When the world doesn’t make sense, a dream shows me the truth.
I dreamt about being married. It was the week after the wedding. People were listening to me smiling as I shared anecdotes about the week before the wedding. I didn’t see the actual ceremony though I had very plausible memories of the the week before.
This dream felt so momentous, that I disregarded the alarm. Being woken was like an interruption in a great movie. Or more like a happy life disrupted by a nightmare. It took me hours to articulate why this dream felt more important to me than others. I had had that sinking, sad feeling of realising that it ‘was just a dream’.
That dream was the only time in my life when I experienced shared happiness.
Here’s what ChatGPT tells me about ‘Shared Happiness’:
Shared happiness refers to the experience of joy or contentment that is not limited to just one individual but is instead experienced and expressed by a group of people together. It often involves a sense of connection, togetherness, or shared experiences that contribute to a collective feeling of happiness.
Shared happiness can occur in various contexts, including:
1. Social Gatherings: When friends or family come together for celebrations, such as birthdays, weddings, or holidays, the collective joy and positive emotions can lead to shared happiness.
2. Team Success: In sports, business, or any collaborative endeavor, when a team achieves a common goal, there is often a sense of shared happiness among team members and supporters.
3. Community Events: Events that bring a community together, like festivals, parades, or charitable initiatives, can generate shared happiness among the participants.
4. Acts of Kindness: When individuals engage in acts of kindness or charity, both the giver and the recipient can experience shared happiness as a result of their shared positive experience.
5. Cultural or Religious Celebrations: Cultural and religious ceremonies and rituals often involve shared happiness, as people come together to celebrate their shared beliefs and traditions.
Shared happiness can have several positive effects, including strengthening social bonds, fostering a sense of belonging, and promoting overall well-being. It’s a reminder that happiness is not solely an individual experience but can be amplified and enriched when shared with others.
I sat up and flashed through the major moments of happiness in my life. Not one of them had to do with romantic relationships. But I felt the joy of finishing writing a book. I have been published and breezed my way into my dream job after being put down by toxic workplaces. I’ve received great admiration for my mind. I have experienced the sweet taste of victory after valour. I’ve felt the satisfying ache of being the strong one while I held the weaker ones that fell around me. All those were my times of happiness. And I was always alone.
I’ve experienced that just after happiness occurs, other people’s rage and resentment hits. It has happened through putdowns and mocking. There is bitter downcutting (“Look at what you gave up for it”). They cloaked it as indifference (“Big deal”).
The only sense I’ve been able to make of this is that it’s a gender thing. I see people unanimously celebrate men who get to the same milestones. These are sizeable achievements – important experiences for any person. I wasn’t allowed to legitimately claim happiness from these experiences. Not only was no one else ever happy for me, but my happiness would be an invitation to steal from me, to decimate me. I learnt to fear sharing what made me happy.
My Happy vs Your Happy
It made me think of an ex-friend who was getting married. I had seen her through her low self-esteem years and fledgling steps into the relationship. She was finally marrying her first and only boyfriend. He had stood up for her against familial pressure. Her own family and friends had been very supportive.
I had recently picked myself out of a violent relationship and it felt good to be proximate to joy. It felt like happiness would be possible in the world again.
She invited me to her bachelorette party. I asked if I should have dinner beforehand and she was vehement about no. At the party, I found she had no food for me. She isolated me from her other friends and told me not to have any more treats because she was saving them. The next morning, I accompanied her to her pre-wedding beauty regime. She talked about the years of her pre-date and party preparations. She looked good. Then her hair in curlers, she said,
“I know your value systems have changed but you should stick to one man.”
At that moment, I had a flash. She had only invited me to flaunt how much better her life was than mine. It bothered her that I survived. She was not happy for me. She wanted to see me suffer. The vehemence of her hatred stunned me. How did she have room for so much poison on her happiest day? So long as I breathed, she was unhappy. There was never going to be any shared happy between the two of us.
Maybe the only time some people share happiness is with a romantic partner. But I don’t understand that at all. Isn’t happiness an overflowing, abundant thing? The more you share, the greater it grows?
A Conventional Happy Is A Shared Happy
My romantic joys were not shared because I took the unconventional route. I fell in love with people’s conversations rather than their social status. I was drawn to their passions and made the mistake of being truthful about it. People don’t like their vulnerabilities being noticed.
When I finally found myself in a lifelong commitment, it came without the sanctification of a wedding ceremony and legal contract. That my partner was unable to love himself or tolerate happiness, even in someone else, was extra bad luck for me. This is when I realised the magnitude of other people’s loathing of my existence. There had been no empathy for my romantic choices. Now I met gleeful jeering disguised as happiness. How is one happy at the sadness of another?
I examined my dream all over again. It was the feeling that was centred most of all. Not even the person I dreamt of being married to. That had the face and voice of someone I know in real life with whom I’ve never considered romance. I even knew that in the dream. Somehow it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that people around me were truly joyful for me. They made space for me. They were interested in the joy I expressed, the mirth and relief even.
I don’t understand romantic love as love at all. Unless love is a very different thing from happiness. Yet, I feel love for the things that make me happy – the meal well cooked, the plants nurtured with care, the words prudently chosen, the ideas & ideologies thoughtfully pondered. Even the healing journeys I go on and occasionally carry other people on.
And I have felt what I thought was love for other people – a glowing appreciation for their existence and the journey that brought them there. A sense of good fortune, of being blessed even that my life touched them in the way it did and when it did. And even the realisation that people change and relationships don’t last forever. That’s hard but it’s not devoid of love. And it feels peaceful, even happy.
Sex Is Not Happy
I also realised that every context of sex in my life has come shrouded in shame and judgment. From child abuse to rape culture to my dating life, it has felt as if this very human act is a crime I’m committing (even when I have no agency). The underlying assumption of a marriage especially in Indian society is two people getting to have sex and the world celebrating them for it, rather than harassing them. That is an experience I have never had. Not once in my life.
My celibacy choices find no room in the sex-positive movement. People assume I’m asexual, lesbian or frigid. The compulsion to have sex is no more positive than a ban on sex. Cis male attention trails off (at best) or they ignore what I’m saying and paw me (at worst). Everyone else seems to define their identities based on who they want to have sex with and how they want to have sex. I don’t fit that either. Sex positivity is not bragging about the quantity and type of sex one has or about having multiple partners. Clearly, I understand sex differently from most other people too. And nobody is happy for me with this.
In the hours after awakening from this dream, I let myself wander down my negative feelings. I relived the humiliations, bullying, and casual & institutionalised cruelties. How different I would have been, had the rapist I met at 22 turned out to be a (mythical) decent man from Delhi instead? I pondered who I would be, had I married Mr.Everyday.
I could not fathom either of them being different. I might not have noticed them or fallen in love if they were other people. Might the situations have turned out differently with the same people? I cannot imagine someone who sees women as objects made to serve ever creating a loving, respectful relationship with me. I also cannot imagine a damaged person filled with such self-loathing allowing someone healthy to survive without attacking them. No. And if they wouldn’t be different, then why would I? I was always going to seek pristine affection, inspiration and joy, untainted by resentment, shame or guilt. That is where my love is, it’s where my happiness lies.
I guess shared happiness is just a dream. We all dream alone, after all.
*Featured image – a panel from Sandman, Vertigo Comics.