“In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive.” -Bill Watterson (author of Calvin and Hobbes)
Since youth, society trains us to want certain things in life: money, status, and happiness. From as young as grade 1, children strive for “popularity”. The ones who linger on the outskirts are the anti-social nerds. The outcasts. Often, these are the introverts, since popularity is basically the Extrovert Ideal of society.
This ideal is something that never goes away. It is a goal associated with power, respect, and luxury. Every day, society reminds us that these things are the key to a stress-free life of bliss. This is the key to happiness.
There are many things wrong with that ideal. First off, everyone’s idea of happiness differs. People do not want the same things. Introverts are often happy being on the outskirts and are usually quite capable of faking extroversion when necessary for something they care about. It’s not easy, but it’s more than doable. Similarly, money and luxury would obviously make life a lot easier. But living a modest lifestyle certainly does not require being a successful businessman or renowned professor.
More importantly, happiness should not be the ultimate goal in life anyway. It takes sadness to appreciate joy, and avoiding pain is also avoiding lessons and chances. They key to living a happy life is to live a full life. Full of knowledge. Full of laughter. Full of tears. “I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that – I don’t mind people being happy – but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position – it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.” (Hugh Mackay)
I have been told that my ability to feel emotions more strongly than the average person is both a blessing and a curse. This is true, but I would argue that it is more of a blessing. I would argue against those who believe in leaving before they’re left, to avoid pain and humiliation at all costs.
Feeling is a beautiful thing, even if some feelings don’t feel so beautiful in the moment. Humans are creatures built to experience more than mere primal instincts, and this is something we should take advantage of. We should feel every end of the spectrum, not just the best parts, because there’s a lot that can be learned from the worst.
The most valuable lessons for me have sprouted from the nights when I wanted to erase all feeling. I have done stupid things for my emotions. I still cringe at my mistakes. But considering how much I grew, and where I am now, I’d say I learned what I had to. I’d say I’m doing alright. And I’ve never regretted the pain for a second.
When I die, I want my mind and heart to be covered in stretch marks. That is dying rich.
- Bill Watterson: a cartoonist’s advice (philebersole.wordpress.com)