I Just Want to Be Happy

Words gum my mouth and I curl my tongue idly. My lips feel too dry, mostly, and I’m embarrassed at the stiff but unkempt way that must look so I roll them, pressed together, between my teeth or lick them, childishly. When I discover no chapstick in any pocket I plant my mouth in a line and leave it. I tell myself that these distractions are my reminder that I am learning, slowly, to calibrate at all times to happiness. If that sounds uptight, it’s because it is. I am. For now, this is how I do intentional happiness, a word that until recently I met with the two-faced equivalent of an eye roll. Not the fake smile of a cynic, because much to my artistic dismay I am in general, very happy, but happiness?! What a stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid STUPID goal.

There are people, believe it or not, who say things like ‘I just want to be happy,’ out loud, which sounded for a long to me like a riskier version of ‘I just want to be a unicorn’ or ‘I’m not going to eat anything but jelly beans forever.’ I just haven’t ever really been sure what to think of that brand of put-it-out-there optimism. I’d love to cheer you on, I guess, except that I don’t understand how it relates to actual life. And by the way who never stepped on your rainbow? Eating jelly beans forever sounds reasonably more achievable than living in undefined happiness. That and, of course I do take judge-y joy in demeaning someone else’s personal choice to uphold a vague and shifty ideal as some kind of life goal. It makes me want to take full advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate my superiority by crossing my arms and saying something cutting about setting ourselves up for success.

But there is a bonus, aside from self- satisfied smugness, to being an overly analytical crank, and that’s that sometimes you don’t have any idiot material to obsess over except your own, so then, and with all your friends silently thanking you, you do the great service of feeding yourself your own repulsive medicine. If I honestly felt the way I think I feel when I ridicule under my breath, in a perfect illustration of cowardice, ridiculous declarations about wanting to just be happy, none of my adult life would be anything remotely of what it is.

I’ve left schools, jobs, people, countries and homes often abruptly and gracelessly. But before I’ve made any clumsy exit, I’ve been ignorant, naive or small-minded in making an entrance. I’ve given the green light not only to the terrible suggestions of others but most often to the terrible suggestions of my own imagination. The wandering search, and the awkward departures, are what some, including myself, would call selfish loyalty to happiness, the most unicorn-wishing, jelly bean-popping, pie in the sky bunk ever (eye roll). I feel like I’ve run down a hallway, poking my head into every door just to pop right back out with a, ‘Nope.’

On closer inspection, its been more hurtful and troubling than such a simplification, but the most hurtful, and probably addictive, quality of this behavior is that I didn’t actually know what I was looking for. I would have told you I had a purpose, but I could change my mind overnight. I wanted to express and live through my intelligence. I wanted adventure. I wanted to risk my life. I wanted to try things other people wouldn’t. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to save the world. I like words and have plenty of hot air so it’s unlikely and fortunate that it only took me 12 years to realize I was lying.

I wanted to be happy. I thought if I had a purpose, that would make me happy. Or if I made other people happy I could be. Or if I helped people, that would take me to my joy. Or if I survived something wild, I would feel it. Happiness? You can’t just have that.

And so my diligent search for happiness flew under the radar while I patted myself on the back that I wasn’t one of those people running from themselves. I’d never be that pathetic, I thought. At least I’m self aware.

But I look around and I realize I could easily have done this for the rest of my life. Either by continuing to open and close every door at hand, or by chasing, doggedly, one cohesive thread. I was only a little less miserable with the first option than I would be with the second even though each has its own appealing distractions and social currency.

People get nervous when I say that I don’t actually have to do anything to be happy. I don’t have to be anywhere or look any particular way, theoretically. I don’t have to have something to brag about. I don’t have to be loved or admired. I don’t have to have a purpose, even if it’s the delightful purpose of alerting stupidity to itself. If I really trust my own happiness, maybe one day these can all be true. Maybe what starts off sounding lazy sneaks in harder and harder questions, and maybe figuring out how not to be irritated by unsoothable chapped lips is as happy as my day, today, will get. Which is happy enough, if I already am.