How To Hold Onto Your Happiness


The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid. J.D. Salinger

For a very long time, I was fixated on the idea of happiness. I was bitter and very sad about a lot of things, and I would often catch myself wondering if maybe I’d ever be happy, and even if I was the kind of person who could be happy, like it was a genetic trait.

It seemed like this illusive feeling of contentment or joy that other people seemed to come across so easily. It’s always easier to look at things in negation to what we do or don’t have.

But even at my darkest and bleakest, there were still these small pockets of happiness that would crop up from time to time. I just never actually took the time to appreciate them, because I was so focused on the fact that they weren’t my constant. We get so hung up on the concept of holding onto these moments and making them multiply that sometimes, we forget to appreciate them for what they are.

And maybe that’s what I was missing all along. I didn’t know how to accept my happiness when it came.

It often feels like the thing we’re all searching for is simple. It’s not money or fame or love, though those things are all the finish line prizes that come along with. Whatever we say we’re searching for is just a placeholder and our own personal way to claim happiness, our own little spot in this world where we feel complete and whole and at peace.

Happiness is the ideal, for sure — we’re all always chasing that one job, that one relationship, that one intangible, ever-elusive something that we just know is bound to make us happy. Everything that drags us down is working against this plan for happiness. Everything that stops us on our path makes us unhappy. Yet when we grab this happiness, we don’t know what to do with it. (It’s a simplistic analogy, but part of the terrifyingly cathartic complexity in Heath Ledger’s Joker lay in the fact that he was perversely right: we’re all like dogs chasing cars, and wouldn’t know what to do with something if we caught it.)

Because this concrete happiness we think we know never lasts this long, not in a society where things are more-more-more and now-now-now and the next best thing and the insatiable desire to always one-up another person. And all of these things make happiness seem rare and valuable — which it is, to be sure, but it turns happiness into a commodity, something traded and regulated. Something less accessible than it really is.

After all, most of the people who have ever said that they found happiness usually say something to the effect that it was in them all along. Could they really be so wrong in that? Could it be that it’s not something you find, but something that you curate?

Because happiness is presented to us as such an illusive concept, something that only the truly lucky chance upon, we seem to forget what to actually do with it if we get there. When we get there, maybe, because sometimes it seems that we’re really only ever as happy as we make ourselves out to be. But we can get there, and we can sit in this happiness, and experience it and appreciate it for what it is, if only we understand that it is happiness of its own accord.

We don’t get to dictate it. We feel how we feel, and there’s no hope trying to will ourselves to change it. It’s not wrong to feel happy, either, and you shouldn’t feel stuck up or ashamed or undeserving of your happiness.

Because though sometimes the things you’re satisfied with may be the same things someone else is dissatisfied with, happiness is a lot like love — it’s at its most powerful when you share it.

A lot of writers I work with will often bemoan how they can’t capture a happy moment. How they’re perfectly okay with writing about their misery — how they thrive on their heartbreak, how words seem to overwhelm them when they’re sad or scared or depressed or angry. Writers have always written about their anguish, and we always will. We’re dark, twisted individuals who seem to only be able to shed light on all those crevices with our words. And yet, when it comes to happy, it often seems to elude us. It seems trite. Corny. Silly, even, and maybe a bit like bragging. How dare we be happy when other people aren’t, how dare we rub it in other people’s faces, how dare we indulge that rare and coveted emotion and, worst of all, how dare we try to pin it down with words. But it’s hard to pin down anyway. How do you define one happiness, after all? Your ice cream cone is her girlfriend is his chili cheese dog is their new puppy is my promotion at work. We all find different things that make us happy, in ways large and small, simple and fleeting and complex and hard-won. These differences make us who we are.

But maybe then, that thing we’re trying to capture isn’t happiness so much as it is joy — so much as it is water through our hands or sunlight through a windowpane. It’s not supposed to be caught and held ransom as much as it is to just be experienced. And happiness then, is just the constant knowledge that there is joy in this world, much like there is sorrow and heartbreak and anger and resentment, but these things will even themselves out in the end, if only you believe they will. And because you know that these things will work out — because you trust that they do, whether it is God or fate or any intangible in between — that you can return to these small pockets of joy, this overwhelming sense of contentment, and this knowledge that you are right where you need to be in the here and now. And you can just be. Usually, when you’re just being, happiness comes along with.

Do the things that make you happy, even if these small happinesses are fleeting. Even if they only last for a moment. Don’t worry about keeping the feeling around. Let these individual instances of joy and contentment and laughter and love combine. They’ll join together into the stuff called happiness if you let them, you know. You just have to trust and let them. So live in the moment. And rather than trying to immortalize that moment in time now, just let it exist as it is. Let it be its own legacy. Let it grow in your mind and your memory and most importantly, your heart. Let the knowledge that you experienced that make you happy.

Because that’s the thing about being happy. It grows in you. It’s an untouchable kind of magic. And if, after all of the excitement and joy and nerves and buzz, this feeling that things are right settles like so many solid, comforting truths in your life, then that is all you really need to know you’re happy.