“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad at the same time, and I am still trying to work out how that could be”- Stephen Chbosky
When I was fifteen, I had a pet duck named Jerry. Twelve hours later he was dead. The cause of death? Drowning.
These are the moments that define my life; It isn’t being accepted into nursing, or travelling overseas, or learning to walk again. It’s the drowning of my duck. And the day that my brother got stuck in a chicken wire rabbit hutch and I had to hose him out. Or getting t boned in a Safeway car park on Christmas Eve by an elderly man who flatly denied he had actually driven into me, despite the fact that his Toyota Camry was still firmly wedged into my back left door.
I’m not one to view the glass as half empty; in fact, if you were to ask anyone, they would likely tell you that I think my glass is more full and more fabulous than yours could ever be, regardless of whether I had a glass left or not (And it may or may not have a drowned duck in there). I’m simply beginning to realise the importance of acknowledging mediocre days.
You know the kind; the days where nothing terrible happens, but nothing overly wonderful happens either. ‘No, my family and golden retriever weren’t killed in a freak silo accident, but I didn’t win the lotto and fall in love either’. You feel ordinary, but you really have no real reason to complain, or account for the fact that you don’t feel great, so you just have to sit there feeling pathetically mediocre.
Recently I have been reading a book called ‘The Happiness Trap’. It’s like one of those horrendously cheesy self help books which you find in between ‘The dummies guide to telemarketing’ and ‘What to expect now your body is changing; a guide to puberty’. Except, it’s not really a self help book.
Because it doesn’t promise to teach you how to become the next Miranda Kerr, or how to leave your job and become a Saint Bernard Breeder, or to appreciate that yes he really IS that into you, he just doesn’t return your calls or actually know your name or understand why you are standing in his office. All you need to do is log onto your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to appreciate that we show a serious level of commitment to being happy, or at the very least appearing to be happy to everyone around us.
When was the last time that you updated your status to inform everyone that you were stood up on a date, or uploaded a photo of the holiday from hell where you spent new years eve sitting on a toilet with bali belly? Or when did you last tweet your favourite actress to thank them for making you feel horrendously inferior, or sent a shout out to the ex that broke your heart?
Chances are? You haven’t.
We like being happy. Why? For the very same reason that you eat ferrero rochere icream straight out of the tub; it feels good. But perhaps even more so; it is seemingly expected of us to be happy. We are forever being reminded that we should feel grateful, blessed, inspired and empowered. We aren’t starving to death in Sudan, or fleeing conflict in Syria. We live in a world in which McDonalds is open 24 hours for our convenience, and Education is a right, not a privilege.
We are the most connected, educated and wealthy generation to date.
So why aren’t we happy?
I have spent the past seven years utterly convinced that if I could just go into remission, just stumble across the magic cure, I would be happy. And who wouldn’t be happy with that? Six months ago I learnt that there would be no cure for me, such is the beauty of genetic disorders. In that instant, the images of running around the local lake and not beginning my mornings retching into the sink disappeared. But I didn’t feel any less happy, just as I didn’t feel any less sad.
We are taught that happiness is a destination; all the magazines, books, television shows and forum pages scream their solutions at us. All you need to do is flick through the latest Marie Claire to learn that happiness can be found in five simple steps.
‘The Happiness Trap’ challenges this idea. In the words of one of the oldest clichés; it’s a journey, not a destination. And like all feelings it comes, and it goes. And it comes back again once more, and so on the cycle continues. But the more we believe that we can achieve it, a permanent state of bliss, the more we set ourselves up for bitter disappointment.
For the longest time I had myself convinced that I was so close. If I just finished high school. If I just got accepted into nursing. If I just began working. If I just fell in love. If I just had higher cheekbones. If my scans were just a little clearer, then happiness would smack me in the face like a Saint Bernard puppy on Ketamine. There were so many justs. And yet, in the same breath people offended me. ‘How can you be happy? You’re sick’ they would say with pointed tongues (To which I typically responded by pointing out that they were total fucking muppets and they managed alright themselves).
Everyone says ‘As long as you have your health, nothing else matters’. But it’s not true. I don’t have my health, and plenty of things matter to me, like the fact that I am volunteering in a Thai orphanage next year, or that I plan to study my post grad in the UK, specialising in Paediatric Intensive Care. Or my family, who keep me just as mad as they do sane.
We live in a society which values certain things; health, beauty, intelligence and financial wealth. These are the supposed keys to unlock the magic door to the land that is happiness. But over time I have learnt that no such key truly exists; happiness will come and it will go, just as will fear, disappointment, guilt and excitement. None are dependent on the other, just as none are responsible for the other.
I don’t have my health, and I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t have millions of dollars and I don’t have a Saint Bernard.
But I do have good days, and I have bad days. And I have mediocre days in-between. And I am happy. And I am sad. And I feel an infinite number of other things. And, like all feelings they will come, and they will go.
And just as sure as the sun will rise, tomorrow they will be back once more.