Recently a friend told me that I deserve to be happy? Hearing those words took me back to one of the darkest times in my life–a season I touch on in the links on my last post, DMX and the Ballad of the Brokenhearted. Prior to the emotional crash I chronicle in that and other posts, I was actually resolved to forgive and move beyond the pain of that time just as I had with other challenges in my life. And then people who knew me from work started telling me that I “deserved to be happy”. At first, I didn’t really know how to respond to that assertion. Before my coworkers tried to convince me that I deserved happiness, I had never actually thought about that idea.
Actually, the whole concept of “deserving happiness” was foreign and didn’t make a lick of sense to me. The way I looked at it was if I deserved happiness then I wouldn’t have had many of the painful experiences that I wrestle with to this day. In fact, one of the main reasons I could live with some of my experiences was because it never occurred to me that I deserved anything else. I just got what I got and had to do my best to deal with it and not pass it on to anyone else.
But now, I was being told that all this time I “deserved happiness”. So, always one to consider different points of view, I decided to give it some serious thought. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the positive effect that people thought it would have on me. In fact, it had quite the opposite. The more I contemplated this possibility of my right to happiness, the more I began to consider that, if it was true that I deserved to be happy, that meant that everyone who had ever transferred their pain to me was guilty of stealing my happiness–to include this racist society whose original architects established their right to happiness with the abject thievery of peoples who looked like me as well as the indigenous peoples of this land. (They treated others like crap too before they got promoted to white status i.e. Irish, Polish, Italian, Chinese) Well, needless to say, it was a quick leap from potential happiness to downright pissedoffticity. From there I went to feeling sorry for myself. That led to shame, then self hate, to hate for the people who treated me poorly, to hatred of God and this entire garbage world. Eventually I ended up in the situation referred to in the DMX posts.
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you… They hated me without a cause.” ~ Jesus (John 15)
As someone who knew what it was like to be jumped at school by a group of boys led by a kid from my own church only to come home to–let’s just say–an unkind, so called minister, stepdad, I had no illusions that I “deserved happiness”. I barely expected to survive to eighteen. My only solace came in the awareness that I lived in the same world that killed Jesus, which for me meant that I couldn’t take the crap that happened to me personally. My lips were always ready to say, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” But this was not compatible with the idea of deserving happiness from this world. At that time anyway, the cognitive dissonance was too much and I pretty much lost it. There’s more to the story than that, but essentially that thought sent me into a spiral of confusion.
“Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'” ~ Jesus to his disciples (Luke 17)
One of the things about me being a Bible nerd at that time was that I literally didn’t think I deserved a thing for being a “Good Christian/person”. I saw myself as a slave to Jesus who was commanded to be forgiving and had no say in the matter. I didn’t even think I deserved gratitude or recognition. My blessing was that God had given me a heart to forgive. Hallelujah! Nothing else could offer me a greater sense of happiness than residing close to the heart of God. But that was wall strained by the thought of entitled happiness. No offense to the people who believe that.
That one thought led me to a dark re-imagining of my past experiences which in turn led me to standing in a mirror condemning myself for all my “years of stupidity” and consequently losing sight of my own reflection. When that happened, the path of self destruction started. Well, if you read the posts prior to this one you know what happened next.
In the end I went back to the mindset that I, nor anyone else “deserves happiness”. I expressed this most succinctly in my post, Lasting Happiness – The Greatest Lie Ever Sold. Of course, I don’t expect too many people to get excited by this idea–most especially people who identify as white. I say this because when I look back on it, the only people who ever told me I deserved to be happy were white people. I imagine there are other people from other racial and ethnic groups who might also think that they “deserve happiness”, but I have never met them. Perhaps that is because, like me, it probably feels pretty hurtful to be told you deserve happiness when you can’t go pass a police officer without considering that if you have an encounter with one they might shoot you in the face for grabbing your cell phone. It might be difficult to think that happiness should be yours when you have to work multiple minimum wage jobs just to barely survive. Happiness might seem a little elusive when your elders are emotionally scarred and stunted because they are dealing with personal or inherited trauma from their land being stolen and their families murdered or them witnessing their leaders martyred trying to pursue the right to pursue a happiness they never even got close to.
So to answer my own question. No, I do not deserve to be happy. But I will consider the possibility that I can work on creating it for myself and I’ll do everything I can to enjoy whatever happiness I can when I am graced with it.
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” ~ Jesus (John 15)
Note: Sharing the personal reasons why I don’t believe people “deserve happiness” doesn’t take anything away from people who do believe it or poor white people and other people living with hardships who, for their own reasons, also have a hard time with the notion that everyone “deserves happiness”. I am also open to being totally wrong and am “happy” to listen to coherent ideas that are contrary to my own.