Sunday, 18 May 2014

The dangers of conflating contentment and happiness

There's definitely something about the sun coming out that puts people in a good mood.  I actually think that if our winter's were a bit shorter, we'd probably actually be less cynical and bitter as a nation (let's pray that never happens, because cynical and bitter are the two key strengths of my writing and I don't want to be left without an audience).  However, I'm here to darken the mood with a heartfelt plea to "happy" people - please stop it, you're making me miserable.

One of the few criticisms of social media that I do find to be valid  is that the tendency of many people to only comment on the positive - and not the negative - things in their life can have the unintended effect of making other people feel like they're missing out because they're not having such a good time, all the time.  Personally, I think everyone should be more like me and provide the internet with a relentless stream of misery to even things out, but I digress.

While the above serves as a good introduction, that's not exactly what I want to talk (moan) about.  You see, people have a terrible tendency to conflate contentment and happiness, and I never realised until today.  I also never realised how dangerous that is.

You see, while I'm not one to get depressed by the state of my life because other people are posting photos of them smiling in nightclubs (sidenote: I originally wrote "smiling AT nightclubs", which gives me an idea for a Tumblr) - after reading the article about how people deliberately project a highly manipulated image of themselves and how much fun they're having online, the scales really fell from my eyes - but some things do bother me.  What bothers me, you ask?  Semantics and proper use of the English language, that's what.  (Again, I'm getting, very slowly, to why this is actually relevant to mental health and is not just me being a pendant, although there's probably a degree of that in there).

So today, a lot of both my Twitter and Facebook timelines have been taken up by people talking about how their lives are perfect and they're "so happy".  I don't know why, let's, as before surmised, blame the sun.  Now I don't begrudge these people their good fortune (lols, I begrudge like a BITCH), but I question if it's happiness they really feel.  Don't they mean contentment?  If you're talking about how great your life is, how much you love your partner, or your job, or your house, that's contentment, not happiness.  That is general, long term satisfaction with your situation.  Happiness is a short term, fleeting emotion.  Why is the distinction important?

Because I never have, and almost certainly never will, feel the way these people do.  I've never had a proper, happy relationship, I've never had a stable job, I've never had an ideal home life.  And for a long, long time, I thought that that meant I'd never been happy.  That I was complete freak, so crippled by depression I was unable to feel basic human emotions.  And then today, I realised - of course I've been fucking happy.  Because happiness is fleeting, and made up of moments, not months, or years.  I was happy the moment I walked out Berlin Tegal airport, following the path to the train station that would take me to the city centre to start my new (and is it turned out, short lived) life in Germany.  I was happy the moment I first walked out into Tokyo.  I was happy the moment I found out I was getting paid to go to Australia.  Apparently I'm only happy when I leave the country - could be onto something here....Ok, no, British examples.  I was happy the moment Morrissey shook my hand in Victoria Hall in Halifax (I didn't dare wash it for days) and I felt, for a second, like someone who mattered.  I was happy the moment I got offered my current job.  I was happy the moment I realised in Brixton Academy that my not exactly lost, but lets say diminished love for the Manics had come back with full force I was struck in the face by awe at how fucking awesome they are.

So yes, I've been happy, and no, I hate to disappointment you, but you are not happy because you're engaged to the man or woman of your dreams, or because you've got a nice house or because you're job is going really well.  You are content.  Enjoy that feeling.  But don't call it "happiness", and make people who don't have those things think that they are broken.

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