The Pursuit of Happiness, Vol. 3

Image courtesy of EW.

Image courtesy of EW.

“Happiness comes in small doses, folks. It’s a cigarette or a chocolate chip cookie or a five-second orgasm. That’s it, okay? You cum, you eat the cookie, you smoke the butt, you go to sleep, you get up in the morning and go to fucking work, okay?” — Denis Leary, No Cure for Cancer

Is Denis right? Is that really all there is?

At 35, there aren’t many people who have been household names my entire life.

Actor and comedian Robin Williams, dead of an apparent suicide at 63, is one of those people.

When someone dies, you rarely hear: “That guy was an asshole! Good riddance!”

People tend to focus on the good and honor the departed. So, it’s no surprise there is an outpouring of praise being heaped upon Williams.

None of us know what went on inside Williams’ mind and heart. But in more than three decades of knowing who he is, the worst thing I’ve ever heard about him is that some people didn’t care for his brand of humor.

By all accounts, he was a kind, decent, hilarious and generous man on and off stage, and on and off camera.

Which begs the question:

If Robin Williams, worth an estimated $130 million (according to Business Insider), beloved by millions worldwide, who reached the pinnacle of a career as a Hollywood actor and comedian, wasn’t happy, what chance do you and I have?

If a man with seemingly everything would rather be dead, what are we living for?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way:

Robin Williams reportedly suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. But I’m not going to let people get away with writing off his suicide as some anomaly. Just another case of mental illness that happens in this faraway place to people who aren’t like me!

Depression is a word.

Just like bipolar.

Words we use to describe conditions we observe in people. Conditions, I suspect happen to all of us in varying degrees at varying points in our lives.

People are afraid to talk about it.

I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s because some of us equate “mental illness” to “crazy.”

I’m not crazy!, we all think.

I used to be sure I wasn’t. And now I’m not. Now I know I can never really be sure of anything. I felt a lot better about my life the day I let go of trying to be certain about everything.

It’s okay to not know.

Try it. “I. Don’t. Know.” And you don’t have to. Now take a deep breath and go do something that makes you laugh.

I grew up in this “normal” little life, in this normal little house, in this normal little town. I grew up convinced I was about as typical as a person can be.

Maybe we all feel that way because we don’t know any better when we’re young and our brains don’t work very well because we don’t have enough data.

Life was simple.

And I remember thinking that when I grew up, I’d get married and have a couple of kids, and live in a normal little house in a normal little town just like that one.

And I’d be happy.

My wants got a little more ambitious as I aged. I began to crave certain material things and career achievements, but the end product of my happy-life fantasy still looked mostly the same.

A simple life in the suburbs with a wife and children and a job I could be proud of.

Eventually, I achieved that life.

And it wasn’t enough.

Everything broke. I lost my family. And then I got a taste of what depression really feels like.

For the first time, I discovered what it feels like to not recognize your own reflection. To forget what it feels like to be happy. To forget what it feels like to be you.

It changes everything.

Because that’s when you finally learn to prioritize. That’s when you finally figure out what matters versus what doesn’t.

I once needed the house, the car, the wife, the kids, the money, the job, the friends, the love, the life. To succeed. To be happy.

And now I don’t. I no longer believe there’s some magical Life Ladder that you climb and when you reach high enough you pump your fist and say: “Yay!!! Now I’m happy!!!”

There’s no finish line. No mountaintop. No end credits upon completion.

If life’s a video game, there’s no beating the game.

It’s just repeated attempts to set a new high score.

And I think it’s important to come to terms with that reality, or else we set ourselves up for enormous disappointment—high expectations that cripple us when life fails to satisfy.

Great Failed Expectations

I thought my life was going to be awesome because it pretty much was most of the time. Things got a little better all the time, every year, for the first 30 years of my life.

It set the expectation that things would continue to progress that way. So, when all the shitty things started to happen, I fell hard.

Your brain has trouble processing.

It poisons your insides. Fucks with your soul.

Maybe all of the really happy people started out with hard lives and thought their futures would be shitty, and then eventually climbed their way out and realized how beautiful life can really be.

I don’t know. It’s okay to not know.

I think this is what happens to all of these people—people most of us look at and think: Wow! They have amazing lives! I bet they’re so happy!

Rich and famous people. People who are beloved and worshipped. People just like Robin Williams.

What could they be missing?

I can only make an educated guess.

They’re missing some or all of the same things that elude any of us who feel dissatisfied with our lives.

Peace.

Contentment.

Balance.

Love.

Hope.

We all want good health. And fun. And money. And friendship. And love. And sex. And to feel good. And safe.

But what makes us happy?

Is that not the most-important question? Aside from taking care of those who love and need you (partners and children, etc.), do we have a more-critical job than identifying that which makes us truly happy?

Than immersing ourselves in that fountain? Over and over and over again?

Everyone suffers from varying degrees of brokenness.

Can love heal the broken?

Everyone has demons. Guilt. Regrets.

Can hope, faith, forgiveness bring us peace?

We all just want to feel like most of us did when we were kids. Laugh! Run! Play!

Is happiness really just an orgasm and a cookie?

Is all we get that short burst of joy we feel while laughing at the punch line of a Robin Williams joke?

Is that all there is?

Is that happiness?

Yeah, I don’t think so either.

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30 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Happiness, Vol. 3

  1. At the risk of a lot of criticism…..(Sigh) I think I might agree with Mr. Leary. . . and Thomas Jefferson. I wonder if the pursuit of happiness is actually being in a continual state of searching for morsels of happiness. You know I’ve always taken issue with the word “happiness.” I think that maybe that word is the very thing that actually leads people to discontentment. Because there is some idea that Happiness is a state of being (something achieved and therefore perpetually held on to) it is unreasonable to eat chocolate chip cookies every moment of our lives. Does that mean that we are failures at “happiness” in between bites? and let’s be real, eventually we will hate eating chocolate chip cookies!! Happiness is not a destination. Happiness is a gift in a moment that can always be pursued another way, another day. I think that so many people would be better off searching for peace and hope and joy. They aren’t “Just” words. They aren’t. Joy and hope and peace transcend circumstance. Happiness is held hostage by circumstance.

    My two cents. for whatever it’s worth.

    • Matt says:

      It might not be clear, because I’m not a very good communicator… but… I totally agree.

      Subtlety may not be my strong suit.

      “Happiness” is just a word.

      It’s a word that describes a state of being. One I don’t believe can be achieved without those very things you mention.

      It’s all of our jobs to figure out (often by weeding out the stuff that doesn’t work) how to make those things a part of our lives.

      I think you and I will always come to the same conclusion. But I think it’s imperative that people find the path on their own.

      No one likes being preached to.

      Especially by some douchebag internet blogger who needs as much or more help than anyone. ;)

      • I just so happened to be reading through Ecclesiastes right now and while the whole first six chapters reminded me of this post, I was especially struck by chapter 6 verse 9 (keep in mind this is a VERY LOOSE translation [NLT]) “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless; it is like chasing the wind.” . . . maybe this whole happiness thing is easier than we realize. <3

      • Matt says:

        You’re right in that I don’t think we have to “do” much.

        Of course, all the really challenging stuff is always the intangible things going on inside us.

        So, it’s still the toughest job we have. But it’s good to point out that nothing needs to change except ourselves.

        Because I really believe that’s the truth.

  2. and they don’t like being preached to by some arrogant no-it-all commenter/fan. ;-)

  3. Auntie Doris says:

    For what it’s worth, I reckon that happiness does come in short bursts. Contentment is the nice, long lasting thing that you might be looking for. If you are content you will spend more time being happy and less time not being happy. Get content.

    I think I know what I’m talking about.

    • Matt says:

      I use those two words (happy and content) interchangably because I’m a word rebel, Auntie!

      • Auntie Doris says:

        Aye, George Orwell wrote about people like you… Always simplifying things and losing the ruddy texture.
        Seriously though, you put some good stuff into that post, very thought proboking. Thank you.

      • Matt says:

        I can’t thank you enough for taking a moment to read, and care enough to leave your thoughts, which I failed to mention, are absolutely correct in my opinion.

        We spend so much time chasing all these things that don’t matter.

        And I think losing a beloved celebrity like Robin Williams, who brought so much joy to others, and had what so many of us crave, is a healthy reminder to figure out our priorities.

        People (especially me) always say: When X and Y happens, I will be happy!!!!!!!!!

        And it’s, of course, not true.

        We just need to try to wake up tomorrow and be happy. Without anything happening except our hearts and minds getting in tune with the right things.

        I appreciate the gentle reminder to not oversimplify.

        The ruddy texture matters. As do you.

        Thank you very much.

  4. Chris says:

    I don’t know. But good food for thought. Anything I could set my sights on to achieve happiness I tended to acquire. But then I couldn’t. So there’s something about knowing what truly makes you happy and the means to achieve that. And it’s not about materialism. The ability to squire happiness is as much situational as monetary. As a parent, the child’s happiness is paramount…it’s an interesting topic.

  5. Great insight into happiness and into yourself, and especially knowing that it (depression) ‘could never happen to me’ and then coming to the realization, that maybe it could. Me too. I have also found that those things I thought essential for my happiness (house, kids, family, work etc) are only satisfiers and my real fundamental needs are stability, security, meaning, purpose, harmony etc

    • Matt says:

      I really believe we take damn near everything for granted until life forces us not to anymore.

      Then it becomes paramount that we not repeat the mistake.

      That’s the part I’m trying to master.

  6. nights7 says:

    I don’t know, I’d be pretty happy with a cookie & an orgasm.

  7. As long as the cookie is chocolate or has chocolate chips in it. If we are honest with ourselves we will think that we are never going to be so depressed as to take our own life. In my humble opinion, I think that people that are depressed do not set out to commit suicide, they just want to stop the pain. If it sounds like I have been there, it is because I have. Let’s remember the good things about Robin, and not dwell on his pain.

    • Matt says:

      I hope I didn’t come off insensitive to Williams’ death.

      I don’t get too worked up about celebrity deaths. But I was VERY moved by the loss of Robin Williams–a man whose mission in life seemed to be to deliver laughter and joy to others.

      I apologize if using the loss as blog fodder seemed in poor taste. I certainly didn’t mean for it to be that.

  8. This was beautifully written, Matt. I love reading your wisdom.

    I believe Happiness is relative. For some people it might be the cookie and orgasm (I raise my hand up to that — as long as the cookie wasn’t eaten in the bed first ;) ) and for others it might be a nice bowl of chicken soup on a rainy day with a book.

    I always feel sadness for the people who cannot find joy in things. You know? The ones who go through their days trying to find things to be happy about, only to be slapped in the face with negativity. Eventually it consumes a person… All those thoughts rolling around in their head, amplifying the anguish. What a horrible place to be to think the only possible way of feeling better is to be dead. It was the hardest part of being a teenager — constantly having to remind myself that the badness wouldn’t last forever and that people really did care about me and they really would be sad if I took my own life.

    P.S. I totally agree with Auntie on the “ruddy texture” thing, it’s what makes life interesting and fantastic.

  9. Delinquent Angel says:

    So the truth comes out….Robin Williams had Parkinson’s Disease. Can we imagine,
    for a moment, that he had looked at his life, counted all his blessings and chose to
    not make his children and his wife and everyone he loved, watch him become a
    shell of his former self. Be tied to routines of hospitals …. it gets ugly. He didn’t
    want to drag his kids down that road.

    No greater love
    John 15:13

    • Matt says:

      I don’t think I’d recommend suicide as a means of displaying selfless love, but your point is understood.

      He was a good man who spent a lifetime trying to bring joy to others. Few things are more noble.

  10. Daren says:

    Happiness is not generally difficult to find, but is to maintain. What makes us happy today will dull with time. Unless you find a way of adapting and reworking happiness it simply fades away. I guess this is why the best friendships can disappear over time.

    It is possible to rework happiness and keep yourself in that great place. New friends, new experiences. But you do have to work at it.

    And then along comes depression! It is not always so easy to “manage” this without some help. Certainly for me coaching has helped me to understand where I took the wrong path and point me back in the right direction. Focusing on what is important is the key. If you can’t change it, don’t try, move on.

    In the case of the late great Robin Williams, and so many others over the years, the help has not been there or the issues are to great. Happiness for some is just to difficult a concept to grasp. On the face of it you have it all, but in reality that little piece of “normal” just doesn’t exist.

    RIP Mork.

    • Matt says:

      I think that’s a sensible conclusion, sir. Not that hard to find. Hard to maintain. Like feelings of lust. Infatuation. Job satisfaction.

      Hard to maintain.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  11. Vince says:

    Depression is a bitch. I’ve seen is first hand and know how devastating it can be to a persons overall happiness. I’ve also seen how medication can turn that around and help to manage things. There is help for it but then not everyone reaches out for that help. When you sink into deep depression you really don’t see any light or hope and nothing feels real other than sadness and helplessness.

    I’ve thought about happiness and what it means to really be happy. Is it the result of something instant and/or extreme? I think it is sometimes, at least a measure of happiness comes at those instances. I smile when I orgasim just like when I sit down to a slice of cake. But then later on I want more sex and cake. If I don’t get those two awesome things often I am not unhappy.

    The long term happiness, medical conditions aside, comes from within. I know that’s corny sounding but I really do feel that is true. Being thankful produces happiness. Looking inward and improving your outlook produces happiness. Helping other people and feeling compassion absolutely produces happiness.

  12. […] know this already because life surprises us all the time. Like when we heard the Robin Williams news last […]

  13. Matt says:

    Thank you so much.

    You’re in love with someone and afraid to say so. That’s tragic.

    I have one question:

    What is the good thing that can come from you not saying anything to him? If more time goes by, do you think he might change his mind?

    Life’s too short to not vigorously and courageously pursue the things we want (within reason, mind you).

    I hope you’ll say something to him.

    You deserve it. To have it out there. And if you love the man? Genuinely? I might argue he deserves to know, too.

    I hope you’ll let me know what you decide one way or another. I’m so sorry it’s taken this long to write back.

    • Matt says:

      It’s none of my business! I just believe life’s too short to not tell the people we care about that we do.

      Wishing you my very best no matter what happens. :)

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