Pursuing happiness

It’s weird what can make me happy.

Sometimes it’s the totally expected. Of course peach pie makes me happy, even as the season winds down and the peaches ripen and rotten faster than ever. Of course mail makes me happy, even if it’s just that subscription box I can’t bring myself to cancel. Of course being outside makes me happy, even if it’s just getting to the park across from my apartment at sunset as kids walk goats on leashes.

But this week, as I got into my car after work and turned on Spotify to listen to the approximately eight minutes of music on my drive home, I noticed that one of my Daily Mixes, the themed playlists of which there are up to six depending on how much music you interact with, had become all French pop.

Now, the Daily Mixes are based on an algorithm based on the songs you listen to and like and all that, and while I could have just created playlists of the music I like (and I do!), seeing the Mix created felt like a reflection of my actions over the past six months (and the sheer amount of Louane I’ve listened to). In a way, part of what surprised me is how fulfilling it felt.

When the Daily Mixes work, they are very satisfying. They are coherent and refreshing and a nice way to get introduced to new music without having to only listen to new music, like being able to rock climb with a rope and harness, so that if you gamble and slip on a song you don’t like, you have the comfortable support of well-worn jams to keep you from falling face first into an unfamiliar oblivion.

So, I had been waiting for this day. The Daily Mixes refresh and regenerate daily (surprise!), but mine had stayed relatively consistent in overall theme. #1 had been (and still is) a list of energetic electronic songs that fit a 5am calltime just right. #2 was a lighter, more uplifting group of electronic songs. #3 was indie rock from the 2000s. #4 was rappers like Chance, Vince Staples, and Noname. #5 was classical. #6 was electronic beats.

The actions of creating playlists, liking songs, and repetition led to a new Daily Mix (though I’m still waiting on my Spanish rap playlist…). I realize it’s corny and silly to ascribe significance to Spotify finally delivering a playlist I’d been waiting six months for, but there is something broader I can’t shake about how the actions we take create our worlds. These Daily Mixes are based on actions, simple but consistent. Though I suppose one could game these lists, isn’t it better to see how they reflect what we really listen to, and what our choices really say about our taste in music?

Or, even more broadly, what our actions say about the life we’re putting together?

The answer that comes is clear, even if I’m less-than-aware of just how I got there.

Since March, I have made a concerted effort to incorporate French into my life, which is part of a broader trend since maybe forever of incorporating languages into my life (hi, Spanish degree!), and that leads me to thinking that French-related opportunities are more possible. It is the same idea with Spanish, though at a different level the French, because having fluency within reach (albeit a reach that requires concerted, concentrated and consistent effort) makes Spanish-adjacent opportunities seem borderline doable. So, when my daily actions lead me toward French instructional emails and pop songs, as well as Spanish tutors and international letters, my outlook, and my perspective, change accordingly.

All that is not to say reshaping my world doesn’t come without sacrifice, whether I’m aware or not. Each morning spent reviewing flashcards or sputtering through an hour of the subjunctive tense on Skype is an hour not spent reading books or writing stories or running ten miles. As I am made aware each year returning to work from a gloriously long hiatus, I don’t have infinite time. Asking what to do with that time has never returned the same answer, and that concerns me. Because as French opportunities seem more possible and Spanish opportunities seem more likely, what happens to the Me from a year ago, the Me who was crafting a world for himself of children’s literature, critique groups, revisions and agent submissions? I just received Kickstarter’s “hey it’s been a year since Monstrous Me was successfully funded!” email. Books sent to South Africa ten months ago ended back on my doorstep because mailing things to South Africa is a logistical nightmare. Having an interest in language and writing stories aren’t mutually exclusive (I could be writing a story instead of this letter, probably), but in acknowledging the less-than-infinite time I have as a working person (miss you, glorious hiatus!), my world shifts accordingly, to exercise, cooking, and… the thing that brings me happiness in the moment.

That happiness takes work. Lately, I’ve become more reluctant to sit back and watch or consume passively, figuring if I’m in a place where I want to relax, I should probably just sleep (and often do). So whether it’s writing and editing, dicing and sautéeing, or conjugating and translating, the pursuit and practice brings me pleasure, and that is what keeps me from feeling some crushing guilt about projects that fizzle or passions that take years-long hiatuses before getting picked back up. I find happiness in applying myself to the things I’m interested in, and so long as I stay open to those interests, and pursue them, the rewards have been gratifying. While the projects and passions have been scattershot and it would take a serious statistician to undertake a project extrapolating anything from the data of the last five years (Hi, book! Hi, social network! Hi, dinner party series!), the willingness to commit to curiosity (and say “Why not?” on occasion) has made a positive difference in my life. Would a commitment to one passion have returned greater results? I’m sure (hi, screenwriting career!), but that isn’t the world I’ve set up for myself.

Sometimes these pursuits have encouraging results. Sometimes, despite best efforts and significant expenses, they don’t. But in the pursuit, in that engagement and wonder and work, in the frustration from dried-out pork loins and messed up iambic pentameters and poorly conjugated past perfect tenses, there is often happiness. Sometimes that happiness comes from unexpected moments and weird ideas and mistakes and missteps and failures, but still, the happiness is there.

Leave a Comment