Happiness Deferred?

"Typical" 50's household/the now demolished Cabrini Green Housing Project in Chicago

On my recent quest to choose happiness, I’ve been lured to the other side, quite gleefully, exploring all the wonderful joys that surround us–small children, pets, the beauty of nature, helping out or laughing with a friend to name a few.

Today, I explored a website looking into the spaces that make people happy, titled, The Happy Spaces Project.” Visitors to the site would upload pictures of themselves in places where they found happiness. They showed pictures of libraries, lovely views outside of their windows, warm, colorful kitchens. They were all so very beautiful and inspired me to spruce up my apartment with some bright spots of color and more organization.

But it also left me so unhappy. There was a time when we took a roof over our head for granted. It was one of our “inalienable rights” as Americans. Depending on our circumstances they could be expensive or the projects, nevertheless they were home. We no longer have that “security” of always having a roof over our heads. We have seen the most secure lose their homes and end up in shelters, young children in tow, waiting it out until they can find a job or section 8 housing, or some sort of financial assistance.

Some think, “It could never happen to us” no matter how many times they see the scenario played out on the nightly news.

The “Happy Space” project’s purpose is meant to explore “how the environment affects human cognition, behavior, and well-being comes from an experiential understanding of the world.” Indeed. So what if the environment is tenuous at best, interrupted by crime, gunshots, sirens. What if the environment is crammed in a small space with strangers and can only provide temporary relief from the elements? What if it’s a car? What if it’s finally a place down by the river littered with tents?

I always thought I was relatively safe from homelessness. My solid middle-class upbringing seemed to assure a roof over my head. But, when I found myself in a new town, with no job and a newly departed husband, I looked at my nicely furnished apartment and saw just how vulnerable I was. I had no money coming in and was running out of savings.

Needless to say, I never took a roof over my head for granted after that. I know people who have lived out of their cars, lived down by the river for months if not years. They’ve spent time in and out of shelters or found refuge on a friend’s couch. Most of them take nothing for granted and find joy in the simplest of things–a good night’s sleep, a hot meal, a shower.

So many of them have been so humble and kind and giving. Despite a horrendous environment, they found a sort of happiness. I think “The Happy Space” project could explore that side of happy.

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