What Does Happiness Look Like to You Now?

No. 1 in a Series of 4 Essays on Sadness as the Ultimate Off the Beaten Path

These past few weeks, you’ve begun telling those in your immediate circle of an impending existential crisis. They should know this so that (A) their schedules could accommodate your breakdown, and (B) because you particularly like to plot specific times and dates of your failures.

It should happen in the days after you turn a decade old, say 20, 30, or 40. Do it in a comfortable time and spot, maybe early morning on the desk while looking at the line of hundred-foot long mahoganies that front your house. Stare at them for long moments, unfollowing formal units of time and distance.

At one point in this armchair travel, you will look back at the past ten years and run through the cliche questions those in mid-crisis usually run through – What have you done in the past ten years? What is the meaning of it all? Is it time to reassess priorities? Are you enough? And then the clincher, What will really make you happy?

You input the last question on the search engine because you believe that GMT (Google mo, tanga) answers everything. You’re met with listicles like 25 Ways to Feel Happier in the Next Five Minutes.

You click, and what oozes out are bumper sticker quotations that “Happiness is a now thing. Don’t wait until later to be happy,” along with subheadlines like Hug a Puppy, Think Positive, and Smile. You close the laptop.

In the past, happiness only had one face. It came in the form of a plane or bus ticket. It came in the form of novelty – a new place, new experience, new material to feed the ego. It came in the form of restlessness. It came in the form of escape.

The formula was simple. You wanted more of the sensation, so you bought more plane tickets. You filled your calendar with social obligations. You fed the ego. You productized happiness, put a price on it, and promoted it as a rare, inaccessible enigma. You should be the only one feeling it, or else it loses its rarity.

What you didn’t expect is that, because you productized it – bottled and tied with a large red bow – you also gave it an expiry date.

It grew, found its peak of maturity, and now it’s on the decline. You begin to question the pathos of things. Hence, the existential crisis.

When happiness declines, you can either (A) continue following the same path, adding perhaps a new feature or two to trick yourself of its newness, or (B) sell the happiness to someone else like a secondhand car. It’s time to buy (correction: find) a new dream.

The purpose of a crisis of any kind, it seems, is to force you to restrategize. Perhaps in your pursuit, you’ve lost track of the objective. You sought to be healthy to inspire, and then find that you’ve unconsciously body shamed others. You wanted security for your family, but now, you don’t even see them anymore. You traveled to widen your world, and then you find that your lifestyle is now limited by it.

In an existential crisis, you’re forced to ask, what does happiness – joy, contentment, sanctity, whatever you want to call it – look like to you now?




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