Happiness is Overrated
Here’s what to pursue instead.
Not too long ago, I was floating in the crystal-clear Pacific Ocean, the water lapping against my back and saltwater seeping into and out of my pores, the hypnotic rush of the waves providing the back-beat for the symphony of seagulls. I didn’t notice. My body was in the water — my mind was somewhere else.
I spent nearly all of 2017 sinking into a black hole of rage and sadness. I spent the year crisscrossing the country hoping my demons wouldn’t follow me. They did. I ran a marathon in Orlando. I spent springtime in New York. I saw the Cubs in Chicago. I saw Kendrick Lamar in Phoenix. I spent a secret weekend in Seattle. I took my mom to New Orleans. I surfed in San Diego. I saw the Lakers, Kings and Chargers in Los Angeles. I climbed the cliffs of Malibu. I drank wine in Napa. I rode scooters around San Francisco. I heard soul in Memphis. I saw old friends and met new ones. And I did SXSW and ACL right here in Austin. It was everything … yet it did nothing to beat back the double-barreled blast of depression of anxiety. And all I could do was wonder why.
I have an incredible job that I love and excel at. I have parents who love me to the moon and back. I have some side-talents I’ve developed that have turned into side-hustles that bring me great joy and the occasional paycheck. I live in one of my favorite cities. I have fun friends who bring smiles to my face. I have a cat who, while prickly and swatty, is kinda cute and keeps me company. I have a nice roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in and a car to get me where I need to go. I haven’t always had all these things.
Still, I find myself chanting: “Happiness is not enough.”
I have a pathological fear of my life crashing down upon me, ruining everything I’ve worked for, napalming all my relationships, causing me to die young, or kicking me back out onto the street or into jail with the riff-raff. I nearly always feel like I should be doing something else … that I’m not making effective use of my time. I spend many waking moments feeling restless and fearful. I often feel unworthy of love and friendship. And I’ve often wondered why, and have spent a great many years at Medium mining my psyche on this. Not long ago, I finally drilled down deep enough to strike oil. And so I know: The cause of my constant dread and ache is a voice inside my head that’s as verbally abusive as any drill sergeant or SEC football coach. It’s rooted in someone else’s voice that’s been with me all my life, and I’m only now beginning to recognize it and undermine it.
Prior to that epiphany, I’d spent my life trying to outrun it instead. I’d been trying to silence that voice by cramming as much happiness into every waking minute as I possibly can: More accomplishments. Bigger paychecks. New clothes. Trips across the country. Luxurious meals. Long hikes. Longer nights out. Drinks. Sex. Deeper friendships. Viral columns. Even more drinks. Trying to set a high score in the game of life. I believed that if I am perpetually happy, then I will never have time to be sad.
And then I come home. Take off my shoes and my sweater like Mr. Rogers, plop myself into bed, and lay there praying for sleep to come swiftly, while shaking like I’m withdrawing from heroin. The voice remains. You can escape pretty much anything, but you can never leave yourself.
I always believed that you stockpile happy memories the way you’d deposit money in a 401K — filling your soul’s bucket to the brim with it. After that swim, I realized I could be wrong —in fact, that analogy is a bit backwards.
Our souls do float across the sea of life, taking on water as they go, sinking ever so slightly — perhaps even imperceptibly — into despair. But our souls are not the bucket. Happiness itself is. And it’s the bucket we use to pour water out our souls and keep us afloat. What we really need is peace. Peace patches the holes in our souls and stops the leaking. Once we have peace, we will no longer need to seek happiness.
How do you find peace? You find peace through living your truth, through pursuing your passion. You find peace through meditation or yoga (or god, if that’s your thing). You find peace when you become your best self and when you make the right decisions. You find peace through challenging yourself to do good, to take risks, and by delaying gratification for the sake of setting yourself up for future success. You find peace through connecting with and caring for others. You find peace in the stillness of yourself. You find peace when you recognize the voice inside your head that says you don’t deserve it, and you smirk as you minimize that voice until it no longer has a say. You find peace without looking for it. I’ve touched on this before and failed to realize it. Peace is the ultimate pursuit — it’s miles away from happiness, no matter how far you travel.
Happiness is a cigarette. Peace is a clear lung.
Happiness is sex. Peace is love.
Happiness is a Lexus. Peace is a 401K.
Happiness is a wine buzz. Peace is sobriety.
Happiness is what’s best. Peace is what’s right.
Happiness is temporary. Peace is forever.
Happiness is doing something you know you shouldn’t, because you can. Peace is doing something you think you can’t, because you should.
Happiness is floating in the crystal-clear Pacific Ocean, water lapping against your back, saltwater seeping into and out of your pores, the hypnotic rush of the waves and a symphony of seagulls. Peace is what allows you to notice it all.
The next time I wander out into the water, I want my mind to come with me.
I don’t think that’s wanting too much.