Saturday, January 19, 2008

Happiness is...


We don't have to share every interest. Just keep me interested. That's happiness to me.

It's a nice tagline for Yahoo! Personals, compliments of "Erin from Laguna Beach, CA." I saw it as I was checking my email this morning and eating a waffle; it made me uneasy. I tried to reason it out to see what was the matter: If I am interested, I am happy; if I am not interested, I am not happy.

So what happens when you lose interest in someone you are with? According to "Erin," you become unhappy. As relationships today are defined more in terms of what it means "to me," rather than conforming to a pre-existing social norm, conditions can be set that vary from relationship to relationship. Some people have so-called "open" relationships, while others might exist in non-legally binding but committed domestic partnerships, while others still hold to a more traditional idea of commitment through marriage which is legally recognized, sanctified, and binding.

Culture can be like a leaky septic tank. The infiltration of culture into politics, religion, ethics, morality, global perception, etc., is inevitable, since culture is the proverbial soup that is the flavorful medley of all these ingredients. There is a reason America is different from France. Or Afghanistan. Or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As Americans, we love us some choice, and marriage and relationships are no exception. Traditional limitations placed on our chosen method for the pursuit of happiness are sidestepped in favor of customized contemporary contracts drawn up and mutually agreed upon (or not) that allow for the loosing of the "binding" aspect of a relationship that might prevent that happiness from being realized. After all, it is our constitutional right.

I was talking with someone the other day who, after learning I was in school studying Theology, asked if I planned to become a priest. I told him no, that I did not think it was God's plan for me, nor do I want to be; that is, it was not my plan to become a priest--I hoped to marry and have a family someday--but if it was what God was calling me to then the choice would be clear: I would have no choice. Oh, I would have my free-will choice to accept or decline this invitation. But knowing that authentic, non-illusory happiness comes only from serving God on his terms, and knowing that this is the only happiness worth desiring, "choice" and "happiness" become rather impotent words. God chooses us; ironically, we have no choice in the matter. Happiness does not come from having our interest perpetually coddled; it comes from handing it over to God to do with it as he sees fit. "One day in your courts is better than a thousand spent elsewhere."

It does not surprise me that I should be so wary of putting heavy stock in the shifting sands of happiness; for they have shifted beneath my feet so frequently that I have eventually come to see them as being like a plot of quicksand unsuitable for anything but observation. It is certainly not something I would want to build a house on. I guess it should not be surprising, then, that I consider happiness a product of, rather than a reason for, a relationship. It is not a guarantee, and it is not owed.

Manic-depressives live their lives like cancer patients, knowing full well they are capable of leading healthy, fulfilling lives and having normal relationships while their dis-ease is in remission, but that they are never completely in the clear, like a man on the lam who marries and has a family and falls asleep every night praying that he is not found out and that his life, his new life, is not pulled out from under him. He has taken the bait--the hope for normalcy, for a second chance; his greatest nightmare is that it was a trap.

Unlike a man on the lam who is reeled in by the authorities after years of living under the constructed dream of being a 'free man,' though, no one takes the MD out of the picture kicking and screaming (unless they are being 302'd). Rather, the underlying fear that is that when the cancer comes back, it is the other person who will look at the situation and say, 'where is the happiness? Where is the interest? This is not in the contract.' That they will start weighing their options, like a son might be tempted to do in the face of hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills for a terminally ill father existing only by the mercy of a relentlessly beeping life-support machine. It would be easier to pull the plug. Hell, I can't say what I would do--I fear my pragmatism sometimes for its cold, calculated ability to live by facts and numbers, unadulterated by affect and ethics. Thankfully, the Apostle stepped up to counter the cultural affection of Love by piercing through the flowery crust and bulleting it as if it were
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Love tests by fire. But I still live with a loitering fear that it will be hijacked by Happiness during those times when I have no Interest to offer, and leave me cold, sitting in the dark shadow of God, and wondering where to go next after I have given up everything I had.



Listening to: Belle & Sebastian The Boy With the Arab Strap
Last movie watched: 300

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

True..but that Erin from Yahoo sure is cute!!

Anonymous said...

Rob,
I loved you "essay" on happiness. Believe me, if God ever calls you to the ministry, this will be the happiest thing of your life.
BTY, I agree 100% with you that Erin is cute. I wonder if she is single....and if she is available. I would make that girl very happy!

Anonymous said...

Erin is super cute. Yowza.

Besides it's not her fault the tag line is over simplified. Tag lines always are...