Will and Jada Smith recently shared a very vulnerable moment with all of us. It was a brave thing- a rather bold endeavor that was, in parts, uncomfortable for me.
Jada relates how at a point in their marriage she desired to find happiness. In her own words; “I was in a lot of pain, I was very broken”, she said. It was a point where the marriage had hit a rough patch and she explains “It has been so long since I felt good”.
In a 10 mins clip that was widely circulated on the internet, Jada narrated how she got into an “entanglement with August”. Ultimately, she learned that “you can’t find happiness outside of yourself” and there, her pursuit ended. Rather poetic, one might say.
For context, Will and Jada Smith are one of Hollywood’s most celebrated couples. Music artistes have repeatedly made references to the union as emblematic of a healthy marriage. It is not my intention to either attack or impeach this impression; more so, an unfortunate event does not in any way impugn the quality of their union. Every marriage faces its own challenges and sacrifices are required.
In all of the world’s obsession with happiness and frustrations with not finding happiness, it is rather ironic that it is perhaps one of the easiest things to find on planet earth and when you find it, it is not the most important thing in life.
This idea may be difficult for a generation of youth stuck in a state of continuous self-comparison; who are living every moment from the lenses of how much another had taken out of a similar moment- a road rage to mutually-assured self-destruction.
The first step to real happiness lies in understanding that you will not always be happy in the world and that the selfish pursuit of happiness does not lead to happiness.
Happiness is a state- a fleeting state that comes and goes. The idea that you can and you should be happy all of the time is a dangerous idea that continues to ruin lives. Happiness is not a thing you can get by focusing on it. The selfish pursuit of happiness just for its sake is a certain path to depression.
Youths are often taken by the Nihilistic Carpe Diem/YOLO philosophy- an idea summarised by Walter Pater as “we were all under sentence of death, and the only course was to enjoy exquisite moments simply for those moments” to which Chesterton famously remarked that the Carpe Diem philosophy is a religion of the unhappy. As liberating as it may sound, there is nothing that signals “help me!” as the irrational behaviors of people devoted to the YOLO religion.
So, happiness is a lot of things but it isn’t self-destructive. Young people have been sold the idea that happiness is selfish; that real happiness is doing whatever you want, whenever you want but they soon fall into the misery of unmet expectations. Happiness does not come from nothing, it is attained through responsibility and a sense of duty to others (“purpose” if you like).
The paradox of happiness is that it is not to be found by pursuing it for its sake, it is not a personal possession. It is public infrastructure, it is not the roller-coaster, it’s like a train ride; sometimes, you’d help someone get in, other times someone would help you get in; sometimes, someone would give up his seat for you; other times, you’ll give up your seat; sometimes you are not in the train because you don’t need it to get to where you are headed. You take a footpath and appreciate the lessons. The more important thing in life is whatever you are doing.