The Pursuit of Happiness
It was during that superficially exciting time in my life when I was living in South Beach, surrounded by beautiful people, and shooting erotica nonstop that someone said to me, “I wish I could be you.”
Without hesitation I replied, “No you don’t. I don’t even want to be me.”
There have always been dark realities in my life, some of which I’ve shared publicly, some not at all. The past few years have been filled with intoxicating highs and sickening lows. In not being complete in my writing and focusing on mostly the highs, I’ve felt that I wasn’t doing the right thing; that a full story was owed. But I’ve always been cautious in talking and writing about the dark parts of my life because I’ve never wanted to plant a seed of negativity if I could help it. I’ve only ever wanted to spread goodness. And taking it out of my head felt like giving the darkness more exposure than it needed. Just as important, I’ve never wanted to hurt anyone I loved in any of the various ways that words can hurt people.
I’ve reached a place where I feel more good than harm can come from speaking openly. I have to. And the best possible good that can come from writing this is if it turns on a light in someone else’s head and perhaps shines the way toward a safe and healthy path out of their own dark reality. But I don’t have answers. Just a story.
So let’s begin.
I Find Your Scripty Font Messages Disturbing
Because my friends and family are spread out across the globe, I spend a good amount of time on Facebook keeping up-to-date with them and their lives. It’s how I stay connected. And because we naturally have things in common, topics and threads similar in content get posted by multiple people. My peeps are awesome and mostly hope for a lovely world so a lot of them tend to share posts with the intention of brightening the lives of others. Some of them, much to my chagrin, re-post these theoretically uplifting messages in some horrific script font, lazily written atop any number of stock images taken from the vomitorium of flowers, sunsets, rainbows, and dear-god-i-want-to-punch-that-snow-capped-mountain-RIGHT-NOW.
The underlying theme spewing forth from all of these sites bent on enlightening the masses via fluff messages is that there’s a more awesome version of you which can easily be achieved. Recently, a friend shared one of these posts which boldly declared “Happiness is a choice.” Perhaps because I had some amount of negativity festering inside me at that particular moment, that little morsel of soul food really did not sit well with me.
Now, before going any further, I’d like to stress (and I say this with all modesty) just how spectacularly wonderful I am. I’m a super happy person. When I’m happy. And almost without exception, people enjoy my energy, my positivity, and my company. I’m fun to be around. My flow is awesome. (Watch it!) I don’t say that boastfully. It’s what I’ve come to accept based on my experience. People feel comfortable around me. And I love that I’m good for the souls of other people. I love that part of me. My point is, I’m not some grumpy old man who hates puppies.
But when I read that stupid little post, it just got under my skin.
“Who the hell are they to tell me that happiness is a choice,” I demanded out loud to my imaginary and listening friends (who are now you).
I wanted to reach through the screen, slap them, and tell them to wake the fuck up. That life wasn’t a bowl of ice cream with a cherry on top. I was pissed. And while being pissed at innocuous fluff on the internet may seem crazy (“What? It IS crazy? Okay, fine.”), I felt marginalized and shafted. I felt irritated at someone having the audacity to make it seem as though attaining happiness was little more than slight of hand. I felt a defiance to this simplistic ideal that has for years has left me feeling stupid and worthless in that it has been so difficult to achieve. And I knew I wasn’t alone.
Chasing the Dream
Having been on this planet for a few decades, my observations tell me that: absolutely, yes, happiness is a choice. But the thing is, for a TON of people (myself included), it’s not an easy one. I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve spent, since my teenage years, absolutely miserable and hating myself. Even when I’ve seemed happy. Like an unbelievable number of others around the globe, I suffer through clinical depression. Year in, year out. Suicidal thoughts are normal for me. There have been times when I simply didn’t give a shit and left my life purposefully to chance, living those moments with complete abandon.
So that brazen statement on my Facebook feed left me looking once more at my inability to simply be happy. To simply choose happiness as a lifestyle and voila. Magic. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t made the choice repeatedly. I had. I DO. But maybe I wasn’t making it the right way or I wasn’t aligning myself with the moon properly.
“Today I will embrace life and everything will be awesome.”
“This is inconsequential. This too shall pass.”
“Today I will not hate the person I am nor regret my life decisions.”
“Everything is as it should be.”
How many times in my life was I going to tell myself these things and choose happiness before it would finally stick? If I were to extrapolate based on the past, it looks like never.
But I don’t extrapolate on the past. Because I still have hope. And today, I feel “better.” I still sink down into my hole and I want to hide away from life. And I still have thoughts of suicide but not nearly as often. It’s not as bad. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve come to like myself and the person I mostly am. I just hate depression; I can’t stand having to deal with the shittiness of it all. I’ve come to a place where I hate the game now, not the player.
Like most if not everyone else, there’s a place in my mind where everything is poop. My personal Shitsville has suffered some level of urban sprawl over the years, with poop monuments being erected and parks going up across town. And having depression, I travel to Pooptown often enough that everyone there knows me by name and they’ve got my mood all laid out for me upon arrival, making my descension into the funk quick and easy.
Psychologically, it’s an entirely acceptable and expected place. Everyone has poop in their life. It’s perfectly okay to drive through Shitsville with the windows rolled up, eyes wide and jaw dropped, and say to yourself, “Thank god I moved out of this hell hole.” The problem is that depression doesn’t allow that. So when I pass through town, I park the car, get out, walk around, smell the fertilizer (hoping that there one day might be roses there), and plop my ass on a park bench for hours, days, weeks at a time.
The scene in The Last Boy Scout introducing Bruce Willis’ character Joe Hallenback perfectly exemplifies what it’s like waking up in Shitsville..
The Hap-Hap-Happiest F#cking Place on Earth
Currently, I’m in Costa Rica, having spent the last seven months back in the U.S. decompressing from my previous fifteen-month stint in this country. I’d like to share with you my Costa Rica experience.
In the spring of 2013, for no real reason, I moved to the land of Pura Vida. There were ideals in my mind which had nothing to do with finding happiness. I have no small amount of wanderlust and was drawn out of curiosity; it was a place of beauty and serenity in my mind (and in the minds of everyone selling tourism in this country). Expats and locals alike are quick to point out that, year after year, Costa Rica tops the list of countries in the Happy Planet Index which measures “the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them.”
So it is, in fact, the happiest place on earth. But I had no illusions. I’ve never been silly enough to imagine that mixing up my geography would bring me happiness. A change of scenery is always good for the soul, but locale by itself doesn’t deliver happiness. Happiness emanates from within. Somewhere. Theoretically. Perhaps.
Beyond the desire for change, when my sons were younger, we had always dreamed of going surfing in Costa Rica. My youngest son had turned eighteen in late 2012, so he could finally get a passport without needing consent from both parents (one of whom would never agree to such a thing). For Christmas, plane tickets were bought. I would go down a month earlier to familiarize myself with the area.
I hadn’t picked my date of arrival in this country thinking of it’s significance but the day I arrived, March 1st, marked the anniversary of my oldest son’s death. Three years prior to that date, he had walked out onto his mother’s front lawn, pointed a shotgun at his head, pulled the trigger, and ended his life. His suicide came as a complete shock to everyone. The kid had everything going for him: he was intelligent, witty, good-looking, well-liked, socially acceptable, and “happy.” Nobody saw it coming and it was devastating. Apparently, he was was more tortured than anyone knew or suspected. He wasn’t simply a moody teenager; he had serious mental health issues which went unrecognized and, worse, untreated.
So three years after his death, I had settled into a quaint little house in the quiet town of Heradura on the Pacific coast. My time there was marked by relative isolation as it was almost exclusively a Tico town and I didn’t know Spanish beyond what carried me through simple everyday interactions. My youngest son would be there for a week and that would be the most interaction I would have in three months.
While in the shower one afternoon, my mind had wandered, yet again, to my oldest son and his decision end his life. By this point, I had certainly looked at his suicide from every angle, though I wasn’t moving into any better mental state about it. But on that particular day and at that particular moment, my thoughts ran in a pattern that led me to an astonishing realization: I would never kill myself.
And when I realized it, I must have exclaimed it out loud a dozen times. I was ecstatic. Like I had won the lottery. The change that little bit of self-awareness has had on my life has been astounding. Mostly, suicidal thoughts don’t linger as long since I know I’m never going to kill myself. It’s much easier to work my way out of the worst funks now. And knowing that I won’t kill myself, I don’t have to worry about leaving a trail of mystery for loved ones left behind. I never have to worry about causing a hellish nightmare for people close to me.
I would never kill myself. Fucking awesome.
And THAT was my happiest moment in Costa Rica. Pura vida, mae. This was my depression.
After three months in Herradura, I moved to Jaco, the next town south along the coast. Life in paradise had become dynamic and filled with people. I had made friends and was going out. I was socializing. Smiling. Taking photos. Happy.
And then it turned. And I let it. I was on an exhausting, downward mental spiral. I was partying excessively which made it all the worse. And then began an untold number of sleepless nights, each ending the same: I would put on my board shorts as daylight was breaking over the mountains and walk the hundred steps from my cabina to the beach. The beach was always deserted at that time of the morning and the surfers weren’t out yet. The ocean was mine and mine alone. And somewhere along the way, each and every dawn, I would tell myself to just walk. Don’t stop. Just walk out into the ocean until I couldn’t any longer. And keep going. Let the currents take me away.
But as instantly as the thought of ending my life entered my mind, I knew I was wasting my thoughts. Because I knew I wouldn’t kill myself. But I would go out. And I settled on a routine of swimming out to where the waves were crashing and letting them beat the ever living hell out of me. Once I had every bit of energy drained from me, save enough to get back to shore, I would swim in; I felt I had paid my pennance for the day.
Eventually, the absurdity of my existence became clear to me. I knew I had to physically remove myself from this environment because I couldn’t find any way out of my head. And so I left this country. I went back to the states, saw a psychiatrist (and stayed with one, my BFF, during the majority of my time there), got on some anti-depressants, stopped taking them, and had the fantastic experience of becoming a grandfather as my youngest son had his first child.
I’m lucky in that my depression is more mild; there are so many whose depression and mental state is so very much worse than this stupid shit I deal with. What I go through is nothing compared to the misery that others endure. Take my son, for example. Or anyone from any story that hits the news on a daily basis. The number of people with serious mental health issues is astounding. And these are all our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. I hate it. And I wish it were taken more seriously.
I don’t have the answer on how to find happiness. I’m not really convinced that anyone does. I don’t even know that happiness is the thing to try to find in this life. I don’t know. The Dalai Lama seems like he has his shit pretty together. He talks a good game. Maybe just “be.” Nothing more.
This is what I can tell you, based on my experiences to date:
- Life contains moments of happiness.
- Life will throw poo at you like some furious monkey. Most often very hard, very fast, and when you’re not looking.
- There is fantastic beauty and amazing curiosities throughout the physical world and in the hearts and minds of people. Soak in every bit of it. Whatever it is. Enjoy it while you can. Because furious monkey poo is coming.
- Smile and the world smiles with you. Seriously. I find my mood elevated if I’m out in public and have a slight smile. It’s not always easy to do, but if you can do it, it’s pretty excellent. My secret is that I say to myself, “Damn, I’m awesome.” Another trick is to sing the words to “Stayin’ Alive” to yourself as you strut down the street. Make sure to keep your steps in sync with the rhythm.
- People really do care about you. Even if you think it’s not real. It is. Learn to accept it.
- Laughter helps a lot.
- Depression sucks. Not you.
More importantly than anything, if you feel depressed or think you might be but just don’t even know what’s up, get help. See a doctor. Really. It’s totally cool and the best thing you can do.