Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Jonal entry 1105 | December 10 2009
A dating service advertised on Yahoo.com uses the catch phrase, "find your version of happiness." A closer look finds that the pitch assumes that happiness revolves around finding the right partner. Whether "partner" is a spouse, a romantic relationship that lasts for a while and ends, or a one-night standa "fling"doesn't matter in our post-modern age. Happiness is where it's at, to apply an out of date phrase to it. And in pop culture, happiness is wherever you "find" it. For many, spending a lifetime looking for it, even if it is never found, is purpose enough for living; maybe that's a vestigial evidence of the evolutionary stage in which we were all hunters.
Happiness as the purpose of life and combining love and happines are nothing new. "My Happiness" reminds me of a song by Connie Francis of that title, but that only dates me as an adolescent of the late '50s and early '60s. Lots of other people would think of a country song of the same title, or an earlier "My Happiness" from the 1940's or even the '30s, or a more contemporary upbeat ditty with that name by Powderfinger.
But it's not necessary for a pop song to have "My Happiness" as its title for it to convey that same message: Happiness is where it's at and the way to happiness is to find the right companion to share life with. Not only pop songs, either; romantic movies and novels hammer on the same nail incessantly, and, well, the whole crusade to establish legitimacy for something called "gay marriage" is built entirely on it. Everyone who supports that social change is convinced that "gays" are just as entitled as anyone to happiness and no one's happy unless they find and marry their proper mate.
I'm not saying there's no such thing as a happy marriage or a happy love relationship; loveeven the romantic typeis wonderful and vital in many people's lives and it's understandable that everyone desires to find it. But those who think their "happiness" is their main reason for living or that love is the source of lasting happiness are selling themselves short and, I submit, are failing at life.
Another advertisement, this one on a TV network instead of a website, supports me on this, at least a little. The ad for an upcoming show has one character asking "what's the purpose of life?" The response comes back, "to find happiness." But in this promotion there's a differing opinion: "No, it's to make a difference." I like this better, but only a little. It's better because it's searching "outside the box"; it's daring to challenge the "universal" assumption. But it's not good enough for the same reason that "love and happiness" are not good enough. In neither case is anyone defining their terms. "Happiness" could be a feeling of giddiness or of contentment, but can we trust our feelings? "Making a difference" can mean a life in politics, teaching children, even being a police officer, a social worker, or member of the clergy...but all of those can result in abuse and practitioners who feel more frustrated by the results they're seeing than satisfaction in the difference they're making.
I've shown my hand, of course, in previous Jonals here, especially this one about the purposes of life. But even if you find your purpose and live it out, happiness, at least in any sense suggested in consumer commercials, may elude you for life. Some of the most fulfilled people in our own generation are ones who spent most of their lives in gulags and prisons, even suffering torture. Others, like Mother Theresa, to make the most famous example of something characterizing millions of lives, have never experienced romantic love or its "happiness," but nevertheless knew what they did give their lives to was the right priority.
So. What do you want for Christmas?