The Pursuit of (Un)happiness
Not so many years ago (2006 to be exact) Will Smith and his son Jaden co-starred in a film called “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The film was autobiographical. The story revolved around a man who turns his rather substantial run of bad luck around, in the process building the foundation to start his own successful firm. The film was quite successful.
More recently, my issue of Time magazine faithfully appeared and I as faithfully flipped to the back to read (in this order) Joel Stein‘s column, The Culture section and 10 Questions with the celebrity of the month. As usual, the celebrity of the month was a person I had never heard of. Her name? Jamaica Kincaid.
I learned right away that Jamaica Kincaid is an author – an award-winning novelist as it turns out. After googling her name, a BBC article also revealed that she is a self-made woman – a person who literally refused to let circumstances, family relationships or other painful, complicated things define her worth as a person or her potential in life.
In other words, she is my kind of people.
I’ve never read any of her novels that I am aware of, but I read Ms. Kincaid’s thoughts on pursuing happiness and unhappiness with great interest. She says she doesn’t know what “the pursuit of happiness” means. On the subject of pursuing unhappiness, she states, “One doesn’t have to pursue unhappiness. It comes to you. You come into the world screaming. You cry when you’re born because your lungs expand. You breathe. I think that’s really kind of significant. You come into the world crying, and it’s a sign that you’re alive.”
I too think this is significant. I will admit I can’t recall now whether my rather too vivid memories of my own c-section birth were induced by later “rebirthing” seminars (one of the many out-of-my-comfort-zone approaches I tried to escape my eating disorder) or represent actual I-was-born-and-I-was-there memories. At any rate, I remember being born, and then I remember bright lights – VERY bright lights. I remember crying. I remember thinking, “Who signed me up for this? I must’ve been crazy. I never agreed to this. Put me back in!”
Which clearly no one did. This of course was the reason I was later able to watch “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a confusing film that for me seemed to equate happiness with circumstances – in particular, getting out of debt, being able to buy your own home, being able to care for your son safely, getting back in the financial black. I have no problem with any of these achivements per se, but I’m not sure any of it adds up to “happy.” It sounds more like security – maybe peace of mind.
Ms. Kincaid’s comments, conversely, speak more to me about happiness and the pursuit of it, principally because we do come into this world crying (this is something every doctor wants every baby to do to make sure we are breathing) and so our right and ability to choose anything other than tears comes only after everyone makes sure we are alive. Staying stuck in “we cry and that’s how it is” sounds to me like taking a “glass half empty” approach.
On the other hand, choosing to smile – through our tears if necessary – to me speaks of a human being’s right and ability to decide how we are going to feel about our life and the events that unfold throughout the balance of it. We can continue to follow the path of tears – the path of our birth. Or we can choose a “glass half full” approach and find the happy miracle (for instance, being alive) that only those very same tears could have made possible.
Today’s Takeaway: What is your take on the pursuit of happiness, unhappiness or any other life goal you may have? Is it possible to “pursue” such things as emotional states? If so, is one more beneficial (versus more preferable) overall the the other?
Newborn baby photo available from Shutterstock
Cutts, S. (2013). The Pursuit of (Un)happiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 29, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2013/04/the-pursuit-of-unhappiness/