As a society, we’re obsessed with the idea of happiness. It seems to have grown as a trend at an alarming rate. I remember when happiness wasn’t the top agenda point. I mean, it was great if you managed to get some along the way, well done you, but mostly, mostly it was about achieving things every now and again, getting a job that would put food on the table and enjoying the free time you had with friends and family.
Yet all of a sudden the recession happened, startups boomed, social media rocketed and we were inundated with the idea that happiness was something you should be feeling twenty-four hours of every single day. Job satisfaction reached new peaks and it was no longer enough to work for a living, you had to be living an Instagramable life while working your dream job and following your passions.
But here’s the thing, I’m utterly exhausted by it all and my quest for happiness is doing nothing but making me miserable. I have spent the last month skulking around in a black cloud because I woke up one morning and was just too tired to continue my fight for happiness. It was as if all the lights suddenly disappeared and I’d fallen down the deepest rabbit hole. Not in the fun and exciting way that Alice gets in Wonderland, it was just fucking bleak.
We’re continually told to think about our dreams and how to achieve them, while simultaneously being reminded ‘we only live once’. In addition, our complete access to information, and other people, mean we sit and stare at our screens at the picture perfect lives we’re not leading. The more news I catch up on, or the more blogs I read, the worse I feel about it all. I haven’t founded the next app that’s sweeping the world, I haven’t published a novel that’s residing on the Time’s bestseller list and the only thing I’m CEO of is my own misery. The world keeps screaming the word dreams at me and I feel like I’m living a nightmare because I’m not achieving my childhood fantasies.
The realisation that you’re not ‘living your dream’ (seriously kill the person who came up with that sentence) hits you incredibly hard and sends you spiraling into the quickest pit of self loathing and despair that you’ve ever experienced. I dream of being wrapped in silk and feathers while being fed an endless supply of cake before taking an afternoon ride on my unicorn. Of course I’m not living my fucking dream. Because none of those things are happening, on account of bills that need to be paid, a system to maintain and a general lack of magical creatures to be found in the greater London area, I’m forced to join the throng of commuters as we make our way to jobs that aren’t remotely like a tech startup, too many hours at a desk, only to then sit wrapped up at home because it’s way too cold to go out and socialise anyway.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the life you’re leading, but it’s so completely opposite to what the world is telling you your life should look like, that you can’t help but feel wretched about your reality. All of a sudden your life is boiled down to dragging yourself through the days while you desperately take screenshots of poetry and inspirational quotes on Instagram in a bid to remind yourself that you’re ‘on a journey’ and merely ‘blooming’, or some other shit like that. You’re basically just trying to tell yourself you’re not as fucked up as you think you are, yet you still feel like an epic failure. Every time I see a sunset and the hashtag #blessed, I convince myself I should stick it to the man and pack a bag, finally embracing the bohemian life and thereby my ‘destiny’.
The closest I ever get to that is an occasional walk in the park as I smile at the trees and the sky, like some kind of deranged mentalist, in an attempt to be ‘at one with nature’ and remind myself that there is life outside the office and beyond the sofa.
It was only as I sobbed down the phone to my mother one evening, after she gently suggested that I get some perspective, that I actually stopped to think about my unhappiness and the cause of it. Yes the weather is miserable, as a child of the desert I find winter a deeply disturbing time, and yes spending hours in an office makes us all tired and irritable, and when you can barely get a man to text you back, let alone impregnate you, you easily convince yourself that you’re dying alone with nothing but broken dreams. However, really, my life was fine.
In fact, I’m exceptionally privileged and have been given many wonderful things. But it was the idea that I somehow wasn’t living my dreams, or the idea that we need to be constantly happy, that was really stressing me out. Daily panics about life satisfaction, fulfillment and being an entrepreneur are utterly exhausting. It’s as if we’re no longer allowed to be sad or miserable, or even have bad days. Apparently you have to be bouncing through happiness hashtags while clapping along jovially to Pharrell. Quite honestly, I don’t want to Instagram the shit coffee I needed just to wake up this morning, and nor do I want to feel like a room without a roof. I live in England for Gods sake. It rains all of the time and my room better have a fucking roof, otherwise what the hell am I paying the majority of my salary in rent for.
We always tell people to ‘ignore the haters’ and ‘don’t let anyone get you down’, but I say we should cut the haters some slack and start avoiding those incessantly annoying people that keep telling you to be happy. I don’t give a shit about their positive affirmations and I’m here to tell you it’s completely and utterly acceptable to feel miserable, wrap yourself in your dressing gown, and dive head first into a loaf of bread.
We’re not supposed to be happy all the time, and not everyone wants to work at Google or be an entrepreneur. And who says that’s the definition of happiness anyway? For such an incredibly complex and varied world, we have an extremely limited view of happiness. Perhaps happiness is having a great cup of tea made for you. Perhaps it’s a lovely meal with friends, or perhaps it’s watching a Friends marathon all weekend while you happily dribble pizza down yourself. It’s individual and unique to you, and it’s finding little pockets of happiness among the bills and the responsibilities that keep us sane.
We’re not fucking up, and nor are we the abject failures social media tells us we are. We’re just multi faceted creatures with an incredible range of emotions. To limit ourselves to happiness would be to stunt our growth and impair our ability to truly delight in the moments of joy that make life the wonderful patchwork of complexities it is. It’s time we started honoring all of those emotions, especially the misery, apathy and grumpiness, for they’re the things that will mold and build us more than happiness ever could.