Well, That’s Garbage

Grasping for happiness

Illustration by Kathleen Bergen

Happiness can feel like a greased pig we are forever chasing only to land in mud and excrement over and over again. Why do you elude us, happiness? Here, piggy piggy piggy.

But what if happiness can’t be caught … not because it’s too greased up, but because it doesn’t exist? At least not in the way we think it does.

And of course, for this confusion I blame Walt Disney. 

Not to be too “damn the man” (the man, in this case, being proliferators of fairytales), but what is one of the first narratives we learn as children?

“…and they lived happily ever after.”

There’s the promise of a seemingly trouble-free existence following that minor delay of a meddlesome stepmother or wizard.

Some might say, “but Jane, everyone knows those are just stories. No one would base their life on that.”

Hopefully not. But that doesn’t ex-
plain the existence of a Disney line of wedding dresses and theme park wedding packages.

It seems our culture has fully bought into the nebulous idea of a happily ever after.

We expect happiness in every facet of our lives – both personal and professional – and chide ourselves for the lack thereof. 

“If only I made ‘X’ amount of money/had a better job/were married/taller/thinner, then I’d be happy,” we may think.

But beyond the poison dispensary that is comparison, there lurks deeper myth, a mystique, a fog around the very definition of happiness.

I couldn’t actually tell you what happiness is. Is it serenity, a guru-level sense of calm and contentment where nothing ever bothers you?

Is it a ceaseless Glinda the Good Witch smile glowing from your skull? 

A life free of strife? 

As millennials, we’re surrounded by the idea of “following our bliss.”  And advice from ‘successful’ mentors is always something like, “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

But what is missing, what Disney left out, what no one ever tells you is that even doing/having what you love can suck.

Happiness can include discomfort and adversity.

It’s why we can be stressed out at school, hate the group projects, get exhausted from late-night writing sessions and still look back on it as one of the best times in our lives.

It’s how you can be so frustrated with your partner or family member and still love them to bits.

Or how you’ll likely have to do some problem solving, project or presentation at work that is gruelling and takes months to finish. But it uses your best skills, and it’s where you want to be.

You may not be smiling perpetually, or cooing with love all day. But you’re happy.

As far as I can tell, it’s because you’re participating in something you deem worthwhile. Whatever that is to you, no comparison to anyone else.

Am I saying life is pain, shut up and put up with whatever you get? No. Challenge and adversity are very different from misery and mistreatment. 

But I’ll take a little hardship if I don’t have to chase Disney’s non-existent pig anymore.

Published in Volume 71, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 10, 2016)

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