Note: A small portion of this originally appeared as a status update on my Facebook feed. I thought it worth expanding on here.
Internet memes provide a quick ‘n’ dirty way to put across a social or cultural idea that can be quite profound, or profoundly funny. One of my favourites captures both of these. It has an image of a peaceful beach at sunset, with the words, “Your inspirational quote of the day” at the top, and on the bottom the simple and meaningful phrase, “Don’t be a dick.” I’ve shared that one a few times. Unfortunately, more often than not memes promote shallow thoughts or philosophical constructs that just don’t hold any weight, and crumble when examined more closely. Though the word itself may not appear, many of these tend to promote being happy as much, if not all, of the time.
The search for happiness, the methods to achieve it, or how to find the secret road to this wondrous land of joy and bliss is not a concept invented for the Internet, but has been around for like, ever. Volumes have been written by pop psychologists and new age philosophers offering road maps to your own personal, euphoric, Shambhala, but in the age of the interwebs these all seem to have been distilled into easily-digestible chunks of frou-frou words dropped onto pretty pictures of puppies and rainbows. I dig puppies and rainbows, don’t get me wrong. They make me happy (see what I did there?), but that doesn’t mean happiness is a state of being I constantly aspire to. I really don’t believe it’s a state of being at all.
Arguing semantics is usually a cul-de-sac endeavour, but sometimes words need a proper definition to promote a deeper understanding of the concepts they expound. Happiness, like anger or sadness, is an emotion. Emotional states are transient and ephemeral, as they should be because who the hell wants to be angry or sad all the time? All emotions have purpose and validity, none are good or bad in and of themselves, and all come and go as they please with very little help from us. Constantly striving to be happy is a struggle that nobody can win.
Except maybe for the Joker, and look what it did to him. If your goal is to become a psychopathic criminal mastermind, more power to you.
If you want to seek a state of being, however, try serenity, or peacefulness, because serenity is not the same as happiness. Semantics again? Not really, no. Sure, the two can co-exist, but serenity, even when angry or sad, can still hang out with you like the snoring dog at the foot of your bed that gives you comfort even when you can’t sleep.
I’ll save the yin and yang lecture for another time, but it’s a median; A nice average place, very pleasantly balanced, that you can settle back to. I much prefer that to the constant effort to death-grip something that will only break your fingers the next time it escapes. And it will most certainly escape, and then you’ll be a sad panda with a forced smile.
I see memes promoting happiness on my feed all the time, shared by people with good hearts and good intentions. You know what I post instead? Video clips of cute puppies and sometimes babies, or cute puppies with babies, or occasionally kittens (but I’m not really a cat person), because they let me smile naturally. Even if it’s just for a moment, I accept that simple joy and roll around in it like a pig in shit. I know I’ll be seeing a picture of Donald Trump soon enough, and then I’ll be annoyed again.