Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Funny Vs. Happy

Will Hindmarch is a writer and game designer. Find him online at Wordstudio or Gameplaywright.

On one of his spoken-word records, The Boxed Life, Henry Rollins talks a bit about being funny or happy all the time. If you could be funny or happy all the time, which would you pick?

I’ve been thinking about this since 1995. I first heard Boxed Life in 1995 and I’ve been thinking about this since then. I’ve been thinking about other things, too, but still. The question, it vexes me.

“I’m funny all the time, I’m not happy all the time,” Rollins said. “So, okay, but that’s all right, because I’d rather be funny than happy … all the time.”

Historically, I’ve found it easy to answer this question … but hard to shake it. If I had to choose, I’d choose to be funny.

“There’s not a lot to learn from being unfunny,” I used to tell people when I’d talk about this. That idea is plainly bullshit — there’s plenty to learn from bombing on stage or mucking up a joke — but it’s what I would say. People who are happy all the time irk me.

In part, I believe the lessons learned from being unhappy are valuable. I have to believe that. I have to believe that the time I spend feeling miserable will pay off somehow, maybe by informing my work, maybe in insights or wisdom. I want to believe that misery isn’t a waste of my time because I only have so much time and I don’t want to think that I’ve wasted so much of it.

The trouble is, I’ve cooked the question too long. I reduced out a lot of the nuance and the flavor and I’ve sometimes forgotten that the heart of the question is in that phrase “all the time.”

I think it’s easy to breeze through happy times without learning anything. Happiness feels easy even when it’s not easy. If you’re like me, good times can feel sustainable when you’re in them.

They’re not sustainable. Nothing lasts forever. And here’s the thing about misery: it doesn’t have to make sense.

This has been a great month for me, creatively. My new tabletop RPG, Dark, is doing well at Kickstarter. The new online storytelling game I’m working on, Storium, just entered a new phase of alpha testing. I’m designing a series of new Fiasco playsets I can’t tell you about yet. Lots of fun work happening at once.

Things are, measurably, good.

Last week, I couldn’t see that. Something grim settled over me like a glum fog, blocking out the light. I wanted to do good work but I couldn’t see straight — I hated everything I wrote not because it was bad, but because I wrote it. I put off work I wanted to do because I didn’t feel like I had earned the right to work on it yet. It was a dessert-and-vegetables thing, I told myself. But that’s bullshit, too. When I’m that miserable, I fear and resent happiness. I feel like I owe it nothing, like it’s betrayed me, like I have to learn how to function forever without it because I may never be happy again.

That’s the inherent, fascinating, dangerous fallacy inherent in the funny-or-happy equation. It’s in that phrase: all the time.

Happiness is impermanent. So is misery. What’s fleeting is often beautiful.

The trap I fell into was thinking that unhappiness, misery, and depression were somehow more revealing, more authentic than happiness. As if there’s less to learn from happiness than from misery. Look around and you’ll see people tripping on this idea all around us.

(It’s an easy mistake, I think, because misery ruminates, obsesses, and stares at itself. Depression warps time, pushing us to dwell on things that still exist when we’re happy — things that we just don’t fret about so much when things are good.)

We have a lot to learn from happiness and contentment and while it is sometimes harder to pause and glean the insights when you’re busy laughing and dancing and making merry, let’s do that more. We don’t have to be happy all the time (because, seriously, ugh) but we shouldn’t mix up happy with oblivious, either. I did that for too long.

Anyway, I still don’t want to be happy all the time because I think I’m ill-suited for that. I want to learn from happiness and misery, both. And if I could be funny all the time, I could bring  laughs and joy to others and that would rebound back to me. When other people laugh at my jokes? That makes me happy.



9 thoughts on “Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Funny Vs. Happy”

  1. Sychronicity: On today’s Pessimist calendar is a quote by Oscar Levant:

    “Happiness is not something you experience, it is something you remember.”

  2. Love Hank, love The Boxed Life, and somehow have lost track of hearing that assertion from him.

    For me, there’s a mutual exclusivity things going on there that is troublesome – if I’m happy all the time, I can still be funny – in fact, it could be that being funny, and making people laugh, is what makes one happy…

    I don’t honestly recall – does Henry allow for that in his brief discussion of the subject?

  3. I think sometimes people don’t know what happy is. Being fulfilled in your life is a sign of happiness; it doesn’t mean you need to walk around thinking of yourself as happy–having a successful life is a means to being content. If something was to happen in your life to upset you, you might be unhappy for a period of time; but that doesn’t mean you are necessarily in discord with who you are. If a person has a wit to converse with a means to be funny is another matter altogether.

  4. I have to disagree. Being funny all the time would be exhausting. It effectively means you have to be “on” all the time, because being funny in a vacuum doesn’t mean anything.

    Some years ago I -was- happy all the time – even when I was having a bad day, because I knew the bad day was the blip on the radar, and my baseline contentment was super high. Then I got stuck in a horrible job, my dad died unexpectedly, and a further series of horrible events brought on a crippling depression that I’m just now getting out of thanks to meds and therapy.

    I’d like my 24/7 happiness back, plz, stat. x_x

  5. While I am sitting at my desk writing algorithms for my job, what good is it to be funny? While I am doing laundry or jogging or doing volunteer manual labor or eating or sleeping, what good is it to be funny? Its good to be happy during any of these activities, because cumulatively they are a large portion of life.

    Is this question intended primarily for entertainers? Even so, even for entertainers, isn’t there more to life than being funny? Isn’t there more to entertainment than being funny? I would claim that Beethoven’s music is not funny, yet some people find it worthwhile and beautiful.

    I would even claim that the entertainment value of Henry’s own spoken-word work is not primarily in its humor value. The humor follows from poignancy. Without the humor, much of the poignancy would still be there. Without the poignancy, the humor would be nothing.

  6. I respect your words here. But for me, I’d rather be happy all the time. People tell me I’m funny. I don’t try to be. I’m only funny because it’s a defense mechanism to hide the depression. I can’t NOT be funny because if I don’t have funny, I don’t have anything for people to want to be around. Funny is a compulsion. I’d much rather be happy. Because yes, I’ve learned a lot of useful things from my depression, empathy being the most useful thing. But I’ve also learned a lot of useless, untrue things from my depression. I’d rather not have learned those things. Because then I wouldn’t have to spend so much time untangling the truth from the lies.

    But that’s just me.

  7. It’s the myth that creativity comes from dark places only. That you can’t create if you’re not crippled by depression. But depression is CRIPPLING. It doesn’t let you see meaning, it only let’s you see pain. It doesn’t allow you to draw from your whole soul, just from the part that is hurt. What use is it to be funny all the time if the funny causes everyone else to laugh but causes you pain?

    That said, I don’t want to be anything “all the time”. I want to be everything “sometimes”. A much more balanced approach to life.

  8. To me, neither is possible. Funny is objective so how can you be funny all the time? What’s funny to one isn’t to another.

    And happy… Well without something to compare it to, what is it?

    Indeed, you’re right, this is a difficult question and I’m not surprised it’s stuck with you.

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