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On Happiness, December 29th, 2002 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: December 29th, 2002
"On Happiness" [permalink]
    keywords: fiction, love, relationships, happiness, life, women
    soapbox #: 354
    written: December 30th, 2002
    words: 1200

"On Happiness", an Essay

BILLYGOAT: Lady Rabbit, what is it that makes you happy?
RABBIT: Why, Monsieur Billygoat, seeing other people being happy is what makes me happy.
BILLYGOAT: But why? What good does it do for you if others are happy? Why not push your way to the head of the line, or consume everything before others do? Be selfish. It's survival, after all...

Is it enough in life to pursue only your own happiness? Could you get by, die a happy person, if you accumulated wealth, goods, and life experiences, without sharing it all with anyone? What if you didn't care if other people lived fulfilling, happy lives or not?

I used to not care. What did they ever do for me? I used to be selfish and reclusive, unwilling to participate. Introverted to the extreme. But at some point I gained some assurance and trust in my own character, perhaps through basic training, or in preparing for basic training beforehand. Basically what the transformation did was allow me to trust myself to do the right things and to challenge myself, so I could spend more time and energy worrying about other things instead.

And being selfish isn't challenging. You can swindle people or refuse to spare your time for them, easily. If you were to selfishly exert all your energy into your own personal goals, you'll probably achieve them if you stick with it.

But to see other people being happy, or to even make them happy - now that's a real challenge. Other people can be fickle, or lazy, or rude, or temperamental, or disinterested. They can be boring, sardonic, or overly lively. They can be ill, heartbroken, divorced, bitter. Everyone has a sad story and most will revert back to it during bad times, use it as a crutch..

I'd love to be a DJ. Not particularly because I love music so much (who doesn't?), but mainly because if you go to a club, you watch the crowd feed off the music thumping throughout the building. You see them forget their confused and tragic lives for a short time while they get into the music. People with little to smile about during the week look exhilarated and exuberant when at the club. To see people enjoying themselves makes me happy.

You'd have to think that being a teacher would give you a great feeling as well, if you were good at it. Taking a bunch of random students, many of whom don't want to be there, and shedding insight regarding the world to them, and then seeing them speak with a little more pride and energy as they grow up through your teachings must feel awesome.

And to be a positive influence on friends and a lover, that must be the hardest thing of all in life. People hook up all the time, but you know it's all for selfish reasons. People use each other in relationships. Sex. Loneliness. Showing off. Codependency City. But every once in a while, two people can meet and make both their lives better. They can challenge each other and improve each other. Make each other stronger not only as a couple but as individuals. The gentle smile of admiration and adoration, with an underlying feeling of thanks for just being there, is gratifying, not to mention extremely rare.

So I'm all about seeing people be happy. I don't worry about myself much anymore because I know I'll always be okay. For instance, joining the Army and learning a language to become a military intel linguist was exactly what I wanted to do, and here I am doing it. I can't complain at all. So my highest priority task is to make sure that those close to me are happy as well. If I can provide that happiness to them, then I feel like a better person.

BILLYGOAT: But Lady Rabbit, what you say is sappy. The real world is harsh and uncaring. You are an idealist.
RABBIT: It is not sappy, Billygoat. For instance, I do not care if certain animals or people get hurt, as long as they deserved it. It IS a harsh world, but there are also nice and generous people out there.
BILLYGOAT: ...who won't be there when you need them.
RABBIT: Wouldn't it be grand if, when you needed someone, they would love you so much as to come to your side, even when you're not at your best?

At the extremes, caring for others' happiness can be called being care-free (no responsibility except to go have fun) or superficial. (doing things only because they're cool) Somewhere in the middle, that golden mean, lies a blend of responsibility, hard work, and caring. And that seems like a good combination of things to strive for, doesn't it?

BILLYGOAT: It sounds like you're just bowing down to peer pressure, to me. Changing yourself to fit whoever you want to impress. Like you need to be liked, or popular.
RABBIT: Silly Billygoat, you don't change what your character is! You just care more about how your fellow animal kin are doing!

So, what is happiness to me? As you put it, yes, happiness is the blue sky and the warm sun, which we seem to never get here in Monterey, shining on your face in July. Yes, it can be a nudge and a purr (and a claw mark, if it were my kitty!) from your cat. But happiness is also reading a verse about you meeting someone, seeing excitement in his eyes, sharing it, and then also the first kiss. It makes me happy to know that you have a memory like that to cherish, to make you happy. At some point in time, that happened to you and it made your life sweeter. It didn't involve me and I didn't know you at the time, but it's still meaningful to me.

That's what I mean when I try to explain my happiness. People should smile, people should be happy, people should do things that uncomplicate their lives and improve them. Things that make people happy are cool by me. People should do what they want to do, to make themselves happy. Okay, sometimes people choose the wrong things (drugs, lovers, quitting jobs) to make themselves happy, and they end up hurting themselves. But how else would they know happiness if they didn't ever try to find it?

How do you know that you're really happy unless you know what it's like to be indifferent or sad as well?

BILLYGOAT: Okay, so fine. Say in your fantasy world that I cared more about the other animals around here and genuinely hoped that they'd find happiness. That doesn't mean that the other animals will care about me in return, does it now? Or that they'd even notice me at all!
RABBIT: Well, Monsieur Billygoat, you ARE kind of cute...

 
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