By: Lauren Waites
I was 2,600 miles away from my friends, my pets, and my bed, and I wanted nothing more than tangible evidence that I existed in those moments in El Paso, Texas, or Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Fort Smith, Arkansas. Essentially, I hungered to reach what I thought I had been searching for; happiness, or those forces which drive happiness.
In the blazing summer of 2015, my family took a road trip from California to Tennessee, to drop off my sister, Kyla, at Fisk University. On the way there, I made a deal with myself that for every day I spent in a new city, I would find one person to interview about what it means to be happy. I would start off with, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to pry, but I’m doing a social experiment, so may I ask, do you consider yourself a happy person?” In Blythe, California, a cashier responded with, “I work at Jack-In-The-Box.” A few states over, in El Paso Texas, a seventeen year-old bookstore clerk at Barnes & Noble said, “I’m happy, sure, but really I’m just bored.”
For two weeks, it went on like this, short answers and long explanations, simple yes’ and stern no’s. There were anxious looks from mothers as they wondered if they would be considered bad parents had they said, “No, I am not happy.” I talked to priests, tattoo artists, daughters, brothers, taxi drivers, and cousins who all had something different to say about happiness, yet I still felt that there was something more, something just beyond my reach. Thus, in our last stretch of driving before getting back home, I reflected upon my findings and I decided that I would continue the project until the end of the summer, which was winding down.
A week before school started, I took a trip to Venice Beach where I walked up and down the boardwalk asking strangers if they considered themselves to be happy people. I realized that no matter how far away I was from Albuquerque, or El Paso; the answers in California didn’t vary much from the answers in Tennessee. Suddenly, 2,600 miles didn’t seem so far away, when I realized that regardless of race, class, generation, or location, some things just seem to stay the same. Throughout the rest of the day, I met very different people with a lot of the same advice to give, and a lot of the same reasons for giving them.
On the boardwalk, I walked past a vending tent decorated with tapestries and Buddhist symbols, where a thick smell of incense loomed from the inside. I walked up and asked the question of the day, and the response I got, from a woman named Amber, surprised me. She noted that, “While I consider myself a happy person, I think it’s more important to be whole than happy.” She described it as a book, “The more authenticity and pain, the more whole it becomes, and the more it is worth it to read. ” Emphasizing that happiness matters less than wholeness. That you can be whole without being completely happy but you cannot be happy without, first, being whole.
Finally, I found what I had been looking for, and it was never that far away to begin with. I took Amber’s advice and began living my life in search of something more than just happiness. I wanted to experience the good with the bad and delve into all of it. In many ways, I’m not sure if I’ll ever obtain what I’m in search of, but I’m willing to reach for it anyway, who knows, maybe it’s closer than it seems.