Are You Happy?


I make notes in my phone when I wake up in the night. In the morning I read through them to see if my insomnia brought anything good. Today I woke up to: Can’t you just allow yourself to be happy?

Twice I tried to read The Happiness Project. I’ve always been quick to dismiss “just being happy.” The idea has always felt too simple for me. No, I’d say, I’d prefer the whole range of human emotions. Being happy is someone else’s goal, someone who isn’t tired and jaded and editing a 100 000 word manuscript. I’ll take peace instead, thanks. Or freedom. Freedom from the desire to be things that I’m not.

I just wrote a long letter, I do that a lot. I write letters that I’ll never send. Years ago a friend told me this is part of a therapy technique called empty chair and it’s a very healthy practice. In the letter I asked him if he was happy, then deleted that bit. I left the other stuff. About thoughts, how they’re just thoughts until they’re not. How I can go long stretches of hours now, without thinking about any of it. I wonder if that’s just it, it goes from all-the-fucking-time to a few hours to a whole day. Then the days start adding up. Eventually, it all sums to nothing.

At the end of our staff meeting one of the guys picked up a tourist brochure from the table, the cover was a brilliant sunset. I want to go to Hawaii, he said. A good joke, we all laughed. He wants to go to the Hawaii in his dreams, someone else said.

We make up these pictures of what we want our lives to look like, carve in all the little details. And then we get upset when we realize life isn’t a paint-by-numbers and we can’t even draw a tree standing alone. We blame the tools when it turns out ugly, can never find a pen when we need one. My sister loves writing with pencil. I was one of the kids who sniffed the permanent markers.

It’s hard to let go of these pictures. Hard to admit to yourself when you’re alone and an old song comes on a random playlist, the happy life waiting for you, the one you created in your mind is just a story. There is nothing there. Just the song that was playing once when you were seventeen, driving home late from a boy’s place. Wondering then, like you’re wondering now. Is this it?

The life I imagined for myself a couple of months ago, when the first snow of the season turned to slush and soaked through my boots looks a lot like my life actually does now. In fact, if I manifested this future I got it pretty much perfect. Here I am in my own piece of art. If I were to send the never-going-to-send letter I’m sure he’d write back. He would ask me what I wouldn’t ask him: Are you happy?

I’d reply with a picture of a sunset, like I’ve been doing to all my friends when they ask me how I am. I’m fine. Here’s something beautiful. This really is it.

Jennifer ChardonComment