I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness over the last wee while of my life – major life adjustments being the main trigger for this, as well as being lucky enough to pop over to the UK earlier in the year to see my creative & performing hero Derren Brown’s Miracle stage show live, which deals primarily with how we as humans achieve that ever-elusive arbitrary state of happiness.
Not only that, he’s released a book about it. This book has been in production for the past 2/3 years (and I’ve been waiting that long for it, too) and my copy is due to arrive within the next fortnight – I cannot wait. #HappyPlug #NotThePlugYou’reProbablyThinkingOf #TheBookIsCalledHappy #GetYourHeadOutOfTheGutter
Anyway, my thoughts this week have drifted to what it takes to become happy. Rather than attempting to give a definitive guide as to what to do, I’ve decided to opt for listing a few things that should not be done when trying to bring about happiness in our lives, and see where I go from there. Bearing in mind, of course, that this is based entirely on my experience while being on this planet for a measly 22 years, and is in no way a correct/objective view of things. The number one thing to remember about our experiences in this life is that we can never be truly sure that how we relate to our experiences will be objective in any sense (including that statement) – we are always prone to subjective bias unconsciously triggered by numerous subliminals that have been slowly massaged greedily into our minds without our apparent knowledge since the day we are born.
So – just take my following brain dump/obsessive rant with a large pinch of salt. All I can ever do, as I’ve mentioned many times before, is share my experiences with the hope that it can shift or otherwise alter a readers’ perspective – which in itself is quite a powerful thing. Also, I can’t vouch for the fact that all of the below thoughts are entirely my own. They are quite possibly the amalgamation of many previously thought-of ideas by much smarter individuals than I, floating through the ether of my mental faculties needlessly patched together into the following prose with my name-tag signing it off. So bear that in mind too.
On the rocky road to happiness, the following two roadblocks must be destroyed to bring us closer to our goal: comparison and deference.
We should never compare our lives with those of other people.
Time and time again I hear complaints of people who cause unto themselves a mountain-load of undue stress and frustration, for the mere reason that they have cast their eye over the life of one of their peers and have enviously started to run a comparison between how their life is going and how they themselves are living. Whether that’s financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically; some analysis has been performed at a mental level as to how the individual tracks against this other person, and they somehow deem that their personal efforts are sub-par for not being as great as the other person. That behaviour needs to stop.
It’s all very well that this plays into the whole competitive nature that capitalism loves to place on a pedestal, but it does a lot of harm in the way of self-perception and how one defines their own worth. For if I’m not performing as well as my peers – whom, by definition, should be around about the same level of ability as I – then naturally the one who is performing sub-optimally must be me!
False. And stop doing that to yourself.
Everyone has different backgrounds in this life, different experiences, and different challenges. And, as mentioned above, everyone relates to those experiences (even if they were exactly the same between two people) in totally different ways. In this way we each have different mental capacities from which we make sense and absorb experiences that occur around us. This ultimately produces an infinite myriad of ways under which the conditions of our performance are unfit for matching with those of our peers whom we (or some other overarching decision maker) have deemed to be more or less similar in ability. I don’t know about you, but this very obviously highlights to me that there can never be totally fair competition between any two people – there will always be some variable in which the two differ, which can most likely have some bearing on the fairness of that competition.
That’s why I bristle (and have always bristled) at comments that have the air of “you’re performing above/below your peer group”. But it seems to be a favoured theme amongst most educational systems, so to an extent it has been ingrained in my mental makeup to react accordingly to these comments with submission as I’ve grown up with traditional education. I’m actively un-brainwashing myself from this, however, and realising that comparing yourself to others is ultimately not useful to you in any way, shape or form when it comes to your own self-perceived value & happiness (unless you like the thrill of competition) – is step number one. You just do you.
The only way to align that sense of competition in your life with that of personal development, happiness, and achievement, and for the conditions to be as fair as possible, is to re-route this competitive energy against – yourself!
Think about it: you yourself are the closest, most fair competition you will ever have. The same DNA makeup, the same experiences, the same age (exactly), the same thoughts & mental capacity – these are the most fair conditions for competition that you could ask for. Not only that, but if you have achieved something before and you aim to surpass that, it is NEVER out of reach, because, you did it once before successfully.
Might be quite a simplistic point to some, but nonetheless is definitely an idea that is useful at the forefront of our mental dashboards as we traverse further into life.
We are all unique in our own capacities and are creators of our own life and circumstances. Don’t let people who have had the markings of a socioeconomic machine stamped on their blank souls ever try to cut you down from this ultimate truth; from where I am in the world this type of behaviour is known as tall poppy syndrome – denoting the attempts made by people to cut others down to size when they feel that those people are aspiring for heights that aren’t appropriate to reach for.
The most common example of this in this day and age? Parental figures telling their young to not aspire for things that fall outside the traditional box of safe & secure with a retirement plan to boot. It’s never too late to go back to that thing you “put on pause” when you entered the ‘real world’ – now’s actually a waaaaaaaay better time than ever to break off and do your own thing; just have some guts to say fuck it (and fuck you to some people) and do it.
Right – cease current tangent.
The most common response to why someone doesn’t do something that they know deep down will make themselves truly joyful is that “it’s not the right time”. This comment is often made with the unspoken assumption that at some point in the future, the conditions will be right to take that action.
False (and deep down you already knew it was false). This is most people’s way to rationalise the fact that they are fearful – myself very much included.
It most commonly manifests itself in people who have already got a ‘steady & secure’ job, but feel a yearning to do something else more exciting and fulfilling. We naturally as humans like to focus on the negatives possible outcomes of what may happen if we take a certain course of action (ever why media coverage is the oxygen for the spread of terrorism?), as we primarily & instinctively want to ensure our survival (which is all we ever want to do at our primal core), so when it comes to big decisions that have a huge potential bearing on the direction that our life swerves, we naturally gravitate towards and hover hopelessly around the probable negative aspects of taking that certain course of action so as to avoid them. What we neglect to entertain mentally, of course, are the more exciting, positive aspects of what may happen when/if we choose to do this thing, for we have been taught to ‘be realistic’ and therefore place heavy reliance on the cons rather than the pros.
So what does this equate to? Waiting for conditions to be ripe for the majestic leap into that life that we’ve always daydreamed about.
What most people get brainwashed into thinking is that this point will eventually come to them soon, clear as a bell one day, and they will know instinctively that it’s the right time. In reality, it never ever happens this way. This is the false carrot to chase that has been placed only just outside of our reach ever since we entered higher education.
So we wait, wait, wait. And never take action.
Before you know it – you hit your 30’s. Then it dawns on you that your most energetic/formative years are behind you, so you rationalise that you might as well just stick to what you’re already doing. You traverse deeper into a life path that does not serve you spiritually, and this starts to manifest itself within your physiology – you’re mentally, emotionally, and physically out of sync with where you know you should be. Poor health and dietary choices become the norm rather than that ‘special case’ under which disguise it harmlessly began; just something to ease the stress and the fact that you missed your window of opportunity (or so people would like you to think). Your 40’s roll around and then…
The mid-life crisis. Hah.
The point is, deference for a later pleasure is never the right thing to do. Jobs like to convince us that there is some security and reliability to our lives, but that is never ever true. You don’t need to think too hard given how things are currently going in the world for this to be blaringly obvious. But that’s the thing with most people, again myself included, we all like to live in a bubble – separating our thoughts and special brand of narcissism with the reality of what happens around us constantly. The reality is that security is never ensured; when we entered this life, the only thing that was explicitly written on the contract to be certain of is that one day we will cease to live – everything else is not covered under the terms and conditions; so, in other words, everything else in this life is fair game for us to determine for ourselves.
It’s been ingrained in us throughout our lives. Work hard at school/university to get into a good job, work hard in a good job to get the next promotion, work hard to get more promotions to eventually become the boss etc., while in the interim your life has flown by you. Then what do you get at the end of it? Spat out with a pat on the back and nothing further. Then that’s your lot – that’s how you lived your precious few years on this earth.
While the suffering and multiple religious parallels to this way of progressing through adult life appeals to me in a twisted poetic sense, I cannot accept it as a model with which to come closer to attaining happiness.
I don’t think I have even a hint of a clue as to how to resolve this one. But I’m reasonably certain that the starting point has to do with re-aligning that deferred pleasure in the distant future with how life is going right now. In other words, reconciling that future happiness that’s a goal to be worked for, with the current situation. For me that comes to fruition in the form of finding things that challenge me personally, that expose parts of me which I’m interested in developing, and continually striving to only develop the areas which I enjoy developing – in other words, joy is created as part of the process and feeds back into the process as I continue to develop. For example for me right now, that is creating & performing magic. Crucially, it’s also trying to minimize (not eliminate as to be realistic) working just for work’s sake.
I’d like it noted that more income is never the answer. I’m not sure where I got this, it might have been a news article or an interview, but I found it interesting to hear that from various studies it was *apparently* found that happiness didn’t have a link with an increase in income above that which is required to live and function for the individual in question. It found that the sweet spot for income – in terms of overall happiness – was that point between which the individual has too much for their use, and the point which the individual has too little for their use. The increase in income above this sweet spot didn’t incrementally return any form of arbitrary feelings associated with happiness within the test subjects.
But don’t quote me on that – I haven’t seen the actual peer-reviewed scientific study yet (still looking for it). I’d like to think it’s true, nonetheless.
How to be happy
I think the required actions to take to become happy are quite simple in nature to understand. It’s just implementing the rule which is hard.
Much like how, generally, most people would tend to agree that the formula for losing weight as a typical non-athletic person is relatively simple: eat less, move more. Simple to understand and make sense of, hard to implement:
“mmm…I’ve been really working hard today, I really deserve this chocolate/ice cream/hot chocolate/milkshake/candy/triple choc dark fudge with chocolate sprinkles chocolate ice cream sundae with extra hot fudge and m&m’s/[insert your favourite treat here] that I know I probably shouldn’t have”.
“Might also skip my walk/gym/yoga session today. I’ve had a long day at work and the new episode of [insert current favourite TV show] is on”.
And I know cause both of the above thoughts have been internal dialogues that I’ve had with myself *wipes fudge from side of mouth*.
For happiness I think the formula is similarly simple: do more of the things that make you happy, do less of the things which make you unhappy. (I didn’t come up with this, again it’s just something I’ve blatantly plagiarized from someone else)
Again, it’s just implementation which is hard:
“I know this makes me happy but I should wait until I have more money or time to do it full-time”
“I should probably stop doing this as it makes me unhappy but I don’t want to face the consequences or the judgement of me doing so”.
I think in the scheme of things something to bear in mind is that; chances are if you are reading this, your life is relatively quite good. Chances are you are in a first world country, with adequate access to food, water, shelter, technology, parks, ice cream, and a whole array of other wonderful things. It can get easy to get lost in our little bubbles together in the first world – a collective bubble, if you will – and forget that there are those in this world who don’t have it as fortunate as us.
For me to be complaining and brattishly ranting that I’m not living a life filled with the happiness that I deem appropriate for myself spiritually is a gift in itself. That I can be in this position to squabble over such comparatively insignificant matters just makes me all the more grateful to be where I am. Our lives are pretty good given the circumstances.
There are civilians in other parts of the world right now who are cowering in their homes because over the last week their city got pounded with another air strike, and they have, yet again, lost another fraction of their family. Pause. And that is the reality that they live right now at the instant you’re reading this blog: hell is literally raining down around them, and they would do a lot of things that you or I would never think to ever do, just so that they could have a chance to be in that job that you’ve written off as dead-end, or soul-crushing. This section goes against a lot of what I’ve written above, but I think it’s an important reality check to counterbalance a lot of the ideas that I’ve talked about, and to tie everything up within the context of life on this planet.
Perspective is everything. The conditions of everyone’s lives are immeasurably different. Living in a bubble doesn’t help. Fooling ourselves with the promise of “one day” doing something doesn’t help.
Doing something about it helps. Taking ownership of your life and the choices you make around your actions & perspectives is the beginning of the road to happiness.
The above is as much as message to myself as it is to the readers of my blog.
Wishing you all a happy weekend everyone.