At some point in early 2016 I thought about the word “happiness”. Happiness has never really been part of my vocabulary. It was a word that makes me feel rather uncomfortable. I don’t want to say I have never been happy. There had been moments and (short) times for sure. But for the most part I have never been a happy person. And in that moment, it was almost a kind of revelation to me that I had never really been happy and that possibly it was a choice and was I okay with not being happy for the rest of my life. It was like I had accepted a reality that I didn’t realize and did I want to keep living that life for the rest of my life.
Fast forward months later someone found me on the internet that would then turn into the happiest two years of my life and an engagement to spend the rest of my life with that person. I had no expectation of that kind of happiness in life or was I looking for happiness in that person. It just happened. And then it all came to a crashing end. And five months later I would find out that this person married a love-at-first-sight- stranger four months after everything fell apart. The emptiness that caused was unbearable. I never want to be that happy again. I can deal with unhappiness but the emptiness was devastating. To this day the thought of that level of happiness I experienced causes my stomach to go sideways knowing how easily it is lost.
[I have told that story a few times to reference events in my life. The story makes me uncomfortable to use as it makes me feel I am using the story as a crutch even though I probably am.]
Fast forward to yesterday. Scrolling through Facebook short reels I came across an Elon Musk reel where he said “Nothing will make you happier than having kids. It will absolutely improve your happiness level by having kids. If it wasn’t rewarding instinctively to have kids, we wouldn’t have them. You will absolutely be happier if you have kids. Absolutely.”
The reel struck me as bizarre as from all the “good” advice we can take from Elon this seemed like such bizarre advice to come across from him. I suppose the fact that he was talking about happiness possibly also caught my attention. The statement must have struck me so much to the point that it woke me up in the middle of the night last night and I couldn’t get back to sleep for many hours as a result. Hence the reason for this blog post.
Each person can only handle so much in a day. Some people can handle more than others largely due to happiness factors and life experiences. Perhaps what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. There is a suggestion that if you wake up in a bed, have running water, something to eat, something to wear and are in relatively good health you have no excuse and are blessed beyond most people in the world. There is an argument that if you have those things, you have no excuses in this life. This is a very convicting argument. And convicts the hell out of me. But is that the same as happiness. I would argue many, many people don’t have some of those things but are happy because they have some or a few of what I think contributes to a life of happiness has.
I don’t know if I can say I speak from a lifetime of experience but I have experiences and tend to observe other humans. I would argue that characteristics that tend to lead to a life of happiness in no particular order would be the following:
- A spouse or soul mate
- A level of financial stability
- Reasonably good health
- At least a few important friends
- Purpose in life
- Service to others
- God in your life
This list is not researched but simply observed in other human beings by myself.
Expanding on these characteristics for myself and my story
A spouse or a soul mate – I have always believed that happiness was found in the service to your partner. It would seem that a lot of people expect to receive happiness from their partner. Hence, proof in the current divorce rates.
I live in the middle of the jungle, in a small village in a country that in my observations has almost no fidelity with a giant cultural and philosophical chasm. And as a 50 year old man and after working for the last 40 years, I cant bring myself to tell a woman I am broke.
Children – In my lifetime I had 3 experiences where other people’s children which had a very profound effect on my happiness. But because they were other people’s children the results were temporary and soul crushing when they came to an abrupt end. At 50 I am pretty confident children are not in my future and because of my past experiences of children educed happiness coming to an abrupt end I am incapable of new relationships with children. Not to mention at my age and status it would be largely inappropriate.
A level of financial stability – I suppose I could give up my house in Belize and I could go back to Canada and become a truck driver again working 70+ hours a week. My only sustainable option in today’s economy would be if I found a company that allowed me to live full time in my truck. I am not sure if leaving the wildlife and nature found the jungle for the inside of a truck would make me any happier. We live in a time of such uncertainty that financial stability seems like an impossibility in my remaining lifetime.
Reasonably good health – I can at least be thankful for this, until I no longer have good health. And every day is one day closer to bad health.
At least a few important friends – I have an important friend in the village but if today I got diagnosed with cancer with one week to live. I have no one to call. Would call no one. And I would die alone.
Purpose in life – When I arrived in Belize in 2021, I thought had a purpose. After 19 months of almost everything going wrong and so many bad experiences with the people here, I am mostly disillusioned. I also wage a daily battle with the meaningless of everything. My current purpose in life is mostly to just making it until tomorrow. And that is no plan for the future.
God wants to do amazing things in this world and he wants to do it through people.
Adventure – Being so deficient in most of what is needed for a happy life I have turned to adventure to fill all the voids resulting in an unsustainable lack of balance. Whatever happiness I do experience is mostly determined by adventure.
You know you are living a small story if you are the main character – A Story Worth Living (movie)
Gratitude – I really try to be mindful of this. But when you are deficient in most of the areas of a happy life this is a daily challenge. For me gratitude helps me to be more content than anything else.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Service to others – This is an interesting one. It is suggested that the cure for depression is the service to others. Instead of focusing on your own problems you focus on helping others. I would like to think I have helped others when I saw a need or was asked and am happy to step up should the next occasion arise. Service to others is a good thing (different from nice thing) to do. For me I don’t necessarily receive the same joy that many people do after helping people. For me its more about that it was the right thing to do.
Are you a consumer or are you a contributor?
Attitude – Another interesting one. I suspect philosophers would argue that this might be the most important trait to true happiness. Without a good attitude how is anything good possible. Along with gratitude and attitude unlike other characteristics is largely a daily battle inside your own heard. But when missing so many other traits of a happy person there are days when the battle is lost.
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
God in your life – I have no choice but to rely on my belief in God. For if there is no God then there is definitely no purpose in living for tomorrow. I have observed a sincere and true joy and happiness in certain Christians that seems to be found nowhere else in the world. The joy and happiness would appear to be as sincere as sincere can be. On a few occasions I found the courage to purse counsel in this phenomenon and the lack of it in my own life. Every single time I was dismissed.
Above all else guard your heart – Proverbs 4:23
None of these things of themselves will result in happiness except for a belief in God. You can’t expect “them” to give you happiness. Many a married person is absolutely miserable. Many a child has made the wrong choice with devastating consequences for the parents. There needs to be a balance. Somethings are more important than others. I am very curious as to a right balance of how many on the list are required. I am realist enough to recognize that I am extremely deficient in all the important necessities for some level of happiness.
I am not suggesting circumstances can’t change in my life or anyone’s life. Its hope that keeps humans moving and alive. But at my age. Knowing what kind of strength is required to get through another day I can’t live on hope alone I often need to rely on brute strength and determinization. I am not making excuses. Life is choices. Choices have consequences. But all this woke me up in the middle of the night and I want to sleep better tonight.
Do you ever feel lonely? Only around people – Thin Red Line
Written July 16, 2023