The Most Happy Fella

Why am I unhappy?

I don’t mean global, existential, bordering-on-depression unhappy, though there has been quite a bit of that the past two years. For a multitude of reasons I won’t go into here, some of them external, some not. Therapy in various forms as helped. So has St. John’s wort. And surprisingly enough, so has blogging; writing as therapy.

I guess actually not so surprising, since plenty of people have studied the therapeutics of art, specifically writing, and practiced it with folks struggling through personal crises. And not surprising because I have seen its value first hand. As an adult, my greatest moments of – bliss? or something like it, have come in those short spurts of cranking out ten pages of dialogue for a new play. The only times I have ever felt truly  in the moment and a stranger to the fears and anxieties about the past, the future, my inadequacies, which so often clog my conscious brain. And the next most-blissful moment – better than any drug I have ever taken, better than sex – is hearing those words come to life in a front of an audience, and seeing and hearing those people respond.

No, today’s unhappiness is a little more specific. I read an article in the Tribune about the attaining of happiness (I was going to write “acquiring,” but that made it seem too materialistic, and too counter to the thrust of the article.) Money, as we all know,  can’t buy happiness. Though I would still like to get a few million with no strings and give the old adage a run for its money – so to speak. No, it’s our striving for more abstract goals, hopefully meeting them, and connecting with people, that makes us happy. So I guess I’m unhappy today because I feel like I’m falling short in all that.

Discussions about money and non-materialistic goals always take me back to one of the most important books I’ve ever read, Erich Fromm’s To Have or To Be? Basically, Fromm says, there are two modes of human existence: the having mode and the being mode. The having mode, based on greed and self-interest, leads to personal and societal dysfunction. The way to self-fulfillment is through the being mode, as great spiritual thinkers have taught for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, I’m not a great spiritual thinker. Or even a third-string one. I read the words, try to follow the precepts, but a disconnect erupts somewhere in my mind. I don’t fall prey, too much, to the having mode. No more than most Americans, I guess, though that might not be too high a bar. But I can’t get the being mode into full gear either. The things I cling to are not so much things at all – they are ideas, desires, fears, that I know in one sense are not real, but which I can’t jettison. Somehow, they provide security, or define the sense of who I am. To the detriment of that I.

Look at some of the root causes of the current crisis: Goal 1 was to achieve some level of success in Chicago theatre. Result – goal unmet. This fuels my unhappiness. Goal 2, though not stated at the time of moving here, was not as self-serving. It was, by most definitions, healthy. I wanted to make some good friendships, lasting relationships. Why not, since I’d always been able to do it before. Result – mixed, tending toward failure, but brightening a little in recent months. Still, the thought that only the relationships of the past will give me sustenance has been behind part of the decision to move. Goal 3, an ongoing one, is to create a good marriage. A pretty worthwhile goal, and again not completely self-serving. Result – wavering, as today I feel I don’t do enough to give my spouse what she needs, and don’t know if I can. Without crushing some of my needs.

Sundays are not a good day, for happiness. I suppose that’s not true if you’re a churchgoer and you take inspiration from the hymns and the message and the social interaction. But for me, Sundays have always been about dread. Monday lurks ahead, with its return to routine and perhaps frustration and deeds I don’t want to do. I know it was no coincidence that my first panic attack decades ago came on a Sunday, and many others have followed.

The author, right, in more carefree times

The author, right, in more carefree times.

Jeez, near-depression, panic attacks, failure: This guy sounds like such a loser. Such a negative person. Actually, in what is perhaps the epitome of self-delusion, I’ve always thought I was pretty upbeat. I like to laugh. I can inspire others in pretty positive ways. But in the recesses of that mind that can cry with joy over a beautiful passage of music or passionately expound on a good meal or a challenging idea, there dwells a lot of unhappiness at times.

Maybe I’m not less happy than others. And God knows, objectively speaking, I have a lot to be happy about, or at least very thankful for. So I will try to follow the prescription in the Trib article for finding happiness. I will try to write more plays so I can feel that absorbing ecstasy again, and maybe even make them good enough to be staged, giving me the jolt of self-induced dopamine that comes from hearing actors speak my words and plumb the emotions within and between them. I will try to connect more with others. But today, I think, I’m just gonna feel unhappy a little bit longer. Sunday is almost over. Things will get better.


~ by mburgan on October 5, 2008.

3 Responses to “The Most Happy Fella”

  1. Hey! Nice blog! I thought you might be interested in Freedomain Radio, the most popular philosophy podcast on the internet. There is a lot of material in the show that particularly focuses on psychology.

    All the best!


    (sorry, had trouble posing at first…please ignore the first post)

  2. Thanks for the comment and the link. I’ll check it out.

  3. Wellbutrin.

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