What makes you happy?
So many of us would answer that question with the usual suspects: love, a good movie, a well built Lego castle, a leisurely Sunday drive with three dogs, a juicy steak, the sound of children cheating at the game of Sorry!, on and on and et cetera and et. al and yada yada…
Now let’s wax analytical as I am prone to do on a lazy Sunday on one side or another of a football game: if we really break down the question, it is asking us what makes us happy; in other words, what compels us to feel joy, what wrings and squeezes the feeling of pleasure from us like the last few drops of water out of a chamois, what backs us into a corner and shoves a microphone in our face forcing us to answer the question under duress disguised as euphoria.
We answer the question giving nary a thought to the way it’s phrased, how it places happiness in a container with some external event coming along to lift the lid and release it to flutter up and out unfettered on diaphanous wings. In the scenario that this question paints, happiness is sitting at home bored watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island and Full House until a catalyst comes knocking on the door to ask it to come out and play.
Maybe we can rephrase the question in the form of How do you make happiness? and give it a test drive. Perhaps we could look at joy and jubilation as a recipe where we are putting together the ingredients and cooking it for however long at however many degrees. I like this because it means happiness is brought on by our own efforts, that it is manifested by way of our own hands rather than waiting for the world to deliver it Next Day Air.
The advisory of caution I want to give to my recipe analogy, however, is the danger of seeing happiness as consistently resulting from a given formula. Any of us that cooks knows that there is no guarantee to the outcome of a meal or dessert despite following the recipe as if in a laboratory under the supervision of a Dupont chemical engineer. We may believe we know what brings us happiness, but we still argue with our lover, the brilliantly written movie plot collapsed under the weight of a jejune ending, the Lego castle is constructed with mostly wheels and tree pieces, the leisurely Sunday drive is with wet dogs, the juicy steak turns out to be a juicy seitan steak, on and on and et cetera and et. al and yada yada.
One ingredient of unbridled joy that seems to rarely get acknowledged is the element of surprise. We know what brings us pleasure and we chase the feeling of that first or best high only to come short as often as we hit the mark of delight. However, there’s something to be said for diving into an endeavor of which we have no notion as to the potential outcome. We might crash and burn, we might soar on the wings of Icarus for a few moments. When the results of an unknown foray are not the most positive, at least we went into it without expectation, for an expectation dashed is far more crushing than an unanticipated disappointment. When our venture into the unknown yields a pleasant surprise, the delight widens our eyes and tantalizes our senses far more with its newness than with the stock pleasures derived from the same ol’ same ol’ that threaten to inevitably disappoint with the increasing wear of each iteration.
To say when you know what to expect you’ll never be disappointed is true until you don’t get what you expect. As life loves to determine circumstance with the pitch of the dice, we are bound to someday crap out on what we think is a consistent safe bet on ensuring our own happiness. However, if we grab the dice and determine the coming out roll by the pitch of our own hand, there is something exhilarating in knowing we’ve created our own luck no matter whether we set the point or we crap out on the toss.