Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Thing About Happiness

Recently there was a Cracked.com article about our flawed perceptions of happiness.  The gist of it is that happiness is so poorly defined we're often aspiring towards something we have a very poor definition of (that may not even exist anyways).  I think we envision happiness with too many absolutes, one of those being our "happiest day of our lives."

There's supposed to be some magical moment that elevates one day above the rest, but those are so few and far between.  Mostly, I think the best days are the ones that exceed expectations in an endearing way.  The majority of us don't win the lottery or have a threesome with supermodels.  Plus the things that do inspire those feelings in us are not so concentrated into a single day.  Typically there's a long period of time where things are going fairly well.  It's better, but it's less apparent.

If you asked me a year ago to pick out my best day, there were two in particular that I'd chose from; one a day at the beach with my then-girlfriend, the longest time we'd ever gotten to spend with each other, and the other my first party in the plaza in Buffalo for game one of the Boston series.

The former was great because it actually managed to live up to my (very high) expectations and the latter was great because it emphatically crushed the lingering doubts that driving to Buffalo (two nights before having to drive back again) was a bad idea.  I didn't win a ton of money or fuck a model, or anything like that, they were just idyllic nights spent with good people.

But like I said, one of those would have been my nest day a year ago, but not now.  If you asked me now what my best day was, I would say with certainty the full day I spent amid two partial days visiting my girlfriend in New Jersey.  It had all the makings of something wonderful right from the very beginning.

I always liked traveling, even by myself, so the drive through parts of Pennsylvania that I'd never seen to a state I'd never been was a definite allure to the trip.  My travels south were wrought with rolling hills and gorgeous countryside and I found the small New Jersey towns to be endlessly amusing.

Having been in a long distance relationship before, I'm no stranger to the rush when you see your partner for the first time after a long absence.  Still that didn't do anything to take away the happiness at seeing my girlfriend for the first time in over a month, especially with her ability to be unwittingly cute.

When I met my previous girlfriend's parents, I was 19 and she was 15.  I'd known them for years, but there was a definite fear heading over to pick her up for our first date thinking, "these people know that I am going ot eventually defile their daughter."  Nerve-wracking to say the lease.  This time I headed into the confrontation with half the parental unit with confidence...how could her mother not like me?  I'm me.

The real draw to the whole experience for me (aside from spending time with my girlfriend) was the camping.  I'd only ever spent one night in a tent, and while that much suggest a certain softness, I can rough it with the best of them.  I was looking forward to leaving the phone and the laptop largely untouched during my stay there.

Even though there were numerous other riders around, not to mention her family, there was a certain seclusion to the trip that I found really appealing.  I've never been one prone to a lot of human contact, and carving out a bubble in which we could exist was undeniably special.

What was also special was getting a front row seat to the festivities themselves.  I'd never seen mounted games before and I'd carried a general disdain for anything involving horses because of my obsessed sister whose shows are as boring as you can make an animal five times your size that could easily kill you if it wanted.  So I was afraid I was going to be hopelessly bored.  Instead I was impossibly entertained.  If there are two aspects to anything that I consistently enjoy, they're complexities, and a healthy dose of numbers.  Tracking the standings for each team after each game gave me both in spades.

There are a lot of things that made that one weekend special without one specific moment.  Happiness, I think, is a state of being, not a flash moment.  There is much that contributes to it, exploration, comfort, entertainment, and contentment.  It's not something that you can obtain through any sort of exchange, it's like a personal project, something you slowly build towards without any objective of completion in mind.

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