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What if happiness is the absence of unhappiness? What makes people unhappy? Disease? Pain? Sorrow? Need? Depression? How do you feel when you’re unhappy?
Plenty of people have good reason to be unhappy. Without straining a bit, I can think of hundreds of terrible circumstances happening around the world and here in the United States. Yet certain people are able to find scraps of happiness amid horrific situations. I think of images of scrawny children in tattered clothing playing in the yards of death camps. Or toddlers in cancer wards laughing at visiting therapy animals. Children can sometimes generate happiness where there was none.
Animals, too, can seize a moment of glee in a bleak, future-less situation. I think of coyote pups playing in the sun or polar bear cubs sliding down icy hills. A moment without unhappiness. A moment to enjoy.
What’s the point of scratching happiness out of a dreadful reality? We need energy to generate happiness. We need energy to defy the dark forces swirling around us, to take action against the dying of the light. Happiness isn’t a grin over hoarding more, more, and more STUFF. It’s that defiant spark within that says we refuse to be defeated. It’s the spark even death cannot extinguish because it’s part of our eternal selves. It’s the spark our loved ones who’ve died yearn for us to have even as we mourn devastating losses. It’s our character, sense of humor, and honor.
On Facebook, I often read long, self-pitying posts by people who have no unhappiness except that they can’t or won’t build their own lives. They may seek someone to blame. They want a hero to swoop in carrying the easy cure to all that saddens them. They fall prey to relationships that suck them dry. They may pine for a lost past that was never really happy in the first place. They make perfect dupes. They don’t want the responsibility or effort of change.
In this moment, in your own sphere of awareness, reality check: Are you happy? Or, more precisely, are you not unhappy? If you aren’t in a spirit-sucking situation, why aren’t you happy? Are you spending all your time peering into the dark under the bed when all you would have to do is to yank open the curtains to see the sun outside? What’s good about your life right this minute? Are you healthy? Fed? Intelligent? Forget about the future for just a moment. Set aside all the problems you need to address. Walk outside. Read funny posts. Hug somebody. Do something you enjoy. When you’re rejuvenated, the problems will still be there and you’ll have more strength to combat them.
Happiness isn’t endless euphoria. It isn’t beaming with a ridiculous smile all the time. It’s knowing how to command moments of contentment. It’s tasting the meal, not merely eating it. It’s going out to give the love you wish would come to you. It’s taking control of unhappiness.