The first of three questions I think everyone should be able to answer quickly is ‘What do you want?’ I’ve always felt that few of us think about that. We may have short term goals or we may want some things to come our way. But the ultimate answer, while not illusive, is something we seldom ponder. I say this with the opinion that for virtually all of us, the answer is simple, easy, and nearly the same for everyone.
As I listened to an interview with Christopher Hitchens, I was surprised by something he said. I’ll get back to that in a minute. Frist, I want to talk about the genesis of the question and my answer.
Beginning about 25 years ago, my life began to take some very significant turns. Much significantly changed for me. My life was on track, then it was not. This life transformation continued for years. Much of it was unpleasant, disruptive, sad, and shocking. The unhappier and more miserable I became, the more I thought about what had happened and what all was going wrong. I’ll save the details for a memoir. Suffice to say, shit happened and stuff changed.
This led to a rather spiritually reflective time for me. I read a lot of spiritual books, studied religions (some more lightly than others), and pondered what I thought were important life questions.
I don’t recall when or how I came across the brochure. It was titled Oh Happy Fault! A Confession of Hidden Sin by Vinny Flynn. In the brochure, Flynn confesses that his sin was being unhappy. Silly as it seems, that resonated with me because I realized that I was unhappy, or depressed, or both. Either way, what had been going on inside me (where no one could see) was the same. This led directly to my reading three books and indirectly, discovering one other.
Fully Human, Fully Alive, by Fr. John Powell, SJ
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl
About the same time, I also read, The Seven Story Mountain, by Thomas Merton.
The result of all of this was that I made two decisions. Actually, I made many decisions and continue making them, but early-on I decided that I wanted, or perhaps needed, to be happy. I knew that I was unhappy. So I decided to be happy. More importantly, I decided that my happiness was up to me – that I could do something about it. It took a long time for my happiness to improve, but it did.
Jump ahead about six years. I found myself conducting classes for other very troubled people. They were not exactly unhappy (some were). They didn’t seem to have any focus about anything. In my opinion, they had no world view. One of the questions I would regularly as them was “What do you want?” Their answers sounded like a list of shallow, adolescent ideas about hot cars, money, and hot men or women. The blank stares and silence I got when I asked ‘why’ disguised their answers of ‘who the hell cares?’ With that experience, I have continued asking people the same question for years. “What do you want?”
I’ve always thought everyone’s answer should be ‘happiness.’ During the Christopher Hitchens interview, he said that he did not think that he wanted ‘happiness,’ but wanted ‘satisfaction.’ I liked Hitch, but on this answer we would disagree. Maybe he felt that happiness was too much to ask for. Anyway, at least one dictionary indicates the words have synonymous meanings. There is a difference. Even though satisfaction implies having our needs met, happiness involves our state of mind regardless of needs.
I’m skeptical of some folks wanting to be happy. Some people seem happy by not being happy, or not wanting anyone to know they’re happy. It’s like if anyone knows, they will set out to ruin my happiness; therefore, I mustn’t appear happy. Maybe they really are just waiting for something bad to happen, or maybe they seriously do not want to be happy. Maybe they think there is a happy tax.
A satisfaction tax would make a lot more sense. It seems like things may satisfy us, but we decide to be, or not to be happy. How would we measure and estimate a tax on feeling good?
Anyway, I hope you are happy now. I also hope that Hitch is satisfied and Mick Jagger (after all these years) can get some damn satisfaction. I mean, how long does a guy have to wait for that?