Is Happiness Out of Style?

Is Happiness Out of Style?

I ask this as an honest question, because it’s seeming to me like maybe the answer is yes.

I starting pondering this topic after we left a nice dinner party (full of other couples about our age and in similar stages of life) and my husband said: “I think we were the only people in there who actually like our lives.”

I thought maybe that particular group of buzz-kill partygoers was an anomaly, but the more carefully I’ve observed the people around me (and watched which articles and posts “go viral” among my peers on social media) the more I think that maybe basic happiness really is uncommon.

And don’t get me wrong here – I’m not suggesting anyone try to plaster on a smile through seasons of significant loss or hardship, when a period of grief and sadness is completely appropriate and healthy. We all experience those to varying degrees. Nor am I talking about real mental illness, which requires the attentive and ongoing involvement of trained professionals.*

I’m talking about the baseline emotional state of my peer group, which is those of us who are reasonably functional first-world Millennials.

It seems that my generation, despite our manyfold privileges, takes an ironic pleasure from wallowing in dissatisfaction. Or outrage. Or disenfranchisement. Or whatever the negative emotion du jour is (best served with a generous scoop of being offended and a pinch of secular self-righteousness).

Naturally, any divergence from this chronic discontent is met with suspicion.

If you don’t change your picture frame to express solidarity in opposing (insert whatever thing people are upset about this week), you must be part of the problem. If you consistently share positive updates and happy-looking photos, you’re creating a fantasy world that hurts others’ self esteem.

If you dare to act happy in real life for any protracted amount of time, you get accused of being fake or uncaring or both. Ask me how I know.

Before we get the Grammar Police too flustered about what “happy” means in this context, here’s the definition, per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, when it pertains to a person: “Happy (adjective): characterized by well-being or contentment.”

Synonyms include: cheerful, smiling, satisfied, content, and joyful.

Huh.

Judging from our masochistic and cyclical relationship with self-improvement, stress, burnout, and self-care, happiness might be an impossibly tall order.

Another problem with happiness: It doesn’t sell.

Well, not unless you’re trying to convince someone they’re not happy enough – then you can probably sell a few million self-help books with titles like “You are So Super Fabulous and Life Owes You All the Things and Don’t Apologize Just Do YOU!” But I digress.

Sadness does sell. It’s intriguing to us when someone is really struggling with the current events in their life or with unresolved issues from their past. Conflict and drama are compelling. When someone is unfulfilled in their adult life, it’s easy for us to get on board with that and to join the dialogue that blames it on the previous generation, or our churches, or our schools, or “the system”. This sort of stuff is interesting.

But let’s be honest about how much interest we have when someone says “I enjoyed my childhood and I’m pretty satisfied with how my adult life is turning out…” Zero, right? Not only is a happy backstory hideously boring, but we probably resent that person a little (or a lot) for all their good fortune. What a jerk.

Here’s my dirty little secret: That’s me. I’m happy. Happy with how I was raised. Happy with my career decisions. Happy with (gasp!) the church we attend. Happy with our somewhat unusual parenting journey. Happy with the public school system here. Happy with our less-fancy-than-most-doctors lifestyle. Happy with my marriage. Happy with my very imperfect physical self.

I’m not saying I’ve given up on setting goals (I’m a Type A. I love goals!). I’m not saying I like everything about the world around me (we all want to change it for the better, right?). I’m not saying I never have problems or that I am always a beacon of mental and emotional strength. I’m not saying I’m a perfect wife or mom or friend. I’m not saying I’m ecstatic about everything all day, every day.

But I’m happy.

I don’t have any secrets or magical advice or anything to sell you on this topic. There is already plenty of research out there on happiness (although we as a society often seem hell-bent on ignoring most of it).

So what do you think? Is happiness out of vogue? Is it ever coming back?

Or should I just lean into the angst and start putting a Chiaroscuro filter on all my photos?


*As you can probably tell from the “crying towel” banner photo, this post is meant to be taken with a grain of salt – not meant to address serious mental health topics. If you are experiencing persistent sadness or other negative emotions, please let your medical doctor know.

2 Replies to “Is Happiness Out of Style?”

  1. Happiness is a choice! I chose to be HAPPY! I like being happy way better than being unhappy! I have depression and such and that sucks when I don’t feel anything but hopelessness. I’m trying after 20 years of hearing my thoughts say “You are not worth it! God hates you!” and such…to understand God’s love for all of us, including me! I like your blog! Thanks for the breathe of fresh air!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Lacy, and especially for sharing part of your own journey! My parents raised me with the same philosophy: you can be happy or unhappy – your choice.:D

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