Robert Cormack

1 year ago · 5 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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Happiness Is Boring

The un-glamorized truth about our otherwise cheery lives.

Happiness Is Boring_? )

I have been to The Land of Happy — what a bore.” Shel Silverstein

In Silverstein’s “The Land of Happy” everyone’s merry. They joke, they sing, they laugh. So why does he call it boring? Perhaps because that’s all they do. It’s what William Burroughs called “wanting the victory without the war.”

Throughout history, many wars were avoided by paying money instead. The other side toddled off with the cash, and you won by default. It was great if you didn’t want to get slaughtered—but hardly worth a victory parade.

Paris paid off the Vikings, Rome paid off the Mongols. Interesting note: The Vikings and Mongols came back and invaded, anyway. That’s where the word “fleeting” comes from. Parisians knew their happiness was fleeting when the Viking fleets rowed back up the Seine.

We don’t have to worry about Vikings or Mongols anymore, but we do have to worry about “fleeting happiness.” Isn’t Silverstein’s “The Land of Happy” the same as being on Facebook? Millions of people go there each day, showing their vacations, their new patio, their last meal dining out.

Do we really need to know they’re renovating or getting enough roughage? We all know where roughage goes. That’s why we eat roughage.

And, look, it’s great that you made homemade burritos before the big game, but you’re still picking beans out of the rug the next day.

That’s real fleeting happiness.

Being joyful is a bit of a silver-lined rain cloud. We can say we’ve earned everything through hard work. So why aren’t we joyful about our accomplishments? Why do we only show pictures of what we’ve bought?

Psychology Today did a piece on how Facebook makes us sad. Based on a controlled study, they found that viewers experienced a sharp decline in their moods when they scrolled through gleeful faces and haute cuisine. Interestingly, this didn’t happen surfing the internet for information. Just Facebook — and obviously CNN.

Here’s the problem with Facebook: Consciously or subconsciously, people post to make others envious. Not surprisingly, it works. We get envious, then we get sad. Some of us get so depressed, we wouldn’t mind stuffing those merry faces in a few watermelons.

Not that we actually plan to stuff someone’s face into a watermelon. It’s still nice to know we could since we’ve got so many of them.

So why do we keep coming back each day? Psychologists call it “affective forecasting.” We go on Facebook thinking it’s going to make us feel better. What it does instead is rob us of joy. We feel we’re missing something in our lives. What brings us back the next day is hoping those happy, cheery vacationers are peeling like crazy or have sun stroke.

If they’re still okay, we get depressed again, spending more on watermelons than we should. Not that we actually plan to stuff someone’s face into one—but it’s still nice to know we could.

When Silverstein says “No one’s unhappy in Happy,” he’s also alluding to our need to enjoy happiness in groups. We go to festivals, revivals, exhibitions — essentially any function that involves people.

It’s a protective barrier, like those stone walls in medieval cities.

According to Psychology Today, getting off Facebook is a good start. Another is realizing that happiness isn’t a goal as much as a barrier.

We think happiness can protect us, much the way a barrier does. But barriers can work against us. Back in medieval times, armies were known to simply stand outside castles. They waited until the people inside either starved or realized they hated the people around them.

Walls don’t always protect us, in other words. As much as they seem to offer security, they also keep in the bad things.

During the Black Plague, for instance, everyone closed themselves in their castles, etc., only to discover there was more plague inside than out.

These days, we don’t have a lot of sieges and plagues, but happiness can still be irritating. Even your family can be irritating. George Burns once said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, close-knit family in another city.”

So how can we be happy without being boring? According to Psychology Today, getting off Facebook is a good start. Another is realizing that happiness isn’t a goal as much as a byproduct.

The reason people don’t always see this is because they distort happiness.They think it’s all Disney and chirping birds.

Walt Disney knew it was more than that. “We need to keep moving forward,” he said, “opening new doors and doing new things.” Variety is always the key, particularly on a grand scale like Disneyland. Without new, exciting ways to be happy, we figure it’ll fizzle—which it does.

Maybe that’s why some people never find joy. Like everything in our universe, you can only please people who want to be pleased. As Disney figured, if you spread the happiness over a few hundred acres of park, you stood a better chance of making people happy—again, variety.

Here’s another thing about theme parks. People thought they were crazy at the time, but Disney didn’t mind a little craziness. Happiness is crazy. If we laugh at silly, nonsensical things, we’re more likely to be happy.

As Julia Roberts once said “Happiness is only happiness if there’s a violin-playing goat.”

Maybe that’s why joy is fleeting. Like everything in our universe, it’s more or less a mistake. Much like love. Trying to figure it out is like trying to understand roughage. We just know it works.

It’s also hard to know happiness without sadness. We learn more from sadness than success. Sadness forces us to look inside ourselves. We take stock, we learn to face our shortcomings. We become realistic.

When—and if—things turn around, we’re more prepared to be happy. We’ve seen the bottom, now we can see ourselves growing again. That in itself is a lesson, and something successful people learn well.

Writers, for instance, learn from rejection to strengthen their will. They improve, they work at it. The happiness that comes when they do succeed is far more enduring. We figure we’ve earned happiness instead of relying on luck. Not that luck is a bad thing. We all need luck.

Luck makes us happy because we feel the universe is on our side. Sometimes it spurs us on, making us better, but it’s a mistake to depend on luck. So-called lucky people can also be very unhappy.

As Hunter S. Thompson once said: “Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it.”

Luck and happiness can co-exist. That doesn’t always mean they should. Relying on luck is like relying on God. At some point, even God is going to make you unhappy. Again, it’s a lesson, and luck—like God—is always there to remind us that life has its ups and downs.

It’s mercurial, in other words, and because it’s mercurial, we might as well be happy while we can. So what if it’s fleeting? Everything’s fleeting. Accept that and it’s much easier to be happy. It’s also good for how we look and feel. Drew Barrymore said it best: “Happiness is the best make-up.”

Which brings me back to Silverstein’s “The Land of Happy.” If you’re trying to be happy for happy’s sake, then, sure, it’s a bore. It comes with nothing, so there’s no reason for it to stick around.

You can joke, sing and be jolly all you like, but it’s still going to be fleeting. Even people dressed up as Disney characters know that.

Leo Tolstoy once said, “If you want to be happy, be.” It’s kind of a hanging sentence, but you get what he’s saying. Anyone can be happy—just don’t expect to find it scrolling through Facebook.

That’s someone else’s happy. Or it is until the credit card bill from that trip to Belize arrives in the mail.

Vacations are a bit like Vikings. As those medieval Parisians found out, you can’t trust Vikings. Nor can you trust life to make you joyful. Eventually you’ll get depressed and start eyeing those watermelons again.

Better to stay out of “The Land of Happy” and find what Franklin D. Roosevelt called “the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”

Put simply, it’s what you do that makes you happy, not what you expect. Unless it’s roughage. Then it’s what you do and what you expect.

I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice from Shel Silverstein:

“There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part. So just give me a happy middle. And a very happy start.”

Robert Cormack is a novelist, journalist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores (now in paperback). Check out Skyhorse Press or Simon & Schuster for more details.


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Robert Cormack

1 year ago #18

I guess we're all railing against sequestering, @Jerry Fletcher. Might be time to revisit Shel, possibly The Missing Piece.

Jerry Fletcher

1 year ago #17

Robert, There will never be another Shel. That makes me sad, but then I reflect on the joy I found when rerouted from Playboy I discovered and consumed everything I could find that he had authored. Thanks for giving me a bit of joy as I rail against sequestering because of a damn virus. And so it goes.

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #16

Glad you enjoyed the piece, Proma \ud83d\udc1d Nautiyal. We'd all like the Vikings to go away, unfortunately we seem to be a Viking nation these days, more interested in hoarding toilet paper than pouring our emotions into something constructive. It's a tough environment to write these days, but it should be giving us material. We're in the land of Raymond Carver where the disassociated make the best of what they are. It's not the happiness we see in movies or on Facebook, but it's there, or it might be there. Who knows? Happiness isn't necessarily boring. It's tough, though. Tough to find and tough to remember. Thanks again for reading.

Proma 🐝 Nautiyal

1 year ago #15

I obsess over the topic of happiness, all the time. It is fleeting, that's for sure. Before long, the Vikings of sadness are docking at the port of my mind and I will trapeze into periods of deep gloom because I am bored, irritated with the same and nothing's new. I then judge myself for feeling all these things, and again, before long, I have paid off the Vikings and they are off, again. This article has helped me visualize this entire episode so well! Yes, writers and creative people do need all their emotions to pour it into their works, I have experienced this myself, but of course, I would choose happiness over and over again. And the loop will continue.

Proma 🐝 Nautiyal

1 year ago #14

Robert Cormack This is one of the best pieces I have read, ever! Sharing across channels, networks, and the world. People need to read this.

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #13

I've been eating, sleeping and breathing Shel for years.

I remember the moment I could say to myself "I am a writer." My mind did backflips, somersaults, and cartwheels. Still--I kept it to myself for a long time. I studied a particular writer for a long, long time to be able to say it. He was a master of imagery. Lots of people didn't like him, so it always tickled me when people said my writing was like his, and they didn't like him. Because I did like his writing, and I was pleased as punch that my efforts had paid off. So I guess what I'm saying is maybe if you eat, sleep, and breathe Shel, he'll rub off on you. It worked for me.

Lyon Brave

1 year ago #11

Misery is boring!

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #10

I remember going up to my cousin's cottage and finding five Shel Silverstein books in her library. Her son was in his thirties, married, with a new baby. My cousin kept the books for the grandson. Whatever gauge we use today, the views, the claps, the fans, none of these compare with a book that hangs around for generations. I keep looking for Silverstein's secret. I've written over 200 children's poems. "Are any of these like Silverstein?" I'll ask Wendy, and polite as she is, she can't say yes (her two boys were also brought up on Silverstein). Something's amiss here.

There's always time for the "kid" in us. I used to say, "I had a childhood through my children." Times could never get so tough that magic failed to swirl through the air--it was a "thing" for me to provide them with as much magic as I could find. My scavenger hunt for childhood adventures was neverending. In recent times, I rekindled it when I pulled my 40-some-odd-old youngest out of sleep and brought him to somewhere magic. I miss those days, but my three volumes of Shel poetry sit on top of a bookshelf in the hall. We lost a great one when he left us.

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #8

Let's hope so, Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr. As Kramer once said: "I do what I do."

don kerr

1 year ago #7

Grew up hearing "anticipation is better than realization". Especially around birthdays and Christmas. It was a way to let me know I was unlikely to get the prezzies I wished for. Sucked at that time however as life has unwound its resonance grew. Love right now working with a number of clients who are trying to help others learn that 'being' is better than 'having'. I'll refrain from signing off with a be happy Robert Cormack. Just keep doing what you do. Maybe that's the ticket.

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #6

We get there eventually, Ken Boddie. Some mountains are better than others, but they're all worth climbing.

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #5

I still can't enough of Shel Silverstein, even though I'm in my senior years. Thanks for your comments Joyce \ud83d\udc1d Bowen Brand Ambassador @ beBee. Glad your son has found "Uncle Shel. "Wish he'd been around when I was a kid.

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #4

I must remember this Ian Weinberg. "Cure them or kill them, but don't fuck around." I think this says it all.

Ken Boddie

1 year ago #3

Perhaps we can only experience and appreciate happiness, Robert, when it is transient. Joy for me is in the journey, the planning and the preparation, because, once the goal is attained, satisfaction wanes. We climb mountains not because they’re there and we can, but to see what’s on the other side, and so a life of happiness and fulfilment can only, for some, be maintained in a rolling landscape full of other sides to be viewed by achievement. The alternative is surely, as you postulate, boredom. 🤗

We now even have happy pills making companies and their employees billions. So what's so wrong with happy? You and Shel are right--it's boring. [Love that guy.] We sometimes need a thrill. Not like the happy, but like, Shel Silverstein:Warning (Sharp-Toothed Snail) Inside everybody's nose There lives a sharp-toothed snail. So if you stick your finger in, He may bite off your nail. Stick it farther up inside, And he may bite your ring off. Stick it all the way, and he Might bite the whole darn thing off. It was my oldest son's favorite. I accredit Shel with teaching my son to read. He still wasn't reading in 2nd grade, and the above poem so enthralled him that he wanted to read all Shel's books without my help. Now there's a Happy.

Ian Weinberg

1 year ago #1

Great piece of prose with some profound insights Robert Cormack Essentially if you want to eat, you gotta be prepared to work in the kitchen - it also makes the food tastier ... until you have to clean up. And then I had this surgery chief whose mantra was ‘cure them or kill them but don’t fuck around!’

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