Note: As you will surmise from its introduction, this post is a few weeks late. Although I should have taken note from others who wrote about happiness before my attempt, this topic is not one to improvise. Nevertheless, I semi-did.
In celebration of the International Day of Happiness (March 20), this piece is dedicated to its pursuit and all those on the journey, Scott Mescudi included.
On a decidedly dreary day rapt with humidity and the constant threat of a thunderstorm, I was driving out east on Long Island. Now and then large droplets of rain smattered my windshield, and I was distracted. This isn’t the story of my driving habits, but stuck at a red light with Motion City Soundtrack (MCS) lulling me in the background, I didn’t know what I wanted for anything. What kind of person did I want to be? How did I want to get there? Where was home and where did I want it to be? These and other similar questions pervaded my thoughts because I felt the weighty pressure that I should have an inkling of an answer for some at the very least.
But I don’t.
As kids we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. Firefighters, astronauts, doctors, and rich are a few common answers. But when we finish college, no one, in my experience, asks the question again (hopefully due to our already being “grown up”). Others expect you to know and have the tools to do or become whatever because of the American dream and your Bachelor’s degree, the modern high school diploma. But we didn’t have time to figure out what we wanted because we were busy earning marks in an education that afforded less time to learn about ourselves than facts.
(Please don’t stop reading here. This is not your prototypical internet diatribe about how millennials have it bad because of past generations. There are always advantages and difficulties for everyone no matter the era; we don’t live in a world of easy dichotomies and clear links to blaming others for current issues.)
Upon realizing that I never felt as though I was afforded time to figure out what I wanted to do, I stopped (and not just because of that red light). If I let myself take the time to slow down and figure out what would make me happy and how I might go about achieving that, the world wouldn’t stop spinning. In fact it might keep spinning with a brighter me on it.
Back to that red light: After making my way back to the main road from a wrong turn, “Days Will Run Away” began. Not only is this the closer on MCS’s last album Panic Stations, but it is also their swan song. The track itself is a post-rock lament through the lens of a pop-punk band, and it made me feel like everything was all right while describing an apocalypse in which everything happens at once, and nothing means anything. This is where MCS become Nietzschean disciples but with arguably more flair and a more modern ear for melody.
Yet what does a nihilist pop song have to do with happiness in one’s life? For me, it’s liberating. Under the notion that nothing matters, one can truly be free to do as one pleases without impeding others’ pursuits of happiness (hello, reason we have laws). With lives as short as ours, how can humans stand to despair for any portion of their respective lives? Often we choose to keep our heads down as we grind to earn high grades or climb professional ladders, but choosing to do this in lieu of time spent enjoying oneself might not be worth future, potential payoffs. (During the previous sentence’s creation, I side-eyed with all I could muster at the notion of “paying one’s dues.”)
In essence, it is difficult to attribute true, lasting meaning in a world as scarily mutable as our own. Even harder is it to prescribe such meaning when you don’t know who you are or what you want to be. Thus a red light in life might provide just enough of a stop to reevaluate and learn what one needs to know in order to know oneself and eventually give one’s life its own, unique meaning.
With the few decades I have to enjoy the time I was given, I don’t plan on feeling existentially doomed for all of it. Instead I choose to be happy on the road of a life with meaning.