Living each day much muchier
Netflix has a new show called Living With Yourself, a comedy where your miserable self, with your lifetime’s worth of emotional baggage, suddenly has a clone with none of your insecurities holding it back. The clone version of you has the courage to speak up, to try new things, be creative and to deeply engage with other people. It goes from success to success while you’re marginalised in your own life.
Aside from the cringiness and hilarity you would expect, one profound conversation in the first episode went right to my heart. The main character, Miles (Paul Rudd), complains to his sister Maia about how his clone is better than him at pretty much everything.
Miles: I don’t get it. Why can’t I be happy for once?
Maia: Because you didn’t earn it.
It struck me as true, but it took a while to figure out why. Do we earn happiness? The idea seems vulgar. We talk about happiness as a right in our culture. The U.S.A was founded on the freedom to pursue it. Surely, we deserve happiness (or secretly we fear we don’t).
When we look at happiness this way, then it becomes painfully obvious that there must something wrong with us. If we deserve it, then why aren’t we happier? It’s so elusive and fleeting. It’s harder and harder to come by. We buy things to fix our wrongness, and they make us briefly happy, but it doesn’t last. So, maybe we don’t deserve it after all… or maybe happiness is a fool’s game entirely.
I’m starting to think that happiness is unattainable, at least in the sense where it behaves like an object or a status that we can acquire and be finally happy. I think happiness can only be channelled. It’s like energy, transient and flowing, a charge that travels, moment to moment, and requires infrastructure to maintain integrity.
If we wait for happiness to visit us because we’re deserving, or we’ve bought it, it arrives and then fizzles out into the air. We need structures to channel, boost and hum with it.
By structures, I’m talking very practically about relationships, skillsets, creativity, nurture, health (of all kinds), open mindedness and open heartedness. They’re anything we get satisfaction from when we work at them. These labours of love expand our capacity and many of them are conduits for each other.
Building those structures is a labour we’re forgetting how to do inside a culture that tells us we can buy anything we want and deserve everything we dream about.
Miles was unhappy because he stopped investing in his wife, his career, his trajectory in life. He carried the weight of boredom into each new day, but did nothing to earn the happiness he craved. He expected to be happy, and it doesn’t work like that.
The world doesn’t owe us anything, yet happiness is freely available. We have to build, invest, and labour at our own structures for it to flow through. We also have to work to remove circuit breakers like entitlement, self-pity, martyrdom, envy, unforgiveness and other forms of baggage.
In this way, we earn happiness, and it’s a labour we can’t buy and no-one else can do it for us.