Happy and unhappy and how we think of them

I was thinking about the words happy and unhappy and what they meant and what those things were actually about. I’ll save you considerable reading by telling you how I summed it up: We’re almost always aware of when we’re unhappy; we’re rarely aware of when we are happy.

This is because when we’re unhappy we think about it, worry about, and talk (complain?) about it as we try to figure out a way to alleviate it. When we’re happy, we don’t think about it. We’re too busy enjoying the moment that is “happy.”

Put another way, and speaking very broadly, unhappiness is almost always thought of in the present – it exists, now. When we speak of being happy it is in the past tense because, as said above, we don’t think about it in the moment. We just enjoy it. Experience it. So when we think of it, it becomes something remembered.

“I don’t know when I’ve been happier.”

The pursuit of happiness

Being happy is also thought of in terms of the future, as in the phrase, “the pursuit of happiness.” If you’re pursuing happiness, however, you’re probably not happy. You may not be unhappy (is there a word for that condition, the place between happy and unhappy?), but neither are you happy because, implicit in the phrase, being happy is something you’re looking for. Why seek something you already have?

Most of us have the usual things in mind when we consider what happy will look like: money, love, sex, property, a good wine and on and on. These, too, tend to be canards because we look at it as an effect that follows from a cause when it’s usually just something that “is.”

Whatever “is” actually “is,” one thing we can be sure of is that it is ephemeral. It’s fleeting – and this partly explains why we don’t think about it as we experience it and why it’s spoken of in past and future tenses.

Many of those canards like money aren’t really about being happy – they’re about being unhappy. “I’m broke, I don’t have an income … I need money! That’ll make me happy!” But happy is not the negation of unhappy. Happy is a positive thing. The problem is defining just what the hell that thing is.

I don’t have a great conclusion to this musing. As usual, it’s just me thinking out loud on my blog, in a post. I do, however, think the idea of seeking happiness is a wrong-headed one.

It may sound trite, but I think it’s something you find only when you stop looking for it — as I will now do for fear it will elude me the rest of the day because I’ve been thinking about it!

(This is a repost of something I wrote back in July of 2009.)