“Are you happy?” – asks the interlocutor as my eyes are feasting on a sea of green, tilled land, and vineyards. My mind is elsewhere but my eyes are enjoying the scenery at hand.
“What do you mean by happy?” - I ask as I’m leisurely drinking the Venti Passion Tea Lemonade we picked up about 20 miles down the road.
I then added that for some reason I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of existential questions of this nature this year. Come to think of it, I'm amused by the versatility of answers depending on who asks and when.
We left the ‘happy talk’ at that as dinner was being served and I don’t generally find smoked salmon to be the most suitable choice for existential talk. Smoked salmon says: ‘light, fleeting, easy-but-forgettable fun.’ Beef, on the other hand, would have been a different story. I could have picked beef bourguignon, but I didn't. The interlocutor did. Maybe that's why he asked the question. Beef tends to beg for a different kind of substance and I lacked the inclination needed to process it. I had the salmon, instead. On the drive back I got to thinking about “are-you-happy?”-type questions.
To me, ‘happy’, has always spelled presence of movement, productive change, you know, the opposite of boredom. Agito ergo sum. I believe that. It's got all the buy-in a phrase could ever have. A lack of motion would be a lack of comfort, i.e., a lack of happiness. Some are comfortable moving others feel better in a sedentary fashion. I always felt at home in the company of the former. Ironically, quite often I’m on the receiving end of such movement-obliterating statements as: “just stay put for a minute. Don’t move for a bit. Let’s just stay here a while, isn’t this nice?” Statements of this nature make me feel the opposite of 'satisfied'. They make me feel restless.
Instead of asking, “are you happy?”, one needs perhaps to consider: “are you interested?” Interestedness spells motion, change, problem-solving, eventfulness, you know, things of interest. Without new problems to solve and new avenues to explore, what use is this thing, anyway?
"Ask me the question again", I ask.
“Are you happy?”
“I’m interested much of the time. It could be different but it’s not. Interestedness might lead to more promising changes. So, ja, I’m interested, I guess. Don’t you just love Julian Casablancas’ voice, by the way?”
“The Strokes are cool, yup. So, when was the last time you were this, you know, interested?”
Without thinking much at all and almost in an automaton-like fashion, I say: May 1, 2009.
“Why May 1, 2009?”
“I don’t know. I just was. It was the night I saw Franz Ferdinand in concert. Alex Kapranos, the lead singer, had some beautiful, red patent leather shoes on and I had a smaller number of worries on my mind than usual that particular night. I wanted those shoes. I didn’t want for much those days with the exception of those red shoes.”
I remember the day with such clarity not because I have a good memory (very often I don't) but because I’m a music lover. I journal my life by way of music. My love for and interest in music is unchanging regardless of all else. I can look at the thousands of tracks I have on the iPod and I can unequivocally say what the tracks represents, memory-wise. I even have a playlist that says ‘interested/happy.’ It’s the one playlist that gets edited religiously. I play it daily and with loyalty in the car. But I digress again. I guess that's what things we love tend to do to us. They force us to digress and make everything be about them. Right. I digress.
We have another 150 miles to cover and I reckon existential topics are as good a choice as any when it comes to filling time when covering distance.
I generally don't ask a lot of questions. I prefer to divine answers without being inquisitive. This time, I ask the same question, however. What else is there to do, anyway? It's a long, long drive.
“So, are you happy? People usually ask existential questions when they’re trying to sort stuff out themselves first.”
“I’m happy when I want for nothing. You know, the usual Spiel.”
I feel my forehead wrinkling. To me, not wanting for anything is equal to not having much to live for. Not wanting for anything makes me anxious. It's got to be something I need to want, be it red shoes or whatever. I say, “I’d have a hard time with that, you know, the not-wanting-for-anything thing. I’d feel unable to move and, uhm….” And I got interrupted.
“…yes, I know, the movement thing. It’s just that a lack of movement, even for a short spell, is what happy would mean to me.”
And there’s that.
Finger Eleven's "Paralyzer” came on my ‘interested/happy’ playlist.
“I want to make you move
Because you’re standing still.”
"Ha. Do I know or do I know my music, dude? And I don't really like much else from Finger Eleven. Good song."
I continue to smile, look outside the window and try to journal the experience by way of the song and playlist: Finger Eleven, short trip, sunny, 62F, red Toms shoes, vineyards. Done.
Happiness is hard to discuss because it's so often subject-dependent. Frequently, I find, those who need to know the degree of your happiness are those who indirectly want to know how much they're perhaps responsible for said thing. The question isn't just a generic one, i.e., "are you, generally speaking, in a happy state?" It's usually of a tendetious nature. Are you happy here? Happy doing this and that? Happy with me?
Are you happy?
I'm interested. Nonchalance is hard to stomach. The times I feel nonchalant are the times I feel I try extra hard to change things up. Nonchalance breeds a lack of fecundity and creativity. And I could never pull the latter off very well. To paraphrase Patrick O'Henry, give me interestedness or give me, well, you know, whatever. Who cares. It's all about the former, anyway.
And, I suppose, eating ice cream while driving might just be as close to 'happy' as one should get. Tolerable quotidianity is no easy feat, I've found. Take it, while you can, ice cream and all.