Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Conclusions on Happiness

A drawing from the midst of catastrophic mental breakdown. Tokyo, March 2016

In general, we wish happiness for the people we care about.

Nowadays I find it very difficult to feel this wish. Now it may just be that I am a terrible friend. But maybe there is something else to it, too.

In Japan, a country I am about to leave after five years, I experienced for the second time a long, dark night of the soul. It was most of all in the unspeakable pain of this ordeal that I became conscious of the smiling masks and proclamations of happiness that surrounded me everywhere. Here there is no escape from it. It appears that displaying happiness at all times is seen as an obligation, policed in everyone by everyone; while on the other hand, expressing a hint of dissatisfaction is a considered a sin which merits the punishment of social death.

For long, long months, I would find not a shred of compassion in my surroundings. Even while butchered inside by neverending heartbreak, I was shunned, judged, rumoured about, lectured to on Reality and How Life Works, and told I was faking it for attention. There were even those who condemned me for writing critical stories and sad poetry, and said, as though it were obvious, that I should try writing happy things instead. Tokyo was a perfect zero-empathy environment which I barely survived, has at the end left me shipwrecked, and whose wounds on my soul will burn for years to come.

Perhaps that is why I have come to look upon happiness as a loathsome, horrible thing.

Tokyo, March 2016

Indeed, in a world as oppressive and exploitative as this one, there are few things I find so repugnant as happy and comfortable people. The instinct, when faced by those people, is to rage: how dare you find it in yourself to be satisfied with this world, where your happiness is necessarily enabled by systems whose defining feature is their destruction of the bodies, minds, hearts and souls of every person they were not designed to benefit?

In other words, each of us who is in a position to be happy, is there not because he or she has chosen it – enough of that feeble fakery, those endless platitudes that you make your happiness for yourself. No: if you are capable of choosing to be happy, it is because you are privileged with at least a certain condition of resources, relationships or power over your life to be able to do so. It is because you are not shrieking with the impossible pain of having those conditions robbed by the social and economic structures under which you live when they deem you different or inferior.

And that is why to wish happiness for those I care about would feel like wishing a curse upon them. Wishing upon them a toxic condition: the ability to be alright with a broken reality, to be happy while knowing that it makes them complicit in, say, the established structures of family or affectionate relationships, the employment structures, and the hierarchies of race, sex or class that they happen to be privileged by, and which in the same action exclude and tear down so many others. What astronomical selfishness, what barbarous indifference, is required to feel such happiness! Is that not a dehumanizing condition to live in, in the same way that torture also breaks the torturer?

Perhaps that is why happiness comes across as so hideous to me. Only a heart of the darkest villainy could truly feel happy and satisfied in a world like this. It does not matter if it was not their hands that built their pleasure boats, or shaped and filled the canals of blood and tears through which they ride them. They are wilfully benefiting from that infrastructure, and that makes them complicit in its crimes.

Tokyo, April 2016. The allusion is to the convenience stores and separation of rubbish types in Japan. Above the door: “Society”. On the bins, from left to right: “unhappy people”, “thinking people”, “feeling people”, and “non-burnable rubbish”.

Perhaps deep down, many of them know this. Perhaps all such happiness is a mask, however thick, to conceal a conscience wracked with poison and decay, and which, deep in its inner sanctum, knows its own feebleness, and dreads a day when it will be measured and held to account for what it has done. Perhaps the happy person is really a broken and fearful wretch who deserves to be pitied, rather than despised.

Of course, the same has been said of torturers too.

Or maybe they are just ordinary humans trying not to be driven mad by this world, and it is I who is the villain for attacking them for this abominable crime of being happy. But perhaps who is right and who is wrong no longer matters – who after all can judge?

What it means though is that happy people cannot be my friends. We seek opposite things for the world. They seek the continued existence of the systems that enable their happiness. I seek to cast those systems down in flames and remake this as a world for everyone – myself not included, for I am exhausted of it all and long only for my end, the release from this pain. But if by then I have succeed in upsetting those happy people, in injecting enough doubt and discomfort to make them reconsider whether this world is really as okay as they insist on believing it to be – maybe then, this wretched life will have accomplished something worthwhile.


  1. Hi Chaobang. I am sorry we didn't get to meet up before you left. I just wanted to leave a comment that your illustration of April 2016 is really striking. Did you ever consider exhibiting art or something similar? Just an idea, as I was impressed with the image and found it thought provoking. See you.