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by S. E. Chambers


What is happiness? The media have done a great job defining happiness, thus the demand for mood stabilizers. I was prescribed a pill for happiness, one for sadness, and another to deal with reality in the hopes that all the pills working together would help me accept myself. After reading Andrew Delbanco's essay "Are You Happy Yet?" in the New York Times Magazine's 7 May 2000 issue, I realized that everyone is striving to achieve an important goal with the wrong instructions. I was relieved; I had wondered why it was so hard being happy with what life dealt me.

Instead of trying to be happy with what we have, we often feel the need to compete with other people's happiness. Competitiveness and selfishness are deeply embedded in our business-oriented culture. Unfortunately, I have experienced many competitive friends. It usually begins with a few comments on what they notice about themselves in comparison to me. Afterwards, they are commenting on these differences in public and trying to discredit me in front of strangers and even mutual acquaintances. For an example, my ex-best friend was a fast reader. Instead of enjoying this accomplishment on her own, she needed to tell everyone that she could read faster than this person or that person. It got to a point where she would buy the same books I was reading and call to tell me the ending before I could finish it. The American media have expressed this seemly innocent competitive nature in a more extreme form. In movies like Single White Female and American Psycho competitiveness, whether with a co-worker or best friend, drives the antagonist to kill. In American Psycho, the main character was infuriated because his co-worker had a whiter business card than he. Instead of finding a whiter shade for his business card, he decided to eliminate the competition.

Here is another point. Success is constantly getting confused with happiness. Success is what we accomplish. Happiness is what we feel inside. We are misinformed that happiness can be bought. For most of us, happiness is that "melancholy in the midst of [our] abundance", writes Delbanco. But true happiness is achieved not by getting the bigger, better, faster merchandise, contrary to popular belief. In fact I have a tendency to use my credit card because it helps blind me to the fact that I don't have money. I am a successful consumer but I am not happy when I receive my statement. Borrowed money allows me to buy things in the moment of my want. It gives me that ignorant bliss before I can logically dispute the product's necessity. Like most Americans, I have managed to spend myself into poverty trying to be happy. Delbanco claims that "Americans will continue to strive to achieve that state of nirvana or ultimate bliss through abundance of material goods". I for one will be truly happy when the media stop bombarding me with useless products.

We shouldn't compete with other people's happiness. And we should remember that when purchasing happiness with credit, we are purchasing our misery in one complete swipe. I admit that on my good days I am relatively happy but most days I am just living. I deserve a break from trying to meet society's ideals of the perfect consumer and perfect happiness.

Works Cited
Delbanco, Andrew. 2002. "Are You Happy Yet?" The New York Times Magazine, 7 May, section 6, pp 44-45.
American Psycho. 2000. Film.

© 2002 S. E. Chambers