Perpetual Quest for Happiness

*I apologize for the length of this post.*

Here’s an article about why Americans are so anxious all the time, and it’s no joke. Anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications have become much more prevalent in recent years. We are searching for happiness and can’t find it. Our search for happiness has made us stressed and oddly enough, less happy. The word “self-care” in the article reminded me of Tumblr, where discontent, unhappiness, discrimination, perversion, and pornography abound. (They call it “4chan junior” for a reason.) Yet there are occasional rays of “light” in that darkness, and these rays of “light” take the form of posts about ways to treat yourself right and perform “self-care” methods. Take yourself to the spa. Binge watch all 4,000 episodes of whatever popular TV show you can’t get enough of. Go ahead and eat that entire tub of ice cream. After all, you only live once (another common Tumblr mantra).

These self-care methods have nothing to do with actually improving oneself: finding the source of the problem and taking steps to fix it. They are just bandages to cover the great gaping wound that’s been inside all humans from the instant of conception. We are on earth (in the words of the “Hail, Holy Queen” prayer: “this vale of tears”). We are the Church Militant. We are in a perpetual struggle for our souls and the souls of others. We will not be perfectly happy until we meet God in heaven, assuming that we win the fight and make it there. Realizing that we will never be perfectly happy on this earth can, in itself, make us a bit more happy. It helps to know your limitations.

I firmly believe that social media, although it can and should be used for good, has greatly contributed to our discontent with ourselves and our anxiety. We see the exterior of others’ lives as they choose to present them and compare the muck and murk of our interior lives with that. In doing so, we cannot possibly see our lives as good or even decent. We see our perfectly ordinary and usual lives as something to be improved so that we can be as happy as our friends in their staged selfies. We try to fix what ain’t broke. Back when I had Facebook, I’d get a stomach ache every time I logged in because I always felt like the most imperfect person among my so-called friends. I’d read about their accomplishments and their perfect relationships and see their lovely vacation and wedding photos and wonder what the hell was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I that happy, that perfect? Facebook was feeding my cognitive distortions and warping them even further, so I deleted it, and I was happy to live in ignorant bliss while my “friends” conducted their just-as-imperfect-as-mine lives.

The author of the article states that happiness is about communicating with others (which we do surprisingly little of) and caring for others. I have found this to be true. Few things are more satisfying than working out one’s differences in the old-fashioned way: a face-to-face talking. Few things bring happiness like a good time spent with friends or family—when the cell phones are put away and everyone is engaged in the conversation. As an introvert, I’m still struggling to figure out a good balance between time spent with people and time spent by myself, doing things like reading and writing. Once I hit that balance, will I be happy once and for all? No, because life has a way of punching you in the face without warning. No one thing is going to make you happy consistently, all of the time. And it’s OK to not be happy. The search for perpetual happiness where it is not possible, and ignoring the panorama of other emotions we face as humans, has made us anxious, and to quell that anxiety, we need to look to others and our connections with them.

Anxiety comes from the self as ultimate concern. —Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss