It’s really not.*
Scanning the radio on the way to work the other morning, I happened upon a DJ talking about an article he’d seen somewhere stating that 37 is the age at which men are the most happy. It sounded like a bunch of horse shit to me (most morning DJ shows are), but I looked it up when I got to work, and sure enough–studies have concluded that a man will never be happier than he is when he reaches 37 years old. This is purportedly the magic age by which a man will find himself surrounded and supported by a strong social network of friends and family, successfully grounded in a career, and having started a family of his own. 37 is also an age that happens to be in a perfect sweet spot of human development–at once both far enough removed from those awkward formative years and still approximately ten years away from the dreaded midlife crisis. Hell… my father is even on record as having told me that a man’s 30s are his best years because it marks the first time when he truly knows himself–his identity, his limitations and his strengths–and he is still young enough to be a formidable force and make noise in the world.
I’ll be 36 in about a month, which theoretically means that I’m a little over 13 months away from being the happiest I will ever be in my life. As Caddyshack’s Carl the groundskeeper said, “So I’ve got that goin’ for me, which is nice.” Color me cynical, but I have a hard time buying into this. I’m currently at one of the lowest points I have ever been in my life (and believe you me, I’ve had some low spots), I’m as far removed from starting a family or feeling grounded in a career as I could possibly be, and I could count the number of true friends I have on one hand (and I’d still have fingers left over).
It sure as hell ain’t a warm puppy, Chuck.
As far as I’m concerned, happiness is a myth. Well, maybe that’s a bit strong, but if we’re being honest here, the concept of happiness is an entirely subjective one. Happiness means different things to different people, and in my mind it means that beautiful intersection of contentment and emotional well-being that I can’t quite seem to get hold of. I’ve done an awful lot of introspection lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I can never be truly happy–that I’m fundamentally flawed and incapable of finding happiness (by my definition of the word). Period. I’ve also concluded that I am equally incapable of making others happy–that my only true talent in life lies in making the people I love miserable.
I’ve shouldered a number of burdens in my time, and I understand now that I’ve shouldered those burdens at the expense of both my own happiness and well-being and the happiness and well-being of those closest to me. I thought I had figured this out once before, and I made a selfish move then that I thought was necessary not just for the sake of my own self-preservation, but for the sake of someone I cared deeply about. Now that the dust has settled, I realize that I made the wrong choice. But there’s nothing to do now but move forward, right? Or is there? There are other options, though they are admittedly not very good ones. I’ve been trudging along like the goddamn Little Engine That Could for so long now (“I think I can… I think I can…”) expecting the pieces to fall into place and life to start making sense, or at the very least start showing signs of progress or improvement, but I keep finding myself stuck at the bottom of the hill and I don’t know that I have it in me to make it up the hill. I don’t think I have the strength to reinvent myself anymore–to wipe the slate clean and start all over yet again–but I simply don’t see another reasonable course of action I could possibly take.
“I think I can… I think I can…”
One of the few friends I can count on one hand made an incorrect assumption about me the other day. I told her I was done with idealism, and she suggested that I was full of shit because I “think it can’t get any blacker, so there is nothing to do but look up.” I quickly corrected her, stating that I didn’t think it could get any better, not blacker. I know damn well it can definitely get blacker.
* I owned this exact edition of Happiness is a Warm Puppy as a child, and I distinctly remember getting my first papercut on one of its thick, glossy pages. When you’re three or four years old, the last thing you think can hurt you is a book–especially that book.