It’s Sunday and I’m lying in bed, relaxing after yesterday’s excitement. It has given me a moment to think about happiness. The picture above is of Gordon’s place, Zizkovsiska, which I miss horribly as it’s closed for the Summer. I was always happy there. Great movies, soup, and music. It must be said that it isn’t always the most comfortable place, but that’s good as comfort breeds laziness.
I’ve talked before about my laziness and how I’m working against it, today I will give you what I think is the main reason for it.
“Are you happy here?” My Dad asked me one night at my parents old house. I’d been staying there for the Summer since the uni was closed.
My dad gets me so I knew I could be honest.
“I’m more comfortable, but not fully happy.”
To my reasoning, comfort and happiness, while not in opposition to each other, are not directly related. They are neither friends or enemies, they just have different interests.
Eating enough makes you comfortable, but not happy. The happiness of food is in its novelty or its context, how you got said food and why you’re eating. This is why, in my mind, though we have more material items in our life than ever and fewer of us are hungry as a percentage than ever, we still suffer historic highs of depression, anxiety, and concomitant suicide.
We have gotten to a point of human history where we can produce so much for so many people, but it doesn’t fulfill us. It can’t. Stuff is just stuff. And stuff is not happiness. The happiest places in the world are not necessarily the richest. Instead, happy places tend to result from a different understanding of how the world works, and this is it.
Stuff does not equal happiness. Comfort isn’t even the most important defining issue. Happiness comes from a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement, and a sense of community.
In my new life here, I have seldom found myself comfortable. Talking to strangers in a language they are not totally familiar with is hard. Travelling between classes on crowded metros is hard. The weather here is difficult, cold Winters and blistering Summers. On top of that, many of the little things are different from the stuff I grew up with. Light switches flick up instead of down. Toilet locks go from vertical to horizontal instead of the opposite. Add to the this the language difference and the sheer terror when you encounter somebody you need something important from who doesn’t speak your language, and does not seem interested in finding a mutual level of understanding, and you get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly.
But have I been happy? Fuck, yes.
The people are grand and most things are not so difficult as they might seem from my description above. I’ve got the sense of community from my friends and the places I go, and I’m getting my sense of purpose continually reaffirmed when my students get a little noticeably better. It feels good to be living independently and to be engaged. Both of these are achievements, as it isn’t easy keeping someone interested when you mess up like I do from time to time, and the Czech wage and rent inflation makes housing here a challenge.
I’m even beginning to get a little comfortable. Light switches make sense now. I don’t need to double check every bathroom lock so I can shut the door with confidence. I understand a bit of the language and can get by in most situations with my miming powers. The weather is still a pain, but in the absence of sci fi tech that will keep it at a constant of 20C with decent humidity and a gentle breeze there’s nothing I can do.
To sum up, happiness takes a lot more effort than comfort. It takes time and you have to foster a community and find a purpose. It’s very worth it though, as when you get past the pointless distractions you uncover how much capacity the human soul has for pleasure and for love.