Saturday, July 04, 2009

Weekend Assignment: #274: The Pursuit of Happiness

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, under the editorial kibitzing of John Adams and Ben Franklin, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Our Weekend Assignment, delayed until the anniversary of the ratification of those words by the Continental Congress, takes its cue from my old buddy Tom:

Weekend Assignment: #274: How do you personally pursue Happiness?
Extra Credit: How do you know when you've caught it?
This has got to be the shortest Weekend Assignment question I've ever posed, but it's not necessarily the simplest. The concept of happiness can be tricky to define, let alone recognize. It's a platonic ideal, frequently defined more by its absence - or its pursuit - than by the actual experience of it.

Yet we know it's real, at least in retrospect. Often we can look back on a moment and say, "Ah, I was so happy then," whether we recognized it at the time or not. Even the big, obviously joyous occasions - a wedding day, the birth of a child, the vacation of a lifetime - can be obscured by the stresses of the moment, or by just being too busy to fully appreciate that ah, yes, this is happiness, right now.

Still, we try for it, all day, every day. An accepted theory of human behavior is that every single thing we do is in pursuit of happiness, of trying to make ourselves feel better, selfishly or otherwise. I've always hated that idea, that the most altruistic act isn't really for the sake of the other person, but to make us feel good about ourselves.

So, to transition from the pontificating, which has been making me happy for several minutes now because the writing is going well, I now must consider what I do to try to be happy. There are lots of things I do, some of them contradictory. I write. I hang out with dogs. I goof off. I stop goofing off and accomplish something, thereby reducing the guilt quotient. I hang out with John. I read. I drive up the mountain. I watch my favorite tv shows. I go to church - which doesn't sound like a happiness-producing activity, especially if you're as uneasy with certain kinds of religious behavior and belief systems as I am. Yet againt the odds, St. Michael's does indeed make me happy, at least as much because of the people as because of the ritual and the meaning behind it.

It's been a stressful week for me. I discovered on Wednesday night that my unemployment claim ran out at the end of May, but the state website let me continue to put in claims anyway. It just didn't pay anything. There was a form in the mail that explained about an additional 7 weeks I qualified for, if I filled it out and turned it in - no later than two weeks ago. I learned of its existence on Wednesday night, and tracked it down in a pile of mail on Thursday afternoon, just in time to get it turned in at DES (Department of Economic Services) before they closed for the holiday weekend. The DES employee couldn't tell me whether it would still be accepted. And I just realized that I should have filed a claim anyway online this week, even if it's not being paid, and I think I've missed the deadline on it. If all this works, it should be paid retroactively, but only if I don't break the chain with a week of no reported claim.

It's kind of depressing, partly because I've screwed up, and partly because I shouldn't still need unemployment payments after all this time. My part time job is good and valuable, but not lucrative. Am I doing enough to find work, or letting my discouragement over the lack of response induce a debilitating lethargy where job hunting is concerned? And does it even matter, when most of the job listings either don't fit my skills and qualifications or are the same ones I've applied for at least once before? Clearly, though, lapsing into defeatism isn't going to lead to either employment or happiness. So I went through CareerBuilder and Monster and a few other sites this week, updating and upgrading, and compiled a master document of past job data: addresses and dates and supervisors' names and phone numbers. And for a moment, I was happy with what I'd accomplished - but I still have much more to do.

Often, though, it's not the head-on, work through your troubles approach that leads to short-term happiness, or at least pleasure. (There's a whole tangent I could pursue but won't: what is pleasure, if not a sort of degraded, shamefaced form of happiness?) We all face that annoying tension between short term gratification and long-term goals. Do I enjoy an ice cream cone now, or deny myself for the sake of a lower number on a bathroom scale?

Maybe we have to have both, the adult, disciplined pursuit of the things that we hope will made us happy in the long run, and the little pleasures that make us happy in the moment. Tonight I was going to start this entry right after John turned off Torchwood on DVD, but instead I spent most of the night reading a magazine about golden moments from each of the 200 Doctor Who stories to date. The many writers of this DWM Special describe particular scenes, and why they're brilliant, and the impact they had on their chid- or adult-selves. Their joy in the show, their love for it and happiness that it's still going strong after nearly 46 years, beams out from the pages, and produces an answering outpouring of emotion from me. So for a few hours, as I read about the "deadly jelly baby" scene and "everybody lives" and the disinfecting elevator, and I'm happy. Then I put the magazine away, and return to the problem of facing my own, imperfect life.

So. What about you? How to you pursue happiness, and do you notice when you find it? Tell us about it in your blog, with a link back here, and a link to your blog entry in the comments below. You can get all philosophical on us, as I just did, or maybe just describe a particular activity that does the trick for you. Heck, if stamp collecting make you happy, I want to know about it! Just be sure to get your entry in by Thursday evening, because I'm going to try to get this increasingly tardy meme back on schedule next week. Meanwhile, there's last week's Assignment to wrap up:

For Weekend Assignment #273: Music(ians) of Your Life, I asked for your reaction to the death of Michael Jackson, and whether there a particular musician whose work has particular meaning for you. Excepts from the responses follow.

Julie said...
Sure, I grew up listening to the Jackson 5. I even had a picture of young Michael Jackson on my wall when I was twelve. But my heart belonged to the Beatles. Even then, I listened to a lot of different music. I was probably the only kid my age who knew that swing music wasn't something made schmaltzy by Lawrence Welk. I was also a huge standup comedy fan and could listen to those records for hours. I still can. The other day I was reading an urban fantasy story that involved Noah, and all I could think of was Bill Cosby: "God? What's a cubit?"

Florinda named the Beatles and four other artists:
The Beatles: I was ten years old when I first became aware of them, and they'd been broken up for four years by then. Their sound shaped my musical preferences, and they're still the standard I use for evaluating the best pop/rock: melody, harmony, lyrics, and how it all works together. There's a song in their catalog to go with nearly every moment you can think of. They produced their share of clunkers (for my money, most of them inhabit the White Album), but in eight years of recording together, the classics-to-clunkers ratio is very much in the classics' favor.

Mike also names a number of bands, including...
The next stage came with music I actually bought myself. Mostly that was Styx and Kansas. I loved those two bands. They were a bit different in style than The Cars, but they had the right mix for me. Some good rocking music, but also some slower songs mixed with a little progressive rock; especially with Kansas.

I think Styx Paradise Theater album was the one I listened to the most. It was certainly one of their biggest albums and it hit at the perfect time for me. What I want to know, though, is why is not on iTunes? That is driving me crazy.
That's it for now! As always, I'm looking for suggestions for future Weekend Assignments, and also for more of you to participate in writing the entries. Come on - as good the our three stalwarts above are, we'd love to hear from YOU as well. Thanks!



Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

Long ago I gave up pursuing happiness, probably about the time that I discovered it was pursuing me and I only noticed it when I paused long enough for it to catch me. ;)

Geo @ “A Writer's Edge” (new URL -- thank you!)
Now Twittering @GLHancock

Anonymous said...

Musically I really miss GG Allin.


barrettmanor said...

Here ya go:

Florinda said...

I may have to turn this assignment in late. We had some family upheaval over the weekend (my mother-in-law went into the hospital), and I may be playing catch-up for the next few days. Just didn't want you to think I was bailing on you! (By the way, none of that is conducive to my pursuit of happiness :-).)

Mike said...

I'm running a little late, but I'm up now.