September 15, 2010

The Conundrum of Happiness. ~ Sandy Clarke

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

~ Oscar Wilde

“Fashion is what people adopt when they don’t know who they are.”

~ Quentin Crisp

For what seems like forever, it’s always perplexed me that people seem to be able only to find happiness through the reliance of others, whether “others” may be a boy/girlfriend, sibling, relative, friend, teacher etc. Don’t get me wrong—I have never thought that people should live in individual caves and lock themselves away from the rest of humanity (though, for me personally, this wouldn’t be a necessarily negative experience). However, there is a huge difference between being happy “with” someone, and being happy “because” of someone (The latter, to me, is a wholly dangerous state in which to leave yourself).

Apart from the unreliability of human nature, it seems to be quite selfish to look to others for your happiness. Why should anyone but me hold the responsibility of making me feel good on the inside? What right do I have to place such an unreasonable burden on anyone? If a God understands that we can’t possibly make him or her happy (and therefore, doesn’t expect us to do so), what gives us the right as mere mortals to be any more demanding?

And certainly we humans are a silly bunch. We only need to know someone for five minutes in order to lay expectations on them, and even if we’ve known them for a whole ten minutes, we never stop to think that, in reality, we know only our projections of a person, molded from the relatively small glimpses we are carefully shown by them.

So why do we seek our happiness from others? Constantly, I’m given weird looks from some when they find I don’t completely trust anyone. In their ignorance, they seem to think that I see myself as being better, or that all people are devious. Neither of these things are true. However, in placing complete trust in someone, you make them a God, which they are not. In placing complete trust in a person, we end a friendship if they tell us one lie out of 20,000 statements. We don’t consider the other 19,999 truths they’ve told. Rather, we focus on the one false statement and we make ourselves martyrs: “I trusted you completely and you’ve now betrayed me—how could you?!” as though we are perfect. So, in never completely trusting anyone, I’m simply relieving them of God’s job and accepting that they, like me and everyone else, can, will and do make mistakes, even big ones.

In expecting our happiness to come from others, we are bound to suffer. Even if our marriages and relationships and encounters are, on the whole, without drama, all it takes is for the toothpaste tube to be squeezed from the middle and our happiness is diminished. It is, of course, fairly immature to expect others to make us happy. I’ve always been fascinated by peoples’ determination to strive towards financial independence, to achieve their own status, to “make their mark” in life, and yet, without a hint of irony, they will go to great lengths to seek out and rely on other people to make them feel good about themselves. Let’s face it: it’s no good having a big house if there’s no one around to admire it. In isolation, a bungalow is as fine as a mansion.

Most of the time, I am told, “You need people around you.” I agree. We are social creatures and—unless you’ve a completely stable mind—living in isolation is probably not the best idea.

However, that we need people around us is entirely different from needing others to validate who we are. It’s quite sad that we need to be like everyone else except ourselves. If this wasn’t true, iPhones and Blackberries wouldn’t be as popular, and no particular fashion would flourish. The irony is that, in a self-centered world, no one cares. Spending any amount of time trying to impress those around you is completely futile, purely because they are spending their time trying to impress you. As a result, everyone worries too much about what everyone thinks about them to care anything about anyone else.

The conundrum of happiness is, thankfully, easily solved. You just simply be yourself. Everyone thinks they are always themselves, but few actually manage it. If you’re one of the people who can’t put the garbage out without looking your best, you’ve work to do. If you’re one of the people who flat out refuses to put the garbage out should anyone you know spot you, then you’ve a lot of work to do.

The idea that “happiness comes from within” has always been a little too “Oprah” for me, but it is true. Think about it: if lasting happiness really did come from others, no-one would give you it—why on earth would they want you to be happier than them?!

It’s only when you stop trying to make an impression that you actually start to make an impression. Until you realize this, you’ll forever be trying to keep up with the Joneses, completely unaware that it’s the Joneses who are trying to keep up with you.

Sandy Clarke is a 27-year old journalist and writer from Scotland, UK. Having worked for the Scottish Parliament and various newspaper titles, Clarke has a keen interest in current affairs and global politics and as a practising Buddhist, he also devotes a lot of time to spirituality.

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