Monday, January 18, 2016

Declaring happiness by fiat

Notice whether these three things are true in your experience.

1. Happiness is ultimately all you really want. Everything you've ever wanted, you've wanted so that it makes you happy; reduces your discontentment; however you want to say it. Pick words that work for you, but realize what's being said. (No doubt you also want to be a kind person among many other things, but if being kind were distasteful to you -- as it is for psychopaths, for example -- then you wouldn't pursue it. The buck stops at happiness.)

2. You're willing to give up happiness now to ensure it later. When you get annoyed at your spouse, you're hoping that your annoyance will lead to change: you're trading in happiness now for possible happiness later. When you do work you don't like so that you can have it easy later, you're making the same tradeoff. You are endlessly willing to trade your now-happiness for potential later-happiness.

3. It is always now. It is never later.

To summarize:
  • You want only one thing.
  • That thing can only happen now.
  • You are never willing to let it happen now.

If the word "never" is too strong, consider what happens when you're reasonably happy. You're sitting on the beach enjoying a sunset. Chances are, there's a process working in your mind trying to figure out how to "gild the lily". For example, if you had enough money to retire, then you could enjoy this kind of thing every day, and then you'd really be happy. Yeah, let's start working on that problem!

So what's the solution? There's only one as far as I can see. Be happy now.

When? Now.

When? Now.

When? Now.

I bet you're trying to figure out "okay, but how?" The short answer is: there is no "how." You simply do it.

Because that probably sounds remarkably unhelpful, here are some training wheels you might use to discover what those useless-sounding words could possibly mean.

Pick something that you can be appreciative of. Your health, your job, your family. If all those things suck immeasurably, then the mere fact that you're alive.

The reason these are just "training wheels" is that each one has the potential to disappear, so it would be unskillful to tie your appreciation to any particular thing (or set of things). You're trying to develop the generic skill of appreciation, and those things are just props.

Ultimately, the only one that cannot disappear before you die is "being alive."

But when we say "I'm happy to be alive," what we really mean is "I'm happy to be conscious." If you're alive and unconscious, it's meaningless to "be happy"; if you were technically dead (say, as a ghost or zombie) and still conscious, well f--- yeah! Being "alive" in some technical sense has nothing to do with it.

And so, when you remove the training wheels of the particulars, you still have this one ridiculously amazing thing to be endlessly happy about now: you're conscious.

Another way of looking at things: trying to solve your problems (or anybody else's) is an awful life strategy. Why? Because the moment you "have a problem," you've locked yourself into the conundrum posed above. Something is only "a problem" if its existence makes you less than perfectly happy. (Is a beautiful sunset "a problem?" If, and only if, it hurts you in some way.) At that point you'll have no option but to "do something now to be happy later." So trying to solve your problems is a losing strategy in life. Go figure.

Some say that when you decide to be happy -- when you impose it on the universe by fiat -- the universe is given no choice but to "fill in the details." That is, to rearrange its contents to be congruent with your state. Or put another way still, to give you "reasons" to be happy; to "solve your problems." Of course this is pure nonsense. So no point in seeing whether it's true or not. May as well settle for the losing strategy above.

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