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Happiness - Matt Singley


I recently read a post by somebody who said that there are two things you need to be happy: purpose and pleasure. I agree, those two are a part of the equation, but I think they missed something very important. While I’m sure we could add many things to a list we think we need to be happy, what I think is critical is having a sense of security.

Security certainly means different things to different people; it is, after all, quite subjective. What I’m talking about is a baseline of security… the feeling of safety, the feeling that tomorrow is going to be okay. It’s something that has been missing a lot over the last few years. Political upheaval was more than enough to make anybody feel less secure, but then we added a pandemic which seems, at this point, to have no end in sight. A third thing that is piling on, depending on where you live, is climate change. Two days ago, it started raining at my house. 24 hours later, the digital rain gauge in my back yard told me that we got a total of 10.1″ in that time, bringing the December total to 23.5″. To put that in perspective, Los Angeles has an annual rainfall total of 15-16″…for the entire year. We received 2/3 of that in just one day. The lake we live on, notorious for being low, raised over 5 feet in a short amount of time, causing a massive amount of flooding. We are okay, but it’s fair to say that my sense of security, already paper-thin as the result of the other things I mentioned, was rattled.

It’s societally correct to always say, “I am good”, like when a cashier asks how your day is going. If you were to say, “I’m fucking awful, I’m on the edge, I don’t know how I’m going to put one foot in front of the other”, most people would not known how to respond…

I say all of this to reflect on the question: am I happy? I think the English language comes up short here, as it’s a fairly binary question, either yes or no. I remember learning Spanish in high school, and continuing in college and beyond. One of the first lessons you learn is the verb “to be”, which makes sense…it’s useful to describe how something is, e.g. “I am cold” or “it is sunny” or “the paint is wet”. What’s interesting about Spanish (and many other languages) as opposed to English is that there is more than one verb that can be used in the base sense of “being”. Ser is the infinitive form of “to be” that means a more permanent state, while estar is the infinitive that means “to be” but in a conditional or temporary state. I think about that concept when I answer the question: am I happy?

It’s easy to say that certain situations make me happy for a time (estar), such as playing a game with my family or going for a bike ride. It’s another thing entirely to say that my person, my state of being, is happy (ser). Phrased another way, am I happy overall, or do I find moments of happiness between states of unhappiness? It’s societally correct to always say, “I am good”, like when a cashier asks how your day is going. If you were to say, “I’m fucking awful, I’m on the edge, I don’t know how I’m going to put one foot in front of the other”, most people would not known how to respond, because you have colored outside the lines as defined by society. But I digress…

I’m going to write this year, daily I hope, to myself. I’m keeping this public, however, as in the human cosmopolis, we all tend to look for meaning, to understand how we are (ser and estar) and maybe something I write will show up in a Google search and be helpful for somebody…if no other reason than knowing you are not alone. If you go down the rabbit hole far enough, you even start to question what it means to just “be”. This is called ontology, and I’m going to explore it more as time moves forward, if time is actually real (that is ontological humor, by the way).

Let’s get back to the question. Am I happy? I have to pause as I write that and look at the question. Am I happy (estar)? There are times, yes. Am I happy (ser)? No. I don’t believe I am, and this is a fairly significant shift from how I have been in the past. I can point to things like multiple traumas within my family, or the uncertainty that we all feel (if you are honest enough with yourself) or even conditional, temporary states like money coming and going. Ultimately, I think I am struggling with purpose, pleasure and security, and I intend to look at each more closely and understand what that means to me.

You’re welcome to join me in this. Please pardon the typos, for years on Twitter has taught me that I really do not care that much, and you likely understand what I am trying to say. Also, it’s very unlikely that I will go back through a post and make corrections or edits. What you see is what you get, in a single train of though. I’m not trying to write something that will change the world. Hell, I don’t even know if it will change me, although logic tells me that every experience, no matter how small or big, does change me in some way. No, I’m writing for the same reason so many do… for myself. Perhaps if I get some of the crazy shit out of my head and onto (digital) paper, I can see patterns, I can be privy to insights that otherwise may escape me. Like so many others before, as I grow older, the only thing I know for certain is that I know so little.

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” – Marcus Aurelius

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