May 6, 2012

"'I just want to be happy' is a hole cut out of the floor and covered with a rug."

"Because once you say it, the implication is that you're not. The 'I just want to be happy' bear trap is that until you define precisely, just exactly what 'happy' is, you will never feel it. Whatever being happy means to you, it needs to be specific and also possible. When you have a blueprint for what happiness is, lay it over your life and see what you need to change so the images are more aligned."

That's Augusten Burroughs, in a metaphor-crammed essay adapted from his new book, "This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike." (Here's the audiobook. I'm a big fan of the Augusten Burroughs audiobooks. He has that gentle male voice that I love to listen to when falling asleep. (My absolute favorite is Bill Bryson.))

21 comments:

TJIC said...

> "'I just want to be happy' is a hole cut out of the floor and covered with a rug."

That's the best one-sentence essay on a particular ex girlfriend of mine I've ever read! ;-)

Fen said...

Happiness is one of those things you can't seek for its own sake.

edutcher said...

You often don't know it until you get there, and, even more often, don't know it until it's gone.

campy said...

Make someone happy,
Make just one someone happy;
Make just one heart the heart you sing to.
One smile that cheers you,
One face that lights when it nears you,
One girl you're ev'rything to.

Fame if you win it,
Comes and goes in a minute.
Where's the real stuff in life to cling to?
Love is the answer,
Someone to love is the answer.
Once you've found her, build your world around her.

Make someone happy,
Make just one someone happy,
And you will be happy, too.

~ lyric by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

tim maguire said...

Not a good sign for an essay when the first proposition ("once you say it, the implication is that you're not") is untrue.

Mark B said...

Bill Bryson sounds gay.

Michael Haz said...

Happiness found me without my having to chase after it. I stopped trying to "be" happy and just didn't worry about it any longer.

I went about doing the things I needed to do, and a few things I thought were interesting when I had time. None involved sitting in front of television or computer for hours on end.

I don't always need happiness; in fact there are times when I don't want to be bothered with it. It can be a nuisance, trying to keep myself happy all the time.

It's far better to be happy in small doses spread out over the day. I miss too much of life if I'm nothing but happy all the time.

During my long-ago dating years, whenever I'd hear the "I'm not happy" gambit from someone I was dating, I'd imagine the old Groucho Marx Show, with the duck coming down with the words "I'm not happy" in its bill. Groucho would say "Congratulations! You've said the secret woids "I'm not happy". You've won a brand new breakup brought to you by Amana Refrigerators, America's best refrigerators!"

Saying "I'm not happy" is a tantrum of sorts. It's a way one person gets another person to do something the second person does not want to do. What makes me happy in those (rare)circumstances is to reply "No thanks, I'd rather not."

wyo sis said...

I like Bill Bryson too. I think I've read everything he's ever written, but I've never listened to him speak. I'll have to try it.
As for happy. I get it in patches. I've also experienced joy, but far less often than happiness. I think I was raised not to expect to be happy all the time. Most of the time it's enough to be engaged and thinking.

Carol said...

I knew when I was finally happy. I was 22...you have to be somewhat sentient, and be able to tot up the good things and come to a conclusion. Some people can't do that.

David said...

I think defining just what it is that makes me happy and then precisely seeking it would make me quite unhappy. Happiness is a byproduct.

My wife makes me very happy. She is a joy to have around. Why? Just because--it would drive me nuts to have to define it.

sydney said...

Michael Haz,

Happiness found me without my having to chase after it. I stopped trying to "be" happy and just didn't worry about it any longer.

Me, too. I used to worry about the future all the time. But, then, I just started going about my day one step at a time without a thought for what might lay ahead, and suddenly I am happy. (Most of the time) I'm not sure what caused the change. I may have just come to terms with the fact that there is so much to life which we can not control.

Kit said...

I may have just come to terms with the fact that there is so much to life which we can not control.

That's the key, isn't it? At least, for me it was. I also prefer to call it serenity, as 'happy' has some connotations that just don't work for me.

Unknown said...

I don't know. Some strong observations on daily feeling. But pretty weak on happy and healing. Healing does occur. Where healing doesn't occur there is some further weakness in the system. I noticed a lack of any spiritual direction by the author. I would suggest that is place to really start healing. Happy or not sad?

Joan said...

That unpaired parenthesis is making me twitch, just a little.

I have an intermittent, ongoing argument with my daughter about this. I tell her happiness is a decision. She says it doesn't work that way. I disagree. You can accept that life often does not go the way you want it to and move on, placing more emphasis on the good things. Admittedly, it takes practice, but it's possible to become quite good at this.

I believe - know - I have an amazingly good life. At the same time, I could list my health, family, and job issues (lengthily) and easily convince you that I should be miserable. I'm not, because I decided not to be. I'm not delirious with joy, but I am happy. See? Easy, once you get the hang of it.

ricpic said...

No one overcomes decrepitude with attitude, 'cause
When you're decrept there's no reverse gear, dude.

ricpic said...

I could've used decrepit but decrept made me laugh.

Just so you know I know. :^)

Ralph L said...

Exercise releases endorphins which last for a couple of days. Certainly a better treatment for depression or unhappiness than overeating, and you look better, too.

Ann Althouse said...

Joan, I fixed the unpaired parenthesis.... and only afterwards did I realize it wasnt what you and your daughter were fighting about.

Mr. Forward said...

That's not a hole in the floor. Happy is a dwarf.

prairie wind said...

I tell her happiness is a decision.

Abe Lincoln agrees with you: "A man is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be." I agree, too.

TJIC said...

@Fen said...

> Happiness is one of those things
> you can't seek for its own sake.

"This!", as the cool kids say.

I was deeply unhappy for years, until I realized the zen-like secret (this was hard, because I'm a particularly UN-zen-like individual): ignore "happiness" entirely and focus on the pursuit of some challenging goal. The mere act of striving yields happiness.