I used to struggle a lot with meeting new people; beyond the classic introvert tendency of ‘disliking small-talk’ I simply panicked at the thought of having to (as I saw it) entertain another person in an attempt to get them to like me. Then I finally internalised the (also classic) rule that it’s actually all about asking them questions. But I still struggled with coming up with the right questions to ask.
Lately I’ve found it much easier to stay engaged in conversations with new people, though I don’t know if it ever leads to them liking me. Because perhaps my method has now become a bit of an interrogation. I’ve noticed that no matter what the topic of actual conversation, the questions that I end up asking, over and over again, are all digging relentlessly towards one (perhaps somewhat inappropriate) query:
Are you happy?
Happy. It’s such a nebulous concept. But I mean a very specific kind of happiness. The enjoying being the person living your life kind. The kind that’s ongoing, perpetual. Where you regularly experience waking up light and comfortable and secure. And going to sleep calm, satisfied.
It’s not always easy to gauge whether or not someone is happy, of course. In fact I suspect it would be a difficult question for anyone to answer if asked directly. But it’s not impossible to get a hunch from reading someone’s voice, eyes, intonations, word choice, story selection. It’s an imperfect science, but I believe that it works well enough.
So what have I gathered so far in my year of this super-imprecise hunting -for-happiness experiment?
So far I’ve learned that people who have a life outside of work tend to be happier than those who don’t…
…And consequently that many people in advertising are not happy with their lives.
I’ve learned that people who are destined to be travelers and explorers seem to be perpetually unhappy when forced to do any kind of regular job, no matter how rewarding or fulfilling…
…And conversely that there are people who need the comfort of home, and so will find themselves truly miserable on a tropical island beach after a four-month-trek around some beautiful tropical country.
I’ve learned that people who spend too long thinking about “what they really want” to make out of their lives without doing anything about it tend to be constantly unhappy even if they’re living a hypothetical dream life (e.g. living on a Caribbean island surrounded by friends, daily parties, and no need to work for a living)…
…And that people who never think about “what they really want” are also pretty damn unhappy.
And that there are some people I truly can’t figure out…
And that I’m not really at the level of happiness I’d like to have.
And all of it just makes me ask myself, why the hell does any one of us continue to put up with a life that does not make us happy, if not every day, then at least often enough to be able to confidently answer “yes, I am happy”?! What on earth is the point of all of this if not to be happy, and how is it that we can let weeks, months, years pass by of waking up and going to bed miserable, in total complacency?
I am often criticized by others for my stubborn resistance to all kinds of long-term commitments, but the reason I refuse to definitively decide on a country to ‘set up a life’ in, or so adamantly rage against the idea of marriage, is that my biggest fear is having my personal life turn into the equivalent of my professional one – where you’ve signed up to do something for a long-ass time, you’re living it every day, and trying to change it is insurmountably difficult compared to just going along with it. I can’t say that the alternative (my desperate clinging to freedom and independence) makes me happy either but at least it guarantees that I can make new choices every day.
So here’s to freedom and independence, and breaking routines, and finding our way towards the answer to the killer question being “yes!“…