“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.
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.