Posted in Free Write Friday

Writing about happiness

I’m not good at writing about being happy. I can experience the emotion. Preserve it as it goes through my day and I happily smile to myself. But actually writing about joy? Damn, what a cliche.

The best writers always seem to put pen to paper about the shared pain of the human experience. They write sonnets about anger, frustration, sadness, terror, hopelessness, confusion, heartbreak, grief, rejection, racism, all of that. As a society, we talk about our joyous consumption in the light, then gorge ourselves on other people’s suffering in the dark. Sometimes that’s through words.

Me, growing up. I wanted to be a dark writer. Everyone was always content to talk about the good, but hid the bad. But when anything a little less light came out, the vulnerable parts, I would drift toward those. Not to fix them necessarily, but to learn.

If anyone let me into the dark, it was like sharing secrets — building trust — intimacy — and that wasn’t always something you could do with joy, if you weren’t acquainted with the pain. I came to associate happiness with surface level, inauthentic experiences. It was pain that really made you alive, not joy! At least, that’s what I believe because I first learned about my own pain.

At first glance, I’m quite cheerful. This isn’t a lie — I always look for ways to genuinely validate people. I’ll give you unsolicited observations about the good parts of you. And generally, I don’t talk about the hopeless parts of me. But I genuinely don’t often need to because I’ve spent so much of my life letting myself feel the bad more than the good, and as a result, I’ve accepted the inevitability of hard emotions. And when they come, I welcome them in like old friends. In a way, they are old friends.

My physical old friends/playmates only really knew me after I became a “SOCIAL! BUTTERFLY!” Memories of my younger self-exile aren’t as salient in the collective, but I had trouble making friends as a child until around age 14. Mom still laughs when she tells stories about “loner me” rejecting everyone who wanted to play on the playground with me, instead burying my nose in a book, or suddenly walking faster than others when my imagination carried me off to a distant world. Much time spent alone in my formative years led to me fiddling with my difficult emotions like they were toys. They’re harmless, unless I let them play me.

Throughout my life, I’ve noted what labels I’ve been given by acquaintances that feel blatantly contradictory to friends’. People that know me in passing have called me ‘a ditz,’ a ‘manic pixie dream girl,’ ‘a cutesy Asian into anime and superheroes,’ ‘popular with everyone,’ things like that. Yet you can’t level a criticism at me I haven’t thought of, picked apart, applied to humanity in a broad stroke, and concluded is perfectly acceptable. People who cross me often are surprised to find I have a steely backbone, that just as quickly my happy exterior melts into cold, leveled and surprisingly controlled guardedness. If you don’t manipulate me, I cool down. But that measured response, really, to most negative emotions, came from discipline. 

I like talking about the curiosity I have, things that give people pause to consider a happier perspective. But it came because I dwell on negativity, curious on refining it into something positive.

I don’t think that positive end result is always worth mentioning though. I think people spend more time pretending to be happy. Or obsessing over happiness as an aspirational goal. Which is fine — but in excess, if happiness becomes a requirement rather than an eager choice, then it loses its texture. Truly, accepting the possibility of not being happy is the way I’ve come to believe you can be authentically happy.

I’ve made it my life’s goal in the waking world to inspire others, but only because I get myself dark enough to practice inspiring myself out of funks. I derive meaning from the smallest things, using gratitude as my defense against the world. This means light can travel through the smallest of means, like a baby smiling at me, seeing a discount at a store, hearing good news from a friend, seeing a breathtaking view, sunlight breaking through the clouds and shining through a window, the smell of fresh baked goods reminding me I’m alive, getting a good, firm handshake, because that’s always the progression to a hug.

Every day, I tally those things up and put them into my happiness archive for when the sadness, the fear, the hopelessness also sets in. All those emotions want is to be turned also into happiness — reminders that I can face bad things and be fine. Like stubbing my toe. Maxing out my credit card. Getting rejected by a dream job. Not hearing from a love interest for months. Watching Trump destroy the country. Hearing about the lasting societal impacts of negligence of others. Leaving friends physically, time after time, every four months for two years, because goodbyes always break my heart. And saying the ultimate farewells to people very, very dear to me, 7 times in one year. How unlucky am I to experience pain — but how exceptional am I to somehow have made it through. All of us.

*****

When I announced to Facebook I was moving to Los Angeles this January and would be employed, I was shocked that almost 500 people were excited for me, as if they themselves were jetting off to a foreign land to chase what they believed in. It felt as if every tear I’d shed over the possibility of being irrelevant, of never making an impact, had led to a flood of encouragement — every good thing I’d tried to bring to others coming back to me full force.

I wanted to write about it. Then I stopped. What if I seemed vain? What if I seemed out of touch? What if it was foolish to boast of my success, when there was so much out there to be dissected about how miserable we all are right now?

As I sulked in my parents’ basement for the last four months, hands tied by my own accord to ‘fix my workaholism,’ I didn’t want to let myself dwell on being happy. I said I wanted to be happy, but it was actually quite more comfortable to continue to not be happy. Because what if, to be happy, meant to not grow?

I’m afraid of writing a blog post that is empty. I am afraid of sharing in my triumphs, almost as if those are the more intimate experiences than my pain. When someone asks me how my day was, even if something amazing happened, I forget to tell them. I am reluctant to rejoice with others in this shared experience, and maybe that’s what makes me an odd one out.

I am okay with being a guilty pleasure for others, my blog perhaps being a place for people to go when they want to be alone. And then there I am, my company there in my words. You don’t have to talk to me in the real world, you just have to experience my brain in a static one.

If you’ve only imbibed my personality through reading my blog (thank you for your loyalty), I must strike you as in a constant state of existential doom. It doesn’t help that as the end of college neared, tensions in America increased, and I grew up and graduated and loved and lost etc. that there were more interesting things to concentrate on. And much of those things happened to be bad. But it’s through the bad that I made meaning out of the good.

And I guess someday, I can just say the good without qualifying that there’s bad too.

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