are you happy?

So I may be slightly obsessed with Bo Burnham. And by slightly obsessed, I mean I watch both of his Netflix comedy specials at least once a week. In fact, I’m watching Make Happy as we speak, which has the overarching theme of–you guessed it–happiness. It’s honestly a beautiful piece of performance art, and is definitely worth watching if you’ve got an extra hour to kill. It ends with the question, “Are you happy?” and, well, that’s a pretty deep question.

Am I happy?

Happiness is such an abstract concept, at least for me. There are definitely moments when I feel truly happy–when I’m being goofy with Melissa and Laurel, when my family is together and everyone’s meshing well, when my athletes tell me they love me, when my dog is so excited to see me she physically can’t contain herself. But there are other moments when I’m so far from it that I’m positive that I’ve never been and never will be happy.

I have this problem with associating a bad day with a bad life. What I mean is that, when things go wrong, I tend to think that they will never be right again. A lot of that is because my anxiety tends to snowball off itself, but some of that is just because I’m overdramatic  by nature. I have to consciously remember that things won’t be bad forever just because they are right now. I have to consciously remember that, like happiness, sadness and fear and anxiety and anger are all fleeting and temporary. I have to consciously remember that the nature of being human means having highs and lows, and learning to find a balance between the really great and the really awful is all part of the journey.

You see, I’ve spent a ton of time trying to pin down whether or not I’m happy. Way more time than I can really afford to spend on one question that’s never going to have a clear answer, but I wouldn’t be me if I could manage my time appropriately. Because I never will have a clear idea of whether or not I’m happy. It’s completely dependent on my mood at the time I’m contemplating my happiness–which more often than not is unhappy. I never think about being happy in the moment; it’s always when things are going poorly that I start to wonder if my life is actually just a compilation of all my bad moments with little spurts of sunshine in the mix.

I actually think my life is a collection of really great moments with periods of darkness interspersed at random intervals. It’s just that I’m naturally optimistic, and I think that kind of skews my viewpoint because I think things can always be better. If I’m not paying attention, that warps into, “Things must be bad now because I’m thinking about how they can be better.” And sometimes that’s true, but usually it isn’t. It’s all about perspective.

I’m trying to get better about my perspective. I’m a very subjective person, and that typically works against me. I’m learning to take a step back and look at my life from an outsider’s perspective; to the casual observer, I’m a very happy person with a really great life. True, I have inside knowledge about my emotions and inner struggles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not happy or that my life isn’t really great. I can’t let my mental illnesses color my worldview; I can’t get bogged down in them and forget what’s happening around me. I can’t forget how much I love my friends and family and dog and athletes and life in general. I can’t lose my zeal because I have a compulsive need to overanalyze my entire life.

Which brings us back to that original question: Am I happy?

The answer is yes, but. Yes, but sometimes I’m not. Yes, but I struggle with my anxiety and depression and sometimes they trick me into believing that things aren’t the way they are. Yes, but it’s okay if I’m not. Yes, but I’m a human being with complex emotions that aren’t always as black and white as “happy” and “unhappy.” Yes, but I haven’t always been. Yes, but I won’t always be. Yes, but sometimes I forget. Yes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think I can be happier. Yes, but that isn’t a reason to be complacent. Yes, but that doesn’t mean that things are always good. Yes, but I will always strive for more because I don’t want to settle on my life.

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