Sara Ahmed's, The Promise of Happiness
I have been sooooo excited all semester to read this book! I decided to write on our most recent reading because we will be discussing it this week and I have almost finished the whole book (thanx Sara for making me wait all semester!)
The pursuit of happiness has always struck me as such a tedious chore. Because we are always looking to an end result, something in the future that will insure our happiness. We rarely hear people say, "this is the happiest I will ever be!" Instead, they assume happiness will come, but is rarely so satisfying in the present. Everyone chases it, everyone wants it- but what are we searching and why are we taught to base our happiness off a certain grid of things that we are culturally taught make people happy? Ahmed states, "the very hope for happiness means we get directed in certain ways, as happiness is assumed to follow from some life choices and not others". Sometimes, what makes us happy doesn't make others happy and thus we alter our happiness to ensure someone else is happy. Take parents for example, I have many friends that have not followed their goals because it would "shock" and "disappoint" their parents too much. Even though it matters to them, causing their parents that sort of unhappiness is too unsettling to bear, and thus "not worth it".
Why do we gage our happiness off of others? If someone else makes us happy, shouldn't we just let it go, and turn within to continue to make ourselves happy? Nah... that would probably be too easy. We need something to blame, or something that was the cause of our happiness or unhappiness.
"Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness". ~Robertson Davies
I decided to look up quotes on being happy and the only quote I could find that somewhat resembled the idea that happiness is not a necessity, and that there can actually be joy in not having joy was the above quote by Robertson Davies. He made me think about and relate to Ahmed in saying that there are questions to be asked and things to be learned because of one's unhappiness.
What is the relationship to feminism and happiness? Aren't feminists typically killers of joy, or as Ahmed calls them "the killjoy"? Why isn't it appropriate to bring something up that might bring someone else's happiness down even if it's valid and worth thinking about or wondering about?
Another thing that struck me when reading Ahmed is how she distinguishes the binary of grief and happiness. I thought back to the things I've learned about Buddhism, about how everything has an opposite that must be in order for the other to also be. Happiness/Suffering, good/bad, sick/healthy... all of these things need to be balanced and one cannot know one without the other. I used to have a friend who told me one time "Lauryn, everything is perfect as is. Even when it seems like nothing is right, you are always exactly where you need to be and feeling the things you need to feel". This hit home with me. Happiness and grief are all a part of it. I couldn't really truly appreciate being happy if I didn't have extremely weak moments in my life that caused me a lot of grief, pain, and suffering. This type of balancing act that my friend Liam taught me, showed me that Ahmed is right in that there is something to be said about not being happy, something to be learned, and that is okay.
Unhappy queers and feminist killjoys teach us something about happiness and teach us how happiness is structured around certain things and excludes others. There is something to be learned by the "unhappiness" project. By examining the what's why's and how's of happiness, we can understand how happiness can be used to conform us to certain ideals that have been set in place in our world. Happiness, as she discusses, is sometimes used as a "moral" crux to insinuate that certain people are not happy, or one shouldn't be happy if they are a certain way. We are taught to obey certain rules as a "common good" so that others will be happier.
In terms of passing, I found the concept of "passing as happy" to be very interesting. We encourage people to "fake it until they make it" or "put on a happy face" as to not make others uncomfortable with one's unhappiness. Why is happiness made so necessary? And why are we taught to keep quiet sometimes to insure that somebody else's happiness is not compromised.
All of these questions are so interesting to me! I really find this book beautifully written and full of engaging questions and ways of thinking. Troubling happiness...