I haven't written in a couple months. I'm going to blame it on Thanksgiving and Christmas. After all, it's difficult to pontificate about anything profound between gluttonous inhalation of food and drink with friends and family. But I was recently inspired by an interview I read on the back flap of Vanity Fair magazine. This space is reserved for different celebrities and public figures responding to portions of the Proust Questionnaire. Marcel Proust was a French writer who believed that people must know and understand themselves before they could know or understand others. He developed a list of subjective questions that he felt would help reveal to people their true selves and the inner personalities of those around them. Usually, the responses are concise and, sometimes, satirical.
However, I was particularly interested as I turned to the back of the magazine and saw that last month's subject was David Byrne, the lead singer and creative force behind one of my all time favorite bands, The Talking Heads. Besides being one of the most fun bands to have playing in the background of a good party, Byrne had also written lyrics that were profound and thought provoking—a thinking man's dance-party band. And so, when I started reading, I saw that he had decided to be the opposite of concise and really dig into the first question:
VF: What's your idea of perfect happiness?
DB: Wow, these are big questions! Happiness, as I’ve experienced it and observed it in others, seems to be random—some of us are happy fairly regularly (I am, mostly), and some of us not as much—but there seems to be no clear explanation as to why. It comes and goes at unexpected moments, too. The graph of happiness doesn’t even seem to match what is going on in our lives. Or maybe it does and we don’t know it. Money—is there a connection between money and happiness? It takes away a world of worries and anxieties, but are rich folks all happy? Are you kidding? Donald Trump is ALWAYS scowling. That said, it’s hard to be happy if you don’t know where you’ll sleep or where your next meal is coming from. The pursuit of happiness? Where are we supposed to look? Are there clues hidden somewhere? The very act of searching and striving for it can lead to frustration and unhappiness. I suspect that happiness finds you—I’m not sure you can find a road that leads to it. Happiness is everywhere, though some cultures are, I’ve read, happier overall than others—G.N.P. be damned. Is sunshine one of those things? Are tropical folks generally happier?
They would, if you don’t believe in heavenly rewards, be then deemed the winners in the meaning-of-life sweepstakes. Those cultures, along with some of our animal friends. Dogs, birds, otters, seals, and dolphins have moments of pure happiness—it’s not a feeling unique to human beings. My hunch is that it’s an evolved survival mechanism that lots of species share—we have evolved to have regular sporadic moments of happiness. They keep us from totally sinking into contemplating our life stories, which ultimately always have a bad ending. In an evolutionary sense, some of those joyous moments might be clues to things that help us survive. Happiness emerges sometimes when we’re around family and friends—if it’s a comfortable and supportive situation. When we’ve had a good meal. Completed a task or had an inspiration.
Mr. Byrne's answer pretty much speaks for itself. So, I'm going to refrain from scrutiny or analysis. I just thought I'd share his thoughts because it made me think about the meaning of happiness for the next hour. Smiling at different moments in time where I wanted to be no place else and with no one else. Complete contentment and satisfaction.
The final question posed to Byrne expounded on his answer above. He was much more succinct with his answer, and I thought it was perfect:
VF: When and where were you happiest?
DB: Hanging with friends. Kissing someone. Singing. Riding a bike.
Because how could you not be happy riding a bike, especially a beach cruiser. Hope everyone has a Happy New Year.