I once sat in an interview with a man I greatly respect. He looked at me with a smile on his face and asked "Happy?" He may not have known what happened in my head during the one second pause I took to answer. I thought about telling him the truth but then that would lead to a well-meaning but ultimately demeaning interrogation. So I replied with what I knew he wanted to hear. I said "Yes, thank you."
A bare faced lie. Normally I would say my talent for prevarication is pretty poor. This time, however, and especially with this topic, because it is the answer everyone is looking for, they buy it with limited effort on my deceptive part.
My answer, had I been willing to put up with the predictable reaction (one that I am fairly confident most readers will offer too), would have been "I don't believe in happiness."
People will tell me that happiness exists whether I have faith in it or not. This is not about knowing of its existence. I don't believe in it like I don't believe in politicians to effect lasting change, an England football coach to bring home major silverware or a rom-com to genuinely entertain me. I think it is a principle so prized by people when it is full of fallacies.
A friend of mine who has done the Three Peaks Challenge told me that climbing the mountains is not the hardest part. Yes, it is a struggle but there is something worse. Going back down the mountains. You'd think with gravity helping you, it should be far easier but that isn't the case. You have to be more careful and more in control. The joy of arriving at the top is short lived. The trek down is arduous.
Why do I bring it up? Because that is what happiness is to me. It is standing atop a mountain, enjoying a glorious view and an overwhelming sense of achievement, only to know that you're going to have to get down some time soon. Happiness is a ledge that seems above all that is bad but it is crumbling beneath your feet until you fall into inevitable misery. And the fall is the worst thing. Once you're down in the ravine, it's not so bad.
I know what you're thinking. Surely you should want to be happy? Don't your family and friends make you happy? Why wouldn't you want to be happy?
If you have thought those questions, then the interrogation has already begun. Let me explain why your questions, no matter how well-intentioned, should make you ashamed.
You see, if I turned to you and said that I wanted to be a woman, you wouldn't question that. You would support my decision to go through major surgery that presents a possibility of death and life changing consequences. Yet I say that happiness isn't for me and that is okay to question. It won't kill me. It won't even put me at risk of death but you can be supportive about one and dismissive about another, irrespective of potential adverse effects of either.
Then you dangle my family and friends in front of me, as if using them as a guilt trip into accepting the treacherous happiness is an acceptable thing to do. If you took that similar line with someone who announced that they are gay, telling them "Think how your family would feel", you would be called homophobic. You might say that one is born that way and the other is a choice but I've written about this before here. Just because it is a choice doesn't make it of any less value. Being religious is a choice. Choosing to be vegan is a choice. Who you date, what you do for a profession, who you vote for is a choice. None of those should be derided because choice is a human right.
And that final question... "Why wouldn't you want to be happy?" I've already answered that but you're not willing to accept that. With that statement, I have hit the killer point on the predicament of preferring to be sad.
The problem is the near guaranteed rejection. You see, if someone who prefers melancholy tries to explain why they feel the way they feel, it is dismissed. They are told that they are being silly, ridiculous or ungrateful. When I have done it, they tell me I wasn't always a 'sad' person. That just makes things worse. It shows that they don't know me. They were probably dismissive at those stages of my life too.
As for saying, I wasn't always sad, I ask them when I was.
Was it when:-
- I was bullied in school
- Not supported by teachers in school
- Served a mission for my faith for 2 years and hated every soul destroying second
- Sacrificed for friends and strangers trying to make things better in my faith to be left forgotten, tired and broken, to get no reward in return
- In all the jobs I have done which I have not enjoyed
I watch people get encouraged when they try their best, even when what they've done is of a poor standard. Then I try to do something and it is very easy to criticise me. At this moment, I find myself between a rock and a hard place. Either I take it on the chin and it continues or I speak up and I'm told to man up.
Man up... what an awful phrase. Because men should bottle up their emotions because they are not valid unless they are conducive with the destructive banter.
Look, this is not a cry for help. I don't want cuddles or someone to talk to. If you offer those things, you really have missed the point.
What I want is people to allow me to be sad, grumpy or whatever you call it and just let me be. Stop lecturing me on being more chirpy or being grateful for what I have. I am grateful but if the only way to show that gratitude is soaking it in joy, then it would be painfully disingenuous.
Some would say "How do you think that makes the people you care about feel?" If I am a slave to someone's emotions, then am I really happy? The kind of happy that you're comfortable with because it conforms to your ideology. You know what that makes you? A bully. You may say that it is a good cause but it isn't. It is akin to Americans invading a nation to impose democracy. Yes, democracy may be good in our eyes but not the nation that is left in blood soaked rubble and ruin.
I don't want happiness. The only consistent thing about it is how it lets me down. If you knew someone who let you down time after time after time, you'd stop being their friend. Happiness is a lurking betrayal, waiting to strike. I don't want it. If you can't understand that, fine, but at least be understanding. I don't try to take happiness from you. Don't force it down my throat. It wouldn't be real anyway. It would only make me sadder.