In other words, I had a very happy day.
The other week you told Melanie Lynskey, “I don’t know if I’m happier but I’m older.” Why are you afraid to be happy? And why do I feel like I have to justify having the exact kind of day that makes me happy? I understand why happiness scares me. It’s still that kid protecting herself. Childhood happiness meant exuberance, an explosion of all that joyous energy that kids are expert in. It generally only lasted a moment, however, before I got told, “Don’t get carried away.”
And then there were those times that I thought I should be happy—I earned one of the lead roles in my high school’s production of Guys and Dolls or I was accepted to every college I applied to or I was in the top 10 of the 746 students I went to high school with. But when those moments were met with a “meh” or scant acknowledgement, I was plunged into disappointment. So not only did I learn to associate happiness with disappointment, but I learned to mistrust happiness and to not think I deserve it. Happiness became a quagmire of, “What’s the right way to respond?” with the underlying fear that no matter what I just wouldn’t solve for the right answer.
And perhaps that’s what you were talking about with Melanie Lynskey. It’s hard to have perspective on happiness for those of us for whom it’s a little bit of a shape shifter. But as I’ve grown older I’ve grown more comfortable with the idea of it. I will even admit to joy, which I think of as even deeper than happiness, a sort of bone-deep contentment and perspective even in the midst of struggle. I can revel in happiness and feel safe. I’ve stopped looking at disappointment as an inevitable downswing triggered by happiness and have come to understand that sometimes disappointment follows happiness not because I don’t deserve happiness but because life is ups and downs, and we have limited control of when those ups and downs fall. The relationship between happiness and disappointment is not one of causality; they merely throw each other into relief.
To be continued…