“…That’s all for today ladies and gentlemen. Remember: Choose Happiness!” Said the overly chipper woman as the afternoon talk show went off and a commercial about talking to an online therapist began.
“Are you feeling sad, disappointed, lost, or even depressed? Download “Therapist-R-Us” free today and start your first session on us. Talk to a therapist toda…”
Allan flipped off the TV and tossed the remote to the other side of the couch. It was his day off, and normally he would be writing or hiking or at least doing something more interesting than watching daytime talk shows.
What am I doing? It’s my only day off this week, and I am here watching this nonsense. Therapy apps? Seriously? Choose happiness? What kind crazy mumbo jumbo is that?
He picked himself up off the couch and went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. He stood there staring into the emptiness, not even thinking about reaching in an grabbing something. As he closed the door, he let out a sigh of indifference and wandered back over the sofa, plopped himself down, and spent the rest of the day flipping through the never-ending channels that his satellite TV provider offered.
Later that week, Allan was in the break room at work. Several of his co-workers were crowded around the small island countertop that stood in the middle of the small kitchen area. They were discussing what they did over the weekend.
“Yeah, the view from the top of the mountain was amazing! You should really visit when you have time. The hike wasn’t too bad either.”
“It sounds great. I will add it to my ever-growing list of places to visit.” Sandra opened the notes app on her phone and added item number 47 to her list: “Hike Mt. Sumter.”
She closed the app and locked her phone screen before returning it to her pocket, then she turned to Allan. “What did you do on your day off?”
He didn’t respond. He was on the other side of the room doctoring a cup of what tasted like week old coffee, trying to make it tolerable enough to drink.
“Yes!” He answered way too enthusiastically.
“What?” Sandra asked with a look of confusion gracing her face.
“Oh, sorry. I was lost in this nasty cup of coffee. What did you say?”
“She asked about your day off, man,” Charlie chimed in.
“You know. Same as usual, I guess.” Allan answered, not really knowing what to say. The truth was that he spent all day in front of the TV being told that he could do anything he wants to do, to follow his dreams, that he could have his dream body, and the one that was still bothering him for some reason, ‘choose happiness,’ but he didn’t want to tell them that.
“That’s cool, man. I guess it’s time to get back to work.” Charlie walked towards the door and added, “drinks after work?” before heading back to his cubicle.
Sandra walked over to Allan, “You okay, Allan? You seem kind of down.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sandra. I’m the same as I have been every day for the last six years we have been working in this career pit.”
“Hey, it’s not that bad here,” she said trying to make him smile, she added with a wink, “at least the coffee is doctorable.”
“Yeah. Maybe on a good day,” he said as they walked out of the room and back to work.
Sitting in from of his computer, inputting the same data he had every day for the last six years, the woman from the talk show popped in his head again. This time, it was almost like she was sitting across the desk from him. “Allan, choose happiness,” her words echoed through his skull.
“I am happy,” he said audibly.
“What?” Sanda asked from the cubicle beside his.
Blushing a bit, he responded, “Nothing, this computer is just acting up again. I think I need to call Steve again to have a look at it tomorrow.”
Sandra set back to work, and Allan went back to his thoughts, completely forgetting about the numbers on the screen in front of him.
“But are you really happy?” The conversation with the imaginary talk show host continued.
Allan decided it was better to continue the conversation in his head. “I don’t know why I wouldn’t consider myself happy. I have a job, food, an apartment, friends, more gadgets than I have outlets in my apartment to charge, and I am at least moderately healthy. I have no reason to not be happy.”
“Everything you are describing sounds more like being content, not being happy.”
“Why does it have to be different? Content can be happiness.”
“Content can also be boring. I am going to ask you again, and I want you to answer honestly, are you really happy?”
“Ready to go home, Al?” Charlie’s voice cut into the conversion in Allan’s head like a knife through butter.
“What? What time is it?” Allan asked.
“5:30, closing time,” Charlie sang. “Ready to grab a couple of beers? First round is on me.”
“Yeah, I think I am going to have to pass tonight.”
“Suit yourself. More beer for me!” Charlie said as he threw his coat over his shoulder and walked out of the office.
Allan went home, at a frozen dinner, sat in front of the TV for a few hours watching nothing, and then went to bed.
Two hours had passed since he had laid down and he was still laying there staring into the darkness.
Two more hours and it was now nearly 3:00 am. Maybe he was delirious from lack of sleep, but Allan sat up in his bed in the darkness and started talking to the imaginary talk show host again.
“So, how am I supposed to choose happiness?” he asked her.
“That is a question I cannot answer,” she replied.
“Why not? Why would you say something that you can’t explain? That’s dumb.”
“Allan, I believe you are forgetting that I am just a figment of your imagination. If you don’t have the answer, then I don’t have the answer.”
Allan picked up his pillow, put it over his face, and let out a moan of frustration as he fell backward, hoping to land on another pillow, instead, knocking his head on the extremely hard wooden headboard.
“Ooooouch…” he said. Reaching up to rub the already forming knot on the back of his head. “How am I supposed to choose happiness? It’s not like I can just drop everything and change my whole life. I don’t even know what would make me happy.”
“Sure you do,” the imaginary voice returned.
“Geez!” Allan shouted. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”
“Again, I am a figment. Stop whining. You know what would make you happy.”
“Oh really. And how to do you figure that, figment?”
“I know what would make you happy. So if I know, naturally, you know.”
The imaginary talk show host disappeared and left Allan with his thoughts in the darkness. For the rest of the night, he laid there asking himself, “What would make me happy?” He played with the typical ideas of happiness, money, fame, power, friends, possessions, but all of those things left him feeling emptier than his refrigerator.
The obvious things weren’t what he was looking for, so he decided to try something new. Instead of thinking about things that would make him happy now, he thought back to his childhood and what made him happy then.
Helping his dad in the garden every year. He couldn’t do that now, not since his dad passed a few years earlier. Cooking dinner with his mom, unlikely, as she was in a nursing home with early stages of dementia. Being chosen as the teacher’s assistant for the day, he wasn’t a student, nor a child anymore. Helping his younger brother with his math homework, also not going to happen.
As Allan continued to think through these things, he began to ask himself what did all of these things have in common. They weren’t all related to family because his teacher wasn’t a family member. All of the tasks were completely different, but they all made him happy. Why?
Allan’s alarm clock screamed through the darkness in the room. It was already 5:30 am and time for Allan to get up and go to work.
Later that day, he was in the break room helping Sandra to doctor the coffee that seemed to be worse today than ever. He was smiling as she laughed at his bad jokes. That was when it suddenly hit him!
“That’s it!” he announced proudly.
“What’s it?” Sandra asked, confused.
“What they have in common!”
“What, what has in common?” She asked, even more confused.
“It’s a long story, but I have to go.”
“Go? It’s only 8:00. The workday just started.” But Allan was already out the door and headed down the stairs of the office building.
“You finally figured it out,” the figment said, startling him again.
Allan nearly jumped out of his skin, “You have really got to stop doing that!”
“You can blame yourself, not me.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.”
“So you figured it out. You know what makes you happy,” the figment stated.
“Yes!” Allan announced out loud, scaring the elderly woman waiting at the bus stop he was walking past.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“I’m going to school!” he announced with a look of determination and excitement.
The young child walking with his mother stopped and tugged on her dress until she picked him up and quickly walked away from Allan, trying not to look concerned.
“Well, that isn’t exactly what I had in mind. I was thinking more like a soup kitchen or something,” the figment said.
“You’re right,” Allan said. “Volunteering at a soup kitchen would be a good idea too! But if I really want to help people, I am going to have to make a huge change. I can’t stay at this dead-end job staring at computers all day. I’ve got to get out there and get into a place where I can help at my job, not just in my free time.”
“Okay. Now you are talking career changes. What did you have in mind?”
“I’m going to apply for medical school.”
“Have you lost your mind?”
“I would say when the figment of my imagination asks me that question, the answer is probably ‘yes,’ but no, I know this is what I have to do. There are many jobs out there that would allow me to help people but none are quite like being a doctor.”
“Let me get this straight, you are going to go back to school for another ten years so that you can be a doctor so you can help people? Again, why not just go to the soup kitchen?”
“I know it sounds crazy, but it is what I have to do. To help the most, I must sacrifice the most. Even if it means high-stress levels, lot’s of debt, years of schooling, and my own sanity. People need doctors who truly want to help, not just doctors who are in it for the money. I am going to be a doctor for the good of the people.”
Copyright August 2018