By Joe Fraser
When I was in my angry, teenage years, I used to have a nice, big go at my parents and storm off to my room or wherever my family weren’t. In what my Dad thought was a hilarious prank, he would play the Ken Dodd song ‘Happiness’ on his speakers to anger me even more/try to cheer me up. The song did both of those things and recently I heard my Dad hum it for the first time in years. So that got me thinking a lot about happiness. But not just a song – I mean, what it really is. Is it a thing? Do I already have it? Am I supposed to have it?
Do I need it?
Is it something I’m allowed to keep?
Is it good for me?
Do you have it? If so, can I share it?
Is it contagious?
Can I see it?
Will too much of it make me sick?
Can I have too much?
Do I deserve it?
Can I buy it?
Can you measure it?
How long does it last for?
Is it just the opposite of sadness?
What’s stopping me from having it?
What is it?
I found an idea that happiness is on a U-bend. So, at the start of your life you’re at your peak happiness – probably from pure ignorance of any of life’s problems. When you hit 18 you start going down and down. Then things pick back up when you get to your fifties. So, am I just supposed to wait? I was supposed to be the happiest in my life when I was a teenager but I got shit marks at school and was kind of chubby – both of which made me sad.
Of course, what we call happiness is just chemicals in the brain and their responses like oxytocin, serotonin etc. But happiness has to be something more than that, right? Something a little bit more…ugh…special. Not the word I want to use but I am struggling to find another. Maybe, ‘magical’? Though that makes it sound like a Disney film.
One of the best answers I’ve found is meeting a friend’s mum who is Buddhist. I studied a bit of Buddhism at school but wouldn’t call myself an expert on its teachings. Most people who call themselves “Buddhist” are probably just following a trend. Not my mate’s mum. She’s gone on pilgrimages, met the Dalai Lama, is part of Free Tibet – the whole shebang. She spoke about the ‘middle way’ and how the Buddha found enlightenment through it.
I can relate to the Buddha (known by his friends as Siddhartha). He at first tried to find happiness through lack and excess, then tried through self-discipline or ‘asceticism’ in more religious terms which was not really trying at all. When the Buddha was enlightened he preached the middle way. I’m not saying I’ll ever be enlightened and but it makes a lot of sense – the middle way. It lies in-between actively trying to be happy and not trying in the slightest. You can spend a lot of time looking for happiness. And we also shouldn’t settle – we should find things that make us extraordinarily happy and make more time to do these things. But that shouldn’t be our only goal. Because happiness is great but it’s also brief. You can’t look at the world, however strange and remarkable, and think it’s always awesome. It’s just life. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, often a confusing mixture of both. So maybe, the middle way is okay. Maybe it’s more than okay, maybe that’s what happiness is.
At least for now. I’ll probably find a better answer as soon as I upload this SCAB.