselves would be too revealing.

I screamed at Donald Trump, but when I woke up this morning, he was still President. The only way to change that is to stop screaming and to start making a difference. Dynamic cynicism here means only that I dream of a better United States and expect the worst for Trump’s presidency. Tell me, what exactly does that accomplish?

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