Ever notice our wanton misuse of the word 'happy'?
Your kid spills the cup of juice you've been warning him to handle carefully and you snap 'Are you happy?'
Your husband gets blood test results that show his cholesterol is behaving again and you smile 'Are you happy?'
A misfortune befalls a neighbor or friend and you comment 'Are'nt you happy you don't have to go through that?'
What a variety of situations we apply that descriptor to!
Lately there's been much discussion about Happiness too: are we more or less happy as a nation? Over time? What does it mean? How has it changed? It's pursuit, it's many paths and the very quality of it. But it strikes me that not much is said about the rest of it. What are we when we are not 'happy'? The answer is not always 'sad'. More often than not it's just 'not happy'. Big difference.
'Happy' and 'sad' are extremes that are as easy to identify as that pimple on your nose that pops up minutes before you set out on a rare date night. 'Not happy' in this situation is that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach that you probably don't look as good as you think in this dress. That listless, numbness is a particular brand of purgatory that is difficult to articulate, leave alone discuss for fear of appearing shallow. When the world is rife with suffering and injustice, it seems self-absorbed at worst and churlish at best, to be moaning about how 'not happy' you are.
Yet look back on your life and I wouldn't be surprised if you found you spent most of it in this state. In fact, this 'feeling-less' limbo visits us throughout out our lives, sneaking by our notice as we fixate on the highs and lows, cheap attention getters that they are. Just for the heck of it, here's an attempt at nailing some of it's forms:
As a child - 'boredom'.
Though it's really just 'not happy'.Parents in my childhood figured it stemmed from being inadequately stimulated. They set academic challenges - extra math, reading or even household chores in ever-hopeful though mostly misguided hopes of recovering our spirits. That it worked as often as it failed was proof enough that at that age, being distracted from your childishly dramatized emotional troughs is often all the help you need.
As a teen - 'sulkiness'.
Though it's really just 'not happy'.Most of this is likely a shutdown triggered by emotional overload from the combined assault of social adjustments (and maladjustment) and the punishing pace of high school education, not to mention looming college pressures. Small wonder our mental fuses start burning out. Hormonal surges don't help.
As young adults - 'frustration'.
Though it's really just 'not happy'.Struggles at new jobs and stagnation of sweetheart romances, changing relationships with parents and adjustment to disposable income (and the poor choices they sometimes lead to). SO many sources for frustration. This is often when Serious Romance, that heady chase after 'The one', serves its timeless purpose. It energizes and provides a focal point for the next decade (or two, if you're lucky or particularly impressionable). The hunt for a 'soulmate' becomes a quest that replaces the race for grades, degrees and career. Provides the highs and lows that so effectively displace the 'not happy' fogging up our heads.
That brings us to the mid-life 'crisis'.
Though it's really just 'not happy'.And it's not even always a 'crisis'! A crisis would be something to focus on at least. Just the lack of anything exciting, new or passion-inducing. That chilling little voice inside mumbling 'Is this it?' as anti-climax descends like a winding shroud. All the high notes in life seem to have been either resoundingly struck or irretrievably missed. What next?
Of course all this applies to the essentially fortunate, ungrateful whiners amongst us who are spared any significant worries about money or health troubles. I count myself firmly amongst them. So my takeaway is that it's actually okay to be 'not happy' more often than we are either 'happy' or 'sad'. That it's a decent enough default state to be in. No one actually promised after all, that life would be either happy or easy. Perhaps accepting that is the way to wander over to being more content with whatever we DO have.
So be 'not happy' if you want - the pain of it is an illusion. 'Not happy' might be our natural default and it's really not quite as bad as it seems.
After all, you could be 'unhappy' instead.
Insights into Oyon's recent experiences based on some of the 'sentences' he has written for home work assignments (using a list of assigned words). Rorschach Ink Blot test for kids, if you ask me.
1. Let's go! We will be late!
(Every. Single. Morning.)
2. What has he got in his pocket?
(After watching a play of 'The Hobbit', including Bilbo's riddle scene with Gollum)
3. I like the red car.
(Just opened a new set of Birthday Hotwheel cars)
4. He has too many toys.
(Heard frequently around our home accompanied by the sound of adult teeth, gnashing)
5. I like that green door.
(Recent request to paint each wall of his room a different primary color. I nixed his door and ceiling paint schemes.)
6. I ate up all my candy.
(After his Halloween stash been rationed out @ 1 piece per day)