Thursday, March 27, 2008

The pursuit of happiness

Would you rather be a happy simple-minded person or tortured genius?

This question was asked of me a few weeks ago by one of those cheery, spammy e-mail quizzes we all get and despite the fact that my answer was immediate and resolute, I have been thinking about it ever since.

I would rather be a happy, simple-minded person.

And yet.

If you had asked me this question 15 years ago my answer would have been just as immediate and resolute.

I would rather be a tortured genius.

And what has happened during the last 15 years to change my mind is the real question that has continued to haunt me long after I deleted that seemingly innocuous little e-mail.

In my teenage years and early 20s I vividly remember worrying that my uneventful middle class upbringing was insufficient preparation for a future I imagined as a famous and important writer. I was healthy. I had a strong and loving family. I was even, horrors! popular in high school. Could I create great art if I had never been, as Jean-Paul Sartre would describe it, the other? Didn’t I need to suffer?

Turns out the universe was happy to oblige whether I needed it or not.

In my mid-twenties, in the space of a year or so, my world started to fall apart. I had a cancer scare. My childhood home was rocked by turmoil and pain. The man upon whom I had depended for years abruptly cut me out of his life. My best friend died.

I moved into a one-room apartment in downtown Toronto. Determined to write the great Canadian novel, I waitressd, working the graveyard shift at a greasy spoon from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. five nights a week. I wrote furiously every afternoon.

It was the most miserable and tortured time in my life.

I never published the novel I wrote that winter: I know now that it’s not even very good. I also know that during that period of time every ounce of positive energy I had was expended, not creating great art, but surviving.

I have never slept in a gutter in Paris. I have never been addicted to drugs or alcohol. I have never spent years wallowing in filth and misery.

But I have suffered just enough to know that I don’t like it. I have felt enough pain to know that its constant presence is neither romantic, nor glamorous and that a tortured genius at the end of the day is…well…tortured.

I don’t want to be tortured.

I want to be happy, no matter how simplistic a goal that may have seemed in my youth. I’m not as interested these days in life’s grand operas as I am in life’s tiny movements.

The most successful life is the one most enjoyed. And every one of us, through the mere act of living, garners enough material on the human condition to write a million masterpieces: enough beauty, enough poignancy and yes, enough suffering.

There is a reason why boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back always has been, and always will be, the greatest story ever told.

A cynical person, perhaps even a younger version of me, would say that I have dumbed myself down: that I am deluded to think my middle class dramas and day-to-day trials are worthy of documentation.

But older I get the more I realize that life is just a series of moments. It’s how heavy or light you feel when you wake up in the morning. It’s how many laughs you share over dinner. It’s how often your heart swells with happiness in any given week.

And I have never forgotten the wasted, endless monotony of the hours and days I spent yearning for just a single happy moment. I have never forgotten how exhausting it is to daily teeter on the edge of a pit so vast and inviting it takes every ounce of strength not to slip down and fall into the blackness.

I may never be a genius, but I have finally figured out that there’s nothing simple-minded about the pursuit of happiness.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

70 comments:

Brittany said...

I can't agree with you more! I'd add more, but I think you covered it all so well.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You are right about all of it.

Are You Serious! said...

♥ I'm nodding my head at everything you just said & covered! :)

C said...

Oh, WOW! Yet another thought provoking post. This is why we keep coming back for more :)

Dawn said...

I couldn't agree more!

LaskiGal said...

Count me in the happy and simple-minded group. Life is just too darned short . . .

Great post . . .

kittenpie said...

I would agree - I've never had much tolerance for drama, I've known the grind of poverty at times in my life, and watching my mom's sufferings from schizophrenia, I know what true torture can lose a person. I hope every day I never have to go down that road. The middle of the road, middle class, family life may be boring at times, but it spice-able when you need it, and has a million little perks we sometimes fail to notice. I've been finding that even with the way the sickness has been wearing me down lately - I'm not enjoying the things I normally do, and I can't wait to feel good enough to take pleasure in them again. It's soul-elevating when you do.

Laura said...

What a great post - you are so correct. I also think that life should be easy..happy is easy - and turmoil is difficult, energy consuming, tiring...we need to strive for happiness and easy in this chaotic and crazy world.

Thank you for sharing.

Beth said...

I've always been simple-minded. Now I'm just working on the happy part.

Karen said...

I agree with you. Happiness is something that everyone should have. Genius wouldn't matter if you spent your life in misery.

MommyTime said...

Ah, this post so appeals to my lonely-writer-in-a-garret soul. Thank you.

Anne said...

I think genius and suffering are both overated. One of my very best friends was killed in a car accident almost two years ago. It was surreal when he sister called me at work to tell me she was in a coma, and, of course, when she passed away a couple months after. You just don't really get over it. Like I've accepted the death of my grandparents, but her's is still almost unbelievable. Anyway, on that note, have a nice weekend and enjoy those little moments!

Karen C. said...

I totally needed to read this post today. I've been in that place of feeling like my life is too simple to be interesting. Thanks for the reminders...I owe you one.

Karen C. said...

I totally needed to read this post today. I've been in that place of feeling like my life is too simple to be interesting. Thanks for the reminders...I owe you one.

Heather said...

Yes, boring and happy is the life for me.

Tracey said...

AFter all, isn't happiness everyone ultimate goal? Wouldn't we all love to just wake up and be happy to just BE ALIVE? It is my goal every day. I usually fail, but on the days that I keep my head in check and don't allow my genius brain (ahem) to interfere, life is beautiful and simple and lovely.

Melissa said...

I would so rather be happy, even if I was simple minded!

Kathryn said...

What a perfect post! Very wise. And I agree. I would much rather be happy. :)

SaraLynn said...

This is wonderful! And I couldn't agree more.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Megan said...

we catch ourselves trying to make life more complicated, but, so many things have always been true, and always will be, whether we, in our youth, think we want to chase after them or not. after some experience in the "real world" we realize we do, in fact, want those things we ran from!

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

Yes, I definitely think the romance of being tortured wears off pretty quickly with age and real life. Well said, as always.

Kelly said...

For what it is worth, this piece is genius.

InTheFastLane said...

Great post - But, I for one, am glad that these are not the only two choices in life.

Heather said...

And isn't that why we all do what we do? In the hopes of being happy? To me, that is my purpose in life. To be happy and to do everything I can to make my family happy.

Huckdoll said...

Word!! And I second 'inthefastlane'.

Happy Friday, D!

April said...

I love, love, love this post. And the idea of answering that question. Mind if I use it sometime for a post of my own? With proper reference back to you, of course!

Cee said...

wow, I really appreciate this post. I am a naturally content person and I enjoy the wisdom that life is too short to be miserable. But when I was young I was really ambitious and killed myself achieving goals- now I may not be famous or rich but I enjoy being happy.

Maria said...

So true!

Queen of My Domain said...

I completely agree with you. There is nothing wrong with simple minded happiness. I'll take it everyday!

mamatulip said...

Beautiful post, Kelly. It all rings true.

Cheffie-Mom said...

I agree, what an amazing blog! I am so glad I just came across it. I love all of your stories. I am new to blogging and have a blog called I Overcooked My Family and I would love to hear from you. Can't wait until your next post!!

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

I love this post. Just beautiful.

So, so true and full of wisdom!

The Rambling Housewife said...

Nah . . .

Tortured is clearly overated! :)

Colleen said...

Bravo! Bravo!

LunaNik said...

Wow. This is such an amazing, deep, and beautifully written post. You have so much talent girlfriend. Write that novel. Let your secret tortured artist inner self live on in the pages of a book even if she has grown up and become "simple and happy" in real life. I know you can do it. You have so much talent pouring out of your fingers and onto the posts of this blog. Go, Diva, Go!!!

Damselfly said...

Ah, yes, that's the thing. If you go around happy all the time, people think you're stupid.

I love this post!

Jenifer said...

The simplicity of true happiness is what I seek. I think we have to turn off our tortured minds and let the happiness in.

countrymouse said...

just stopping by and i like what i see.

i couldnt agree with you more.

Jennifer said...

You? Very wise! Very, very wise.

Sass E-mum said...

Sometimes we can hold on to other emotions (like anger or guilt) thinking they make us strong or self-aware. You are so right to choose happiness.

Mom24 said...

Very well said. My brother died when I was 15 and I know it changed my life in a very extremem way. In ways I know and acknowledge, and in ways I'm sure I have no idea. But, I would definitely choose happy. I try to choose happy as much as possible.

Mental P Mama said...

Simple and happy. Sign me up.

Tootsie Farklepants said...

You seem like a very happy genius to me!

skiplovey said...

That is so right on. I wish I would have known that sooner, my twenties would have been a lot happier.

Leanne said...

Yep. Ain't growing up grand?

Law Student Hot Mama said...

It's so weird . . . I think back on when I was a teenager and I totally would have been for "tortured genius" too. I'd still go for tortured genius, I think (because, hell, I AM a tortured genuis, right?) but I think that being a genius was much more important to me for some reason as a kid than it is now. I swear I must have been convinced I was going to be president of EARTH when I was a teenager I had such a sense of self-importance!

KathyLikesPink said...

I've suffered from depression most of my life - I would choose happy and stupid, no question.

Stacey @Real World Mom said...

Beautifully written! I couldn't agree more.

OHmommy said...

Okay.

That is my MOST favorite post of yours ever.

Perfect. I agree 100%.

petite gourmand said...

beautiful post!
and so very true.

Cheri said...

Well said. Very well said, in fact.

Chelle said...

I love the line "I realize that life is just a serious of moments" - great post.

Shan said...

I think you're dead on with this one. Great post!

Stimey said...

I agree with everyone else. Great post. I also would rather be happy than just about anything else. (In high school or college? I would have much preferred to be tortured.)

HRH said...

That was serious genius. Now I have to go think...

Anna said...

Such a great post. Couldn't agree with you more!

Thanks for stopping by the other day! :)

David said...

Wow! Thought provoking, great read, it went in a second yet I put myself in yous shoes every step of the post.
Thank you so much for this. What a great treat!
David

caramama said...

This is so true! And isn't it amazing that as teenages some of us think that the thing to be is a tortured genius? I have no idea why I would have wanted to be tortured. It sucks!

Luckily for you and me, we are happy geniuses!

Family Adventure said...

I honestly think this was your best post EVER. Thank you for writing and sharing it.

Sheer genius...which makes you a happy genius, no?

Heidi

Lisa said...

I'm with you 100%....very well written!

John-Michael said...

I was copying and saving bits, from this piece, to illustrate how sweet, gentle, yet profoundly genuine your insights are But they became so numerous as to overflow my cup of appreciation. I am blessed by You!

It becomes easier and easier to love you more and more.

MissGotWings said...

Beautifully said! Especially the last sentence - there is NOTHING simple about recognizing and embracing happiness. I love your outlook on life.

Kash said...

When will that simple life happen? I always seem to be creating more drama in my life. Waiting anxiously for that simple peace! Glad to know its out there and can be found.

Jen said...

As a tortured genius, I'd like to pick simple-minded happy person. :)

Fun post!

Melissa said...

This is just what I needed to read, when I needed to read it. I've been grappling with this very question lately, wondering when to "surrender" to the joy of my life today, and when to strive for something more. Lately I've been leaning to your way of thinking, but it's awfully hard to let go of those childhood dreams. Take care! -M

nomotherearth said...

Jusy lovely. Perfect and lovely.

Leah said...

awesome post!

Thank you!

Lisa b said...

I feel the exact same way - you express this shift in what we value in such a lovely way.

Momma said...

What a wonderful, insightful post! Like you, I would much prefer to have a happy, simple life. How many times have I told my husband that I wish I were a simple woman, ordinary.

But we are writers. We weren't meant to be ordinary or "normal" in any way. We were born to suffer for our art - a little bit or a lot.

And you, my dear, are definitely a writer. Love your work!

D

Ms. H said...

I dropped by to leave a "hey thanks for dropping by my blog" comment for ya. And then I spent 15 minutes wandering through your archives...completely spellbound. I didn't even realize how much time was passing...I just kept thinking "just one more". (Much how I am with Law & Order marathons. HA!)

And then I read this post. I'm with you, I would definitely rather be one of the simpletons. I would much rather hang out with people who are real, than try to be something I'm not while I'm in the middle of the land of Intellectuals. Hence the reason I teach high school...rather than going for my PhD. AHHAHA!!

In response to "...that I am deluded to think my middle class dramas and day-to-day trials are worthy of documentation", I can tell you I've had that exact same thought about my blog. But I've come to the conclusion that all the writers who wrote the great books we have now...when they started, they didn't know they were writing Greatness. They just felt a need to write. So they did.

And because they did, we think they're great!

So...Keep On Writin' Sistah!