By Trisha Federis
A life in fragments, made up of people and places, memories and hope.
“Each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, is good to the aggregate of persons,” says John Stuart Mill, in Utilitarianism.
Do we all wish for happiness? I for one revel in mild discontentment. This shade of blue suits me; I wear it like a favorite pair of socks. It clears my head. It helps me write. I can only put order to my thoughts when I’m in a pensive mood: so I go for long walks on cloudy days. I stay in bed for as long as I can. This feeling — wistfulness directed at nothing — is where I live. But if I told this to just anyone, it would unsettle them.
1 + 1
I can count all of the times I’ve been truly sad on one hand. It’s four. But to count the times I’ve been happy? Impossible.
UNITS OF MEASUREMENT
At any rate, things that make people happy tend to defy measurement. How can you count the quickness of your heart when someone’s hand rests on your thigh? The warmth you feel when beholding a litter of kittens? Though you can list the number of times you have gone to a symphony, it can’t be compared to the breathtaking image of, say, a single figure on a frozen lake.
My family laughs a lot over the dinner table. We often shout at each other, and even throw some punches; but laughing usually cures it. I guess it’s infectious. It usually starts off with our dad telling a disappointing joke, followed by his hyena-like hee’s grating against our ear, and he’d keep laughing as if his persistence will convince us that what he said was funny. It’s never the joke—it’s his shrill hoots that after five minutes make us each go mad. Pretty soon, my mom joins in, then my sisters, my brother, and me. We must sound weird to our neighbours.
I wonder if there is a sound that could instantly provoke a climax of pleasure. I imagine it to be either a high-pierced female scream, or a low orca hum.
I easily view my life as a scale in which happiness and sadness sit on opposing sides. On most days I wake up, and depending on the events from the night before, or plans for the oncoming day, I start with the scale uneven to one side. Then, throughout the day, the scale tips and I have to recalibrate. Sometimes I end up at the same place I began. If I feel the exact opposite from when I woke up, that’s when I know it’s been a life-changing day. And it goes on each day thereafter, the scale slightly tipping this way and that. At the absolute end, if you’re lucky, you’ll reach an equilibrium of happiness that Mill recommends: “The happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, …”
“…And having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing.” But doesn’t a life of rapture sound more exciting? Though I’m cautious by nature, I often find myself gravitating towards people who live spectacular lives. The ones who buy one-way plane tickets to South East Asia and drink mushroom tea at a party in the woods. They have the best stories, which either end in an incredible standoff with death or shoeless on the side of an unpaved road. The more volatile their life seems, the more I wish I were they.
A SHED FULL OF BOOKS
On the other hand, there are times I yearn to live comfortably in the middle. Nothing beats that simple desire to have a roof over one’s head, and perhaps, a shed in the backyard full of books. I saw my future at a house party just outside of Prague: a family owned a four-story tower lined with books, and a staircase winding up and up to a single bed in a sunlit loft. I will always remember walking across their lawn through the rain, wiping my feet dry on the mat, and being greeted with the smell of old, dampened pages. Happiness may not be determined by the number of books you own, but in my case, there would be some kind of correlation.
One euphoric moment, almost forgotten: sitting next to friends on a rooftop at dusk, watching the lights slowly turn on across the bay, and realizing what to do with your one, remarkable life: work in publishing. (The briefer that moment of clarity, the more ecstatic the feeling).
LITTLE THINGS, PT. 2
6) Parties. The best thing about your mom having twelve brothers and sisters is that “having a party with only a few cousins over” generally means an all-out celebration. The more the merrier, as they say.
SCALE, PT. 2
“A life thus composed, to those who have been fortunate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the name of happiness.” A delicate balance must exist because if we lived our lives ecstatically, our senses would be too dull to recognize how pleasurable it is. But let’s shake it up sometimes. Smaller pleasures are nothing compared to the vast, startling kind, and vice versa.
“But don’t even beautiful things make you cry? Because they remind you of how impermanent everything is?” “No,” he said. “I mean, I’m generally a happy person. When things are really down, I know they’re going to be happy again. Don’t you think that?” “I think there’s a fundamental difference between us then,” I said.
Airports are, I think, inherently sad. Much like Christmas. On an airplane runway back in Ontario, it occurred to me that nobody asks: “What’s your greatest sorrow in life?” People are always asking about their greatest joys in life, their hopes and dreams. Nobody wants to know what causes his or her sorrow.
When I was twelve, puberty hit me hard. I suddenly felt self-conscious, perpetually sweaty, and uncomfortable. I wept a lot. Once, in the parking lot of Walgreens, my dad got tired of me crying and asked what was wrong with me. I didn’t know the answer then. I still don’t know it now.