What We Talk About When We Talk About Happiness
“Way to Blue. Everybody Hurts. Glad to be Unhappy.”
These were some of the chart-toppers announced on the radio while I was at the barbershop a year ago. Quite depressing, huh.
I asked my brother, Joe, why songs that display such unhappiness reach the charts. Joe is an established businessman who is always confident with his viewpoints. He reacted quickly and questioned me in a matter-of-fact tone, “can’t you relate to the song?” He then confidently pointed to the Buddhists’ explanation of happiness, explaining to me that happiness is never a constant state, but rather only a temporary escape from suffering. While I respect the Buddhist explanation, I couldn’t help but ask: so what is keeping you from experiencing happiness? Joe lost his assertiveness when I mentioned this and he replied, “While I gain acceptance from my peers and family, I feel like I’m a nobody. These songs act as a route for me to escape. I don’t see happiness as attainable in my life.”
While Joe transformed from a confident speaker to a soft-spoken melancholic within a matter of a minute, my barber offered him a sympathetic smile. He spoke up. “I was exactly like you - once upon a time, I deceived myself into thinking I was happy. I followed the majority’s norms of a stable job in brokerage and felt I gained society’s acceptance. I was loved! But deep down, I loved songs like these because I felt so useless. I felt that whatever I did made no difference in the world. I found an escape from this mainstream music as a means of explaining myself. Then the next day, I’d put on my suit and be a nobody again.
Then I asked, but how about now? “Now?” The barber said, smiling. “Now, I don’t think this music deserves its place on the charts.” He flipped over to his playlist and played us a song - “Mayfly” by Cheer Chen.
The lyrics goes “Everyday when we open our eyes, we are all mayflies. Living a simple life, chasing a dream vigorously, searching for nothing but happiness.”
“I think this music deserves a place on the charts. I wish people could search for happiness by only looking forward, and be brave enough neglect harsh criticisms and mockeries along the way - just like a mayfly. A mayfly only sees what is ahead of it - why else would their lives be so simple otherwise? I became a barber because I wanted to attain happiness - sure, I experienced disapproval from peers and such, but I did not want to become “a firefly without light”. I find happiness when I mix with trendy young people that are eager to make their customers look better - sure, some may not understand why this brings me happiness, but does it matter?”
My brother Joe and I had a long conversation that evening. We debated vigorously on our different values of happiness - while the conversation with the barber relit my childhood dream of being a conductor, Joe still questions whether stable happiness can achieved even if his dreams are fulfilled. But ultimately, we agreed that one should not let others decide your own standard of happiness. Don’t deceive yourself into sadness and despair; pick yourself up and find your own definition of happiness. Thank you.