How To Be Happy in the 21st Century


Photo by Sam Rizzo. See more here.

Sometimes I wonder if everybody’s as lost as I am. Or, if they aren’t, how they managed to pull it together. In this world full of options and exploitation;  corruption, atrocities, abuse, affliction and pestilential humanity. How they wake up every morning and accomplish things. And I wonder, am I crippled? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just wake up and go to work with a smile on my face? There are people that will tell you that the only reason you’re unhappy is because of yourself. That you have the ability to make yourself happy. Wake up and smile – even if you don’t feel like smiling. Apparently it triggers some sort of psychological response purely through the act and effort of the facial muscles. Mirror affirmations to build self confidence. Listing things that you’re grateful for. You can’t be sad when you’re grateful, they’ve said.  Sit up straight. If you improve your posture, you improve your mood. Do what you love – if you don’t love what you’re doing, do something else. Don’t worry about that rent check. And really, what all of this tells me – all of this information out there trying to hack happiness – is that there are a lot of really fucking unhappy people in the world who don’t know why they’re bummed out either. Because if you knew why, you would fix it, right? If you could do it yourself, you would have. Nobody likes wandering through life miserable – that’s not fun. Nobody likes to be sad. But it’s not really sad, is it? No. It’s beyond that. It’s purposelessness. It’s realism. It’s boredom. It’s defeat. It’s awareness. It’s overwhelm. It’s life. It’s bigger than you. If you’re going to wake up in the morning and bear down on life with a smile, you’ve got to be ignoring a lot of what’s really happening in the world. Because, honestly, if you’re watching the news with a smile these days, you’ve got to have a couple screws loose. If you’re not angry, you’re ignorant. If you’re not sad, you’re not human. And that’s just the goddamn draw of it.

So what do we do? We begin to compartmentalize. Part of you wakes up and glances at the newspaper and decides – I’ll read that later. Part of you sits down to communicate something meaningful and decides – maybe I’ll go out for a drink. Part of you thinks about the small hands that bled to make that jacket from Forever 21 and thinks – damn, it just fits so well. Part of you looks into the eyes of a homeless man with two withered legs that he drags behind him on the dirty sidewalk and thinks – I need my change for my morning coffee. Because that’s how the world works. If you’re not partially separated, you can’t achieve your modicum of happiness in this  dismal and isolating system we’re stuck in. So you try to balance. Today I will read the news. I will feel all of the deaths in the world. I will cry for strangers and I will tell people how fucked up we’ve made everything. Tomorrow I will get drunk and dance until my legs hurt. Sunday I will read books on political theory and radicalism in history. I will get angry. I will rant at my friends about exactly how we need to change everything. Monday I will go out for coffee and talk about the last time I got laid. I’ll complain that I’m lonely. I’ll talk about my new workout plan and I’ll make plans to go shopping. Tuesday I will have a mental break down and cry in bed because I am not contributing anything useful to the world. Wednesday I will decide that I care for nothing and am, in fact, emotionless. Thursday I will watch Planet Earth and wonder at the beauty of life, I will feel endless amounts of love for everybody in my emotional register. I will appreciate being alive. On Friday I will start reading the news again. Switching between these different affectations that interact differently with the world; using them to justify the existence of each other. You need them all. They are all you. Wishing I could just wake up whole someday. Exhausted from constant mitosis. And this never makes you happy either, but it gives you momentary relief.

How to be happy in the 21st century? The answer is – if you’re really here, you can’t. You can find things that bring you joy, but it will never be lasting. You can find people that light you up, but they cannot restore the dignity of our entire species. You can find yourself surrounded by utter beauty, but eventually the you’ll be trudging through the dregs again. I wanted to end this in a comfortable place for you, reader. I wanted to talk about these feelings and then tell you it’s going to be okay. That everything has a way of working out. Unfortunately, I decided to read the news today. But hey, tomorrow let’s go dancing.

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