Thursday, November 8, 2007

I remember being happy...

While having drinks with my friends one Friday night, a girlfriend asked nobody in particular, ‘what is happiness anyway?’ I don’t know if it was meant as a rhetorical question. I tried to answer her but everyone in the table agreed that we had one too many and we should talk about “happier” things, instead. It is a thorn in my friends’ collective side talking about “philosophical” things, otherwise known as serious topics.

Oh by the way, we are in a country where the word “philosopher” is considered an insult. To Filipinos, a “pilosopo” is a smart-aleck---someone who engages in meticulous and abstract reasoning; someone who attempts to challenge conventions. This is personified in Jose Rizal's character, Pilosopo Tasyo. Being a "philosopher" here is a sign of weirdness, a term of ridicule and mockery.

Anyway, I asked myself the same question a few nights ago---both philosophically and anthropologically. What is happiness? My late mathematician-friend-turned-philosopher after a certain amount of alcohol once told me that happiness is defined according to ones personal values and the values of a particular culture.

For a bed-ridden 90-year old Casanova, his definition of happiness may be an erection, or an empty bladder. I know of some people who are happy taking Prozac while others are happy helping street children. A sexually promiscuous woman revealed in Cosmo that she looks for happiness (orgasm) by sleeping with various men. A self-sacrificing wife finds happiness in taking care of her abusive husband. My 9-year old nephew's happiness is Jollibee's chicken joy and french fries.

Our concept of happiness, after all, is the single most important motivation for us---the very reason for our lives. Which leads me to my next questions---is happiness just an emotion, or a mere psychological state? Is there anything more to being happy than just thinking “I’m happy”? Or is happiness a way of life?

From Aristotle to Woody Allen, from Jean-Paul Sartre to Bart Simpson to Dagul of Pugad Baboy, much has been said and still being said about happiness. Aristotle focused on long-term and objective happiness. While some talked about self-deception and happiness, that we can mislead ourselves into thinking we’re happy when we’re not and we can be happy without realizing it. A philosopher said, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”

Happiness to me is one component of the good life. And again, the definition of a good life varies from one person to another. A good life to you may be a 3-bedroom unit at Serendra, a Jaguar, and millions in the bank, famous friends, and a boyfriend/girlfriend who worships the ground you walk on. My good life is embracing reality and facts rather than denying the truth, spontaneity, acceptance of myself and others and lacking in prejudice; and interest in solving problems, including my own emotional conflicts with people around me. I equate reaching my potentials to personal happiness.

I sometimes wonder if I really have the power to choose to be happy or unhappy. All I know is happiness is not a congenital disposition that was given to me when I was born, it isn’t a goal I’ll never reach, and it isn’t even a possession or the result of possession. So what is happiness? I have the definitions and a lot of unanswered questions.

But when I’m miserable, I understand feeling small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And how it can truly ache in places I didn’t know I have inside me. And it doesn’t matter how many massages or hot oils I get, or how many bottles of beer I drink with my friends…I still go to bed every night going over every detail and wonder what I did wrong. And in one crazy moment I would remember that I had been happy. Then one morning, I wake up feeling worthwhile again, and the little pieces of my soul finally come back. And all that painful stuff, the days of my life that I wasted eventually begin to fade. That is the mystery of happiness.

Happiness, it seems to me, consists of two things: first, in being where you belong, and second -- and best -- in comfortably going through everyday life, that is, having had a good night's sleep and not being hurt by new shoes.


Sidney said...

Happiness? That's nothing more than health and a poor memory. -Albert Schweitzer-

Unknown said...

But I hope I won't forget the good stuff, Sidney. Thanks for visiting.