We’re using the word “happy” wrong, friends.
We’ve given it so much weight in our culture that we’re actually letting it determine things for us.
We use it as a measure against our friends and family. We use it in comparing our day-to-day drudgeries to the drudgeries of others. We use it as a tool to measure the success of relationships. We use it as the pedestal to which we all must aspire to reaching.
We use it wrong.
We are all using it wrong.
Even the founding fathers got it wrong, and that’s okay because they were human too.
Let’s look at the basic etymology of the word “happy,” then we’ll reassess where we’re at with it.
For most of its life, happy has actually meant lucky, or a source of gladness that is derived from good luck or fortune.
Its origins lie in the word “hap”, it was born somewhere in the 14th century, and for a few hundred years its use was based mainly in the idea of fortuitousness, or happenstance.
If we think about happiness on these terms, then it seems that our ability to be happy rests on the chaotic nature of the universe. For a high-achieving culture of control freaks and geeks, well, that just seems like an unhappy waiting game. I would like to think this misinterpretation is part of this hole we’ve dug ourselves into.
The inherent problem of “happy” is that we’ve turned it into something that it was never supposed to become.
We can’t measure our well-being on happiness.
We can’t measure our relationships on happiness.
And we sure as hell shouldn’t measure our lives on happiness.
If we read back through those last few sentences and replace the word “happiness” with either good luck or fortune, then we’re able to start looking at this cultural obsession with being happy a bit differently.
We’re also able to start substituting new words that can give us more agency in our pursuits. We’re able to get creative and perhaps have a little bit more fun in the way we look at our lives.
Think about the places, times, and memories that you associate with our cultural definition being happy.
One place that I’ve always found happiness is within community.
When I was a sleep-away camp counselor, I experienced a profound sense of community. When I played sports, I found this within my teams. Today, I find that same sense of community in my local peer group here in Bozeman.
I’ve been lucky (or happy?) to meet great friends through jobs and other circumstances, and of course, I experience community through my family.
Part of the wholeness of all of these experiences is being with people who allow you to be yourself, no matter the state. It’s about being able to experience the full range of emotions while feeling safe.
Another place I’ve found happiness is through creativity.
I get lost in art projects, in writing, in photography, and simply being in motion. Creativity is often a simple exploration of our curiosities, and when we’re able to get lost in curiosity, we are able to be child-like again (talk about a true and strange state of happiness!).
The whole world is a good luck charm when we’re able to see it through the curious eyes of a child.
My favorite experience of our cultural definition of happiness lies simply in being outdoors.
This can be through playing sports, going on a trip or simply just stepping outside of your front door. Some of us have more access than others, but even a simple walk through your neighborhood can bring to light new ways to look at the place that you live.
The best walk that I have taken this year was when it was snowing lightly and negative seven degrees and the whole town was quiet.
There is wonder everywhere, and we have the ability to go look for it.
We can truly create our own adventures.
Agency. Community. Creativity. Curiosity. Play. Wonder. Adventure.
The pursuit of ___________.
Replace “happiness” with any of these words. Find your own words to replace it. Do this with a sense of urgency and change the way you see the world.
And let’s stop wishing happiness on each other; there are bigger and better things awaiting discovery.
Go and seek new things, friends.
Go and be adventurous.
Go and be unhappy with your own status quo, and develop all sorts of new ways to redefine success around anything other than being happy.
And then please tell me about it so that I can go do it too.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Brandy Mansfield / Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: elephant archives