Happy. What is Happy?

An Unhappy Perception

I hate that Pharrell song, “Happy!” Every time I hear it, I cringe. I want to pull my stereo system
out of my car. (Is it even called a stereo system anymore?) I think Pharrell is antagonizing with
his lyrics.

“Because I’m happy—Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Because I’m
happy—Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth … Because I’m happy.”

First of all, even if I were “Happy” I would never feel like a room without a roof. What is that supposed to mean?
Bottom line is: I’m not happy.

I am a mother of two healthy, smart girls. Ages 13 and 4. I am the wife of a hard working
husband. I have a career of my own that I have been pretty successful at. Both of my parents are
still alive. I live in Los Angeles where it is always sunny! (Even though that “sunny blue sky” is
causing a drought.) I’m healthy and in good shape. We have pets and live in a nice home. Why
am I not Happy?

Well, I guess that is a long story, right? But not really. I’ve never felt “happy.” Not when I
graduated from NYU with my MFA. Not when I was making a lot of money for a job I loved to do.
Maybe, joyous, when I gave birth to my 2nd daughter. But was that the drugs making me feel
joyous? Not happy when I gave birth to my 1st daughter. It was 10 days after 9/11/2001, and I
was a few blocks away when the event happened, so I was in shock when I gave birth to
her, and I don’t remember feeling anything besides pain and anticipating eventual death.

Am I happy when I do a “Girls Night Out?” No. Not happy. Maybe feisty. Or silly. Not happy.

What is happy? How can we be happy in this world when really bad things are happening all over
the place? Wouldn’t it be selfish to be “happy” and “clapping” while others are getting beheaded
because of the very things this country offers us, which are supposedly going to make us

I always feel a sense of trepidation. I’m untrusting of the seemingly good. I don’t know if it’s
because I’m from New York City and everyone there is moving really fast and doing a lot of things
in a day, and no one there cares how you feel. It’s a hard place. A place made of concrete
and glass. A cold and rainy place. That’s the place I am from.

Does Ice Cream make me happy? Puppies? My children on Christmas morning? No, Ice Cream
has too many calories and will make me fat. Puppies? Hell NO! Puppies are so much work, and
they grow up to be dogs who only live 10 years, and then they die. What’s happy about that? My
children on Christmas morning? No. I’m too preoccupied thinking about how much money we
spent. How much debt we put on the credit cards, and if my children should really be getting all
these gifts while there are children sitting somewhere else who are getting nothing. I’m negative.
I look at the glass half empty. Because it is… it’s almost empty.

I would really like to be happy. I wonder if others are really happy? Do they just not think that
much about it? Do they live in oblivion? Denial? How do others do it? I’d love to know what
makes you “happy.” Is it that you feel like “a room without a roof?”

I’d like my children to be happy. I’d like them to grow up to at least feel content. But happy and
content are two very different things. Ironically, I am considered funny. I make people laugh. I am
hired for jobs because I am funny. That makes me feel good. That what I do or say, or how I see
it makes others laugh. I enjoy that when I able to do it. Am I depressed? Hmmm. No. I don’t think
so. I don’t want to not get out of bed. I like to get up and go about my day and participate. I have
good intentions every morning to be pleasant and easy going. I’m not sure it turns out like that on
any day. Am I unhappy? What does that mean? Maybe I should ask Pharrell. Maybe I am
unhappy. But why?

It was recently suggested to me to concentrate on my breath. To close my eyes and breathe
through the seconds until I get to the minutes and breathe through the minutes until I get to the
hours and so on. And it was suggested just to think about positive things while I am breathing. To
just think about letting one breath turn into the next breath and so on. I’ve tried this suggestion.
And so far, I haven’t felt “happiness” but I have felt a difference. I have felt less strangled by the idea
of happiness and the pressure I feel to know it. I have felt more content and less detached from the
rest of the world.

I’m part of a spiritual group that shares similar thoughts. And as a group, I see us grappling with
this idea of “Happiness.” I see many faces, from all walks of life struggling to smile. Actually Pharrell, I can’t clap along with you because I don’t think happiness is the truth. I think everyone’s truth is different and my truth is happiness is very rare and hard to come by. I don’t think I am the only one who feels this way. I don’t see many people clapping.


Photo Credit: Bruno_Caimi via Compfight cc

  1. Avatar

    I hate that song too! I’m not happy either… The glass is half empty… I am grateful for all that I have.. Christmas morning does not make me happy, it makes me queasy thinking about then money spent, the kids who are getting nothing and the fact that I’m sure both of mine were fresh enough at one point or another to not deserve all the presents under the tree..People think I’m funny too….funny?? I don’t know.. Honest and real, yes… .

  2. elizabeth

    Terry: I would love to continue the conversation! I was talking more about “happy” today and the person I was talking to added that she believes “grateful” and “happy” are equal. I do believe I am grateful. Especially since 9/11. I do take much more time, looking at and appreciating all that I am blessed to know. But there is something sad in me. I feel susceptible to pain and am drawn to tragedy. What I mean is I find myself in situations that are extremely tragic and not of my doing. I’m not afraid to touch death – or talk to those grieving. I’m not afraid to go towards darkness and put my hands in it and try to make it bright again. I feel in touch with the ills of the world hence never really buying the whole “happiness” bit. It’s American Made and propaganda like, for me. I equate “happiness” with “denial.” Ignorance is “bliss.”

  3. Avatar

    I have similar relationship with happiness and contentment, and a personal theory that all external subjects are subjects of convenience. When I feel disappointed, I think of how humans are misbehaving in the world. But I know that feelings come first, and then our minds fill in a story after. Thus, I know that human behavior in the world is not the cause of my discontent when I feel it. The mind is a glorious and interesting place, and I think it best to chase down the feelings inside us, own them as “local” (not caused by external circumstance or event – the proof is that they are repeating and frequently with revolving subject matter). So my flow chart rule #1 is dismiss subject. Then the healing can begin.

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    I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot since your original post. Mostly because reading it made me sad that you expressed a void of happiness. Of course your insight then makes us analyze our own experiences with happiness or lack thereof. Happiness is a mystery and one that seems confused with well-being in many cases. As you describe, you can have a sense of well-being, but not necessarily moments of happiness. I hope the tragedy of 9/11 doesn’t continue to prevent you from experiencing happiness. You and your daughters certainly deserve it, however infrequent. I also hope that income isn’t the sole basis for happiness. I would imagine that once needs are met for well-being, we as individuals can get back to the basics and realize happiness through the enlightenment of what is truly important. Ironically, my job has me working on a project that is focusing on this topic and I’d like to keep in touch on it. Take care.

  5. Elizabeth

    Terry: I see. They were “happy” that they received aid. I struggle with the definition of Happiness: So I looked it up;
    hap·py adjective \ˈha-pē\
    : feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc. pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc. : favored by luck or fortune : fortunate
    So there you GO: Maybe I am not “HAPPY” because I do not receive feelings of pleasure because of my life or situation. I don’t think it has so much to do with Americans not being grateful for all we have. Just like I don’t think there should be comparisons between pain. One persons most painful memory might be of their grandmother dying. Another persons most painful memory might be of their mother being murdered in front of them. No one can say that the pain these people feel are not equal. We don’t know the circumstances… PAIN is PAIN. And HAPPINESS is HAPPINESS. In this article:
    http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/2010/01/why-arent-americans-happierposner.html It’s explained that happiness has to do with income. “And generally as countries become richer, their inhabitants become happier. These correlations are confirmed in an important and careful study by the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, available at http://bpp.wharton.upenn.edu/betseys/papers/happiness.pdf (visited Jan. 10, 2010). My life situation is challenging for a number of reasons and I struggle with happiness. Yes, I am grateful to be American and enjoy the warm life I have. But I can admit that continued HAPPINESS is something I’m not sure I’ll achieve and I do think it’s and achievement. I work towards it because I feel like it I’d like my children to remember me with a smile on my face. Seems most of what I remember of happiness was taken away on 9/11/01. When I stood 3 blocks from the WTC and watched nearly 3000 people get slaughtered in the sky. I think that’s the day I lost happiness and I haven’t been able to get it back 🙁

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    They wren’t thanking Pharrell for the song, they were thanking the U.N. and people around the world for their humanitarian support after the tragedy. They were making a statement that even after the tragedy, they chose to be happy and thankful for what they have and not devastation they had been subjected to. Sometimes those with very little are happy and those with everything can’t find happiness. Amazing that so many people in America aren’t happy considering everything they have.

  7. Elizabeth

    Terry – I saw the response you posted and I watched the link of Pharell’s “HAPPY” song making people dance even in times of tragedy. I do believe music is uplifting and can influence us all in many ways – but it seemed strange to me that people would be dancing on crushed cars and in between crushed buildings dancing and singing to “I’m Happy.” I saw that they thanked the artist and that’s awesome if the song really did make them HAPPY at a time of such sadness. Again, my question remains: what is HAPPY? It’s something I struggle with and the song still bothers me. But thank you for offering a different perception.

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    Saw the VP of Communications of the United Nations Foundation present today at a conference and part of it was on when U.N.F promoted “day of happiness” by asking for videos sent in on the topic from around the world. He received an email from the city of Tacloban in the Philippines which had just faced major catastrophic damage from Typhoon Haiyan. He thought the city was going to lambaste the U.N.F for being so callous after what they had faced….losing so much. Tablocan taught us a valuable lesson. Here is video…make sure you watch the end.


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    Thank you for your honest article. You have said what so many people are afraid to admit. I thought I was alone in the feeling. I have told many people, many times, that I’m not sure I know how to be happy. I worry about my kids, their future, the violence in the world, the lack of community, education, etc. I have the hardest time with just being “Happy.” You are definitely not alone. Can’t wait to read more of your articles.

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