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It’s been said that you cannot live a happy life, but only a heroic one – and in the ongoing bravery of that choice, find a fulfilment that feels something like what we imagine happiness to be.

Regarding your situation, it’s probably useful to adjust your sense of what happiness is and can be: not a place, a destination that, once we enter, we never leave, but, as Stanley Cavell says, “a task.” Happiness is a series of efforts: it’s something sustained, like health; it doesn’t hold up in your idleness. The first efforts in gaining ground on happiness begin with your response to the pressures of negativity, disappointment, restlessness, loneliness (felt say, in the absence of your partner). Unfortunately, in these muddy states, there doesn’t exist a switch to diametrically alter how we feel. So initially, you have to remember that this project is a process, a procedure. Before you can expect a consuming sensation of “happiness,” you have to first untangle yourself from the negative, and offload that weight, to create a vacancy in your mind-body for the desired warmth to enter.

Technically, this means leaving or letting aside, the feelings of negativity. I like to picture myself sinking into a lower frequency, slipping below, peaceful, sometimes using meditative techniques, focusing on the binary rhythm of my breath, descending from the chatter of anxious thoughts. Sadness to happiness is a circumnavigation, not an instantaneous change.

Another word I like to have by my side is “deceleration.” The pace of negativity is hasty, rapid, impatient: our behaviours reflect this when we’re upset: we twitch and check our phones, stress-eat, fidget: all manifest the frantic and panic of negativity.

Again, if we want to carve a zone for happiness to enter it will have to be gentle, even-tempered one. So try to decelerate: move slower, think slower, breath slower – slow everything down, every thought and every faculty of yourself.

Now is when your actions turn from privative to constructive – as you begin to activate happiness. Do simple things – smile even if you don’t mean it, you might just trick your body. Recite 5 things that you are grateful for right at this moment. Flex and amplify your body – stretch, shadowbox, amplify yourself as though you feel confident taking up space on this earth – abandon your shame and moult your guilt. Doing this over and over will congregate a muscle that eventually works on its own, keeping your sadness at bay.

Never, even when faced with impasse and difficulty, submit to conclusive decisions about the state of the world and of you. To be cynical is foolish: it is to believe you are so omniscient that you can predict the outcome of all things, that you’ve seen how things essentially are, and you are depressed in the face of that vision. It is rash and presumptuous.

happy man sitting

Optimism is not a matter of deciding whether things are essentially ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ – its romance is an imperative, optative study in what we might become, where we might go. It is to be brave and hopeful, to galvanize the heart: to overcome, again and again, the corrosive forces that stream to defeatism — it persists in defiance of skepticism. It remembers the world, and the present moment, as fecund with possibility.

(Ginsberg, “Who be Kind to”)

Do you believe happiness can be learned?