By Robert Cormack
The un-glamorized truth about our cheery, merry, joyful and beatific lives.
“I have been to The Land of Happy — what a bore.” Shel Silverstein
In Silverstein’s “The Land of Happy” everyone’s happy. They joke, they sing, they laugh. So why does he call it boring? Perhaps because that’s all they do. It’s what William Burroughs called “wanting the victory without the war.”
Throughout history, many wars were avoided by paying money instead. The other side toddled off with the cash, and you won by default. It was great if you didn’t want to get slaughtered, but hardly worth a victory parade.
Paris paid off the Vikings, Rome paid off the Mongols. Interesting note: The Vikings and Mongols came back and invaded, anyway. That’s where the word “fleeting” comes from. Parisians knew their happiness was fleeting when the Viking fleets rowed back up the Seine.
We don’t have worry about Vikings or Mongols anymore, but we do have to worry about “fleeting happiness.” Isn’t Silverstein’s “The Land of Happy” the same as being on Facebook? Millions of people go there each day, showing their vacations, their new patio, their last meal dining out. Do we really need to know they’re renovating or getting enough roughage? We’ve all experienced where roughage goes. That’s why we eat roughage.
And, look, it’s great that you made homemade burritos before the big game, but you’re still picking beans out of the rug the next day. That’s fleeting happiness.
Being joyful is a bit of a doddle. We can say we’ve earned everything through hard work. So why aren’t we joyful about our accomplishments? Why do we only show pictures of what we’ve bought?
Psychology Today did a piece on how Facebook makes us sad. Based on a controlled study, they found that viewers experienced a sharp decline in their moods when they scrolled through gleeful faces and haute cuisine. Interestingly, this didn’t happen surfing the internet for information. Just Facebook — and obviously CNN.
Here’s the problem with Facebook: Consciously or subconsciously, people post to make others envious. And it works. We get envious, then we get sad. Some of us get so depressed, we wouldn’t mind stuffing those merry faces into watermelons.
Not that we actually plan to stuff someone’s face into a watermelon. But it’s still nice to know we could since we’ve got so many of them.
So why do we keep coming back each day? Psychologists call it “affective forecasting.” We go on Facebook thinking it’s going to make us feel better. What it does is rob us of joy. We feel we’re missing something in our lives seeing all the vacation photos of Costa del Sol. That brings us back the next day, hoping those people had a stroke unpacking.
If they’re still alive, we get depressed again, spending more on watermelons than we should. Not that we actually plan to stuff someone’s face into a watermelon. It’s still nice to know we could, since we’ve got so many of them.
When Silverstein says “no one’s unhappy in Happy,” he’s also alluding to our need to enjoy happiness in groups. We go to festivals, revivals, exhibitions — essentially any function that involves people. It’s a protective barrier, like those stone walls in medieval cities.
According to Psychology Today, getting off Facebook is a good start. Another is realizing that happiness isn’t a goal as much as a byproduct.
Except protective barriers can work against you. Sometimes medieval armies simply stood outside castles. They waited until the people inside either starved or realized they hated the people they were with (which often happens when you’re starving).
These days, we don’t have a lot of sieges, but people can still get irritating. Even families can get irritating. George Burns once said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
So how can we be happy without being boring? According to Psychology Today, getting off Facebook is a good start. Another is realizing that happiness isn’t a goal as much as a byproduct.
The reason people don’t always see this is because they distort happiness. They think it’s all Disney and chirping birds. Walt Disney knew it was more than that. “We need to keep moving forward,” he said, “opening new doors and doing new things.” That’s why he created theme parks.
Maybe that’s why some people never find joy. Like everything in our universe, it’s more or less a mistake.
People thought theme parks were crazy at the time, but, like Disney, you have to accept craziness, since happiness is crazy. If we laugh at silly, nonsensical things, we’re more likely to be happy. As Julia Roberts said “Happiness is only happiness if there’s a violin-playing goat.”
Maybe that’s why some people never find joy. Like everything in our universe, it’s more or less a mistake. It’s like love. Love is crazy. Trying to figure it out is like trying to understand roughage. We just know it works.
It’s also hard to know happiness without sadness. We learn more from sadness than success. You can succeed without being happy, but it’s damn hard not to be happy if you’re no longer a failure (like Walt Disney discovered after being a failure).
You can joke and sing and be jolly and gay. It’s still going to be fleeting.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that people look better when they’re happy. Drew Barrymore once said that “Happiness is the best make-up.”
Which brings me back to Silverstein’s “The Land of Happy.” If you’re trying to be happy for happy’s sake, then, sure, it’s a bore. It comes with nothing, so there’s no reason for it to stick around. You can attend all the concerts, and galas you like. You can joke and sing and be jolly and gay. It’s still going to be fleeting. Even people dressed up as Disney characters know that.
Leo Tolstoy once said, “If you want to be happy, be.” It’s kind of a hanging sentence, but you get what he’s saying. Anyone can be happy. But you won’t find it scrolling through Facebook. That’s someone else’s happy. Or it is until they come back from the Costa del Sol and see their credit card bill.
Vacations are a bit like Vikings. As those medieval Parisians found out, you can’t trust Vikings. Nor can you trust other people to make you joyful. Eventually you’ll get depressed and start eyeing those watermelons again.
Better to stay out of “The Land of Happy” and find what Franklin D. Roosevelt called “the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” In other words, it’s what you do that makes you happy, not what you expect. Unless it’s roughage. Then it’s what you do and what you expect.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice from Shel Silverstein:
“There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part. So just give me a happy middle. And a very happy start.”