By Abe Villarreal
In the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jim Carrey plays the role of Joel, a troubled man filled with grief over a woman he can barely remember. He tries to remember her, but his memories are quickly fading. Joel, and many others in his community, had a medical procedure done to erase the memories of loved ones, including former pets.
Imagine that? Being able to completely erase something for which you never want to think of again. The movie makes a convincing case that people are happier not thinking of something or someone that might make them cry.
While I loved the movie, I really disliked the idea that as a society we should only be filled with happiness. After all, what is happiness? Is it truly everlasting? I don’t think so. Like any other human emotion, happiness comes and goes, and it doesn’t always happen when we expect it. I’m happy writing, and I am happy that you are reading. Still, later today, I might be disappointed about something, and that’s o.k.
We often hear the clichés about not knowing successes until we experience failures. We like these clichés because we need something to help us justify our failures. We don’t want disappointments to feel like real disappointments, we want them to feel like necessary elements of success.
I feel the same way about happiness. I don’t really know how happy I am unless I know of all the alternatives, and I don’t really know about all the alternatives unless I experience them. And knowing all this, as a society, we do everything we can to avoid experiencing the alternatives. Failure is not an option!
I’m o.k. with failures, sadness, crying, and bad moments. From them, I get to understand the complexities of the human experience. Growing up, I remember my parents always tried to showcase their kids as the best kids around. To others, we were well-mannered and obedient, and while that was the case a lot of the times, it wasn’t always.
My youngest brother ended up in juvenile detention. I ditched classes throughout my senior year in high school. My parents are now divorced. What do we have to hide? We are experiencing life just like everyone else, with highs and lows, happiness and sadness.
There is a scene in the movie where Joel walks into the doctor’s office to inquire about having the memory-erasing procedure. There are several people in the waiting room, crying, holding pictures and mementos that remind them of what makes them sad. Joel comes back with a trash bag filled with everything that reminds him of his ex-girlfriend. He needs to get rid of all items that might remind him of her.
What the characters forget is that what makes us sad is always rooted in love. Without love, sadness cannot exist. You cannot feel sorry for something or wish someone better without feeling sincere love.
When someone asks you “How’s it going?” and you smile and say “fine” or “good,” you lose the opportunity to make a deeper connection with someone who cares enough to find out what really is happening in your life.
I do it all the time and I shouldn’t. I think we are better off in letting our guard down and sharing with others not only the happy moments, but the tough moments that remind us the real meaning of happiness.
We can’t erase sadness, but we can use it to make others happy.
Abe Villarreal writes about life and culture in southern New Mexico. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.