Happiness – what it means to be and the pursuit of this blissful state – has fixated me from the beginning of my time here on Planet Earth. I love how in the Declaration of Independence only “the pursuit of happiness” is promised, not happiness itself. It’s not something inherited, but it can be given, or earned, or never achieved. It is a magical state. It is a kaleidoscope, a cornucopia, it embraces and mocks, and the list goes on and on.
I’ve especially been thinking about happiness lately because its the holiday season which always makes me take stock of my “happiness.” It’s a trip to be bombarded by “happy” imagery for a month straight while potentially “unhappy” events, say like your company laying off another 10% of its staff (which happened last week) swirl about the air.
Earlier this week, I read an article in the 11/16/09 edition of the New Yorker (in an article titled “Slow Fade”) about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time as a screenwriter in Hollywood and I didn’t know that “happiness” would be a central theme of the article but it was – Fitzgerald started out a huge literary success and then that success dwindled and was never duplicated again leaving him despondent, vain and embittered. In the article, Fitzgerald is quoted as saying,
“life is essentially a cheat…and that the redeeming things are not ‘happiness and pleasure’ but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.”
That to me that type of sentiment comes from the “it’s not the destination but the journey” school of thought. Is it true? Sometimes yes actually for nothing gives you greater pleasure than knowing you accomplished what you thought was an insurmountable goal but always? That is an answer about which I am not so sure. I do not deal well with absolutes.
My “journey” right now is geolocated in NYC and the Gray Lady yesterday had an article today about how Science Magazine has rated New York the most unhappy state in the union. Super!
One part towards the end of the article sums up the study and the city best:
Seriously, isn’t restlessness, even outright discontent, often a catalyst for creativity? We’re from the Harry Lime school. If you’ve seen the film classic “The Third Man,” you will remember that character’s admonition: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.
W. B. Yeats’ output would not have been possible without his desire for unrequited love. I get it. Difficult circumstances can act as a fulcrum and allow greatness to be squeezed into existence. NYC’s tides ebb and flow over and over again and every generation has (no disrepect to da Vinci for I’m about to focus on one micro-microcosm of what goes around and while it is great to throw a great party, I know it’s not timeless like a statue) their Copacabana, or Max’s Kansas City, or Studio 54, or Marquee, or Beatrice Inn, or Bungalow 8, or TenJune, or Pink Elephant, or Santos Party House. Reach for the moon with those unhappy hands for while you very well might miss, you’ll still end up in the stars.
Note: I take no small comfort in knowing that NJ and CT were better than NY because they ranked 49 and 50 in the study. Yes, NYC did not even rank 50, it ranked 51. In the District of Columbia, which was counted in the study and ended up at 37, people are happier than in the Big Apple. Go figure.