Part of my work as his partner is to recognize his unhappiness and to sit alongside him in it, when he needs me to do so.
I recently stumbled across the book The Promise of Happiness, in which philosopher Sara Ahmed considers how this cultural promise of happiness is actually problematic. She argues that our focus on happiness relies on false notions of what happiness is and how it comes about. Ahmed also identifies four groups of people who fight for social justice and challenge the moral imperative to be happy: “the feminist killjoy, the unhappy queer, the angry black woman, and the melancholy migrant.”
I think this impulse comes from a sense that happiness is success and that to fail to be happy is to fail to be successful.
Of course, philosophers have long argued over what happiness is, exactly. Is happiness the feeling of pleasure? The absence of melancholy? Or is it something else — something more in line with what we would call “well-being”? Maybe happiness is just one effect of living a life that is challenging and rich in experience. Happiness isn’t the only effect of this kind of living, of course: To face real sorrow, to fight for justice that has not been fulfilled, or to live with physical or emotional suffering is to experience the world in what Thoreau would call its “meanness.”
I can’t make Dan happy, and he can’t make me happy. We won’t promise to do so.