The other day, over a lunch-time pint, someone asked me to name the number-one thing I absolutely need to be happy.
Now that’s a heavy question, but a welcome change from the usual mind-numbing converse of hair and clothes and weight gain and weight loss and money and Christmas shopping and bullshit.
It’s a big question alright, with an infinite number of answers, especially when happiness means different things to different people.
I think, for most people, it’s a hard question to answer. Because most people never stop to ask if they’re happy at all, let alone what they need – what they really need – to be so.
Just a few years ago, I would have answered this question with something like “friendship,” or “true love,” or “a rewarding career.” Years before that, I am red-faced to admit my answer might have been something like “bigger tits” or “a smaller ass.” From month to month and year to year, the answer would change, as would I.
Now, at the ripe old age of 34, I know exactly what my answer is. I also know that, while I am still continually changing, my answer to this question will not. Because the answer itself allows for change, from now until my expiry date.
What’s the one thing I need to be happy? Above all else, I need to be myself.
Not some version of me watered down by expectation and fear. What a waste.
Not who strangers expect me to be when first we meet. Pretending is so exhausting.
Not how I’d have to be to keep up with the Joneses. The Joneses can suck it.
Not like the people on TV and in magazines. This is it, baby.
Not the girl my husband secretly wishes I was.
Not how my mother would have me.
Not even as my dad would have wanted me to be.
Not another kind of mom. Max seems to like me just as I am.
I’m not even halfway through my life (I hope), but I’ve already spent too much time filtering out the parts of me that were inelegant and awkward, turning down the parts of me that were too loud or too bright, to fly under the radar with the rest of the perfectly normal people.
And it’s my own fault. Nobody, except me, demanded anything else of me than who I was. It took me three decades to fully realize it, but the truth is: people fucking love it when you’re real. You know, as long as you’re not a real asshole or a serial killer or a cow fucker or something.
It’s simple logic. How can you be happy if you’re not being yourself? You’re just trying to make the make-believe version of yourself happy, and that doesn’t make any sense, stupid.
Of course, it can seem tricky if you don’t actually know who you are. But here is the thing: we are all still trying to figure out who we are. It’s a lifelong search. We are seekers of the truth — that’s who we are. And I reckon that’s a great who to be.
So if you’re bonkers, be bonkers. (“I’ll tell you a secret — all the best people are,” said Alice.)
If you’re smart, be smart.
If you’re beautiful, be beautiful.
If you’re not beautiful, yes you are.
If you’re flawed, work with it. Nobody said you had to be perfect.
If you want to say fuck on the Internet, say fuck on the Internet.
If you’re gay, for the love of god be your gay ass self.
Who you are is always right.
You know who had it spot-on? Doctor Seuss. See, I guess I’ve known the answer to this happiness question for some time now, because I scrawled it on Max’s bedroom wall nearly four years ago. I was seven months pregnant, perilously standing on a wooden chair, determined to hand-paint a quote up near the ceiling, all the way around the room. I had searched for weeks for the one piece of wisdom I would like to impart on my first child above all, ultimately choosing one of Seuss’s lesser-known lines:
“Today you are You, that is a truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
Maybe when I redecorate his room one day, I’ll change it to this one, also by the good doctor:
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”