You can be happy sometimes. You have your best friends and your favorite coffee shop and you love your family. You remember your life well, packed with joyful, deep moments like everyone else.
But it’s different for you. You don’t remember your life with constancy, as a connected whir of content moments with peaks and valleys in between. It’s like a few loud thumps. But otherwise nil. As much as you appreciate what you have deep down, if your life doesn’t feel new and intense more often than not it’s not real.
We all have that instinct. Some of us more than others. It’s why people go to their high school reunions. A part of us always misses our youth, when things were always new and we didn’t see all those concessions we’d end up making, all those fears we had that kept us from running off to Hollywood or writing that book. All those half-completed projects and friends you still miss and relationships that never got closure. We wouldn’t have to make choices. We’d have it all.
Humans are meant to progress. If we were happy with the way things are, we’d still be in trees. We wouldn’t feel the need to communicate anything more abstract than prairie-dog language like “saber behind tree.” I’m not sure exactly when our brains started moving out from that primordial stem. But after they did, things changed.
It’s hard to know if animals understand the concept of boredom. I know they have friends. They know what has the capacity to make them happy and they seek it out. My dad’s cat chases him relentlessly when she wants him to play duck on a stick with her. But I don’t think they understand enough to want things they haven’t experienced before. They wouldn’t see a fire and try to do something with it.
I feel like the need for progress runs counter to happiness. Happiness is being in the moment. Appreciating what you have. We’re always planning for the future. We’re probably the only species that understands why we have kids: to achieve a sort of immortality. Hoping a part of us will still be around to make the world better after we’re gone.
One of my favorite movies growing up was The Last Unicorn. I remember her saying she could feel sorrow, but she couldn’t regret. She couldn’t regret things because she was immortal. She’d always have time. We don’t. We make choices, close doors, then we die.
I get that this is a depressing way of looking at things. Everyone tells me that. But I’m not sure the modern expectation of happiness is really benefitting most people. I’m not sure what we should be aiming for. We should be trying to make things better because it’s ingrained in us. Because we have to. I just wish there were a way for us to be smart and not future-oriented, so we could aim high as a species while still being able to love what is instead of constantly focusing on what could be.