Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Secret of Happiness #1

I tried starting this on Friday; something like this appeared on Friday ever so briefly, so apologies if you've read this or something like this before.

Recently I have been thinking about little Tinker, sitting in a comfy pink uterus with another five months to spend playing with its fingers and toes before it has to make its journey into the world to meet us all (Tinker is played by an actor). And I have been thinking about the lessons I have learnt in life which would have made things a damn site easier had they been instilled in me from the start.

I have also been thinking about this hateful self-help industry, which I have touched on before. I don’t mean self-help when it comes to a particular dilemma or a medical condition or something, but this “Your Wallpaper Can Change Your Life” hogwash. Plus all the promises of happiness we receive from those offering us products and services. When I recently opened a new bank account and received the bumph in the post, I had this glossy brochure entitled Three Steps To Happiness which contained the three step instructions to activate my account. But Happiness?

However, I do think there is much mileage in sharing experiences and perspectives on life and so, perhaps rather than leaving this stuff to self-appointed gurus or commercial interests to issue us with their saleable wisdom, I think perhaps ordinary people should just share what they have learnt with one another.

People are afraid to do this, afraid to assume authority. We struggle to say, “This works for me” – perhaps we think that in order to say such things, we must have perfect lives?
Which brings me to the first important lesson I have learnt in life so far.

Happiness is only ever part of the picture.

One of those miserable German philosophers, Nietsche or Schopenhauer or some such person, said something along the lines that if we had immortal life, we would not experience love, particularly erotic love, because there would be no urgency, no prospect of loss. This chap (who might not even have been a German come to think of it) said that you can only truly love something which you know has a finite existence, something which you are certain of losing. One way or another, we will lose one another.

When such losses occur, of course, it hurts like hell. And even before such losses occur, we worry terribly about our loved-ones, and experience doubt, frustration, jealousy and disappointment. Like Buddha said; He who loves 50 people has 50 woes; he who loves no one has no woes.

Love is only the most obvious example; exactly the same applies to any project or cause that you chose to invest in, any goal you work towards, anything you care about at all. All of this will bring you at least some suffering and none of it is going to last forever.

I think we are living in a strange time in the West just now, where we may be losing touch with this particular truth. Suffering has become intolerable to us. Nobody should be allowed to suffer, in any way, ever. If you have any kind of hunger, feed it. If you have any kind of pain, numb it.

At the same time, we have just come from the opposite and similarly ridiculous extreme, where having been conceived in sin, we were born to suffer and submitting to all manner of unnecessary misery and pain was seen as positively virtuous – especially for women. We really don’t want to go back to that.

And yet, if an individual was to get to the end of their life without ever really having suffered, they probably wouldn’t have had a very worthwhile or enjoyable existence at all. It does not necessary follow that all suffering is associated with some greater happiness – I wish it were. Unfortunately there seems no natural justice and some experiences in life are far more painful than they are pleasant.

It is however my experience that such things are not altogether useless, not given a little distance. Often they teach us a great deal about ourselves, other people and the world around us. We could live without them for sure, but we may learn something from them.
And fortunately, there are also very many experiences in life which are far more pleasant than they are painful. And indeed, very often those things, those relationships or projects, which you have to work the hardest at and suffer the most for, are also those which offer the greatest rewards and indeed, are the greatest source of happiness.

However, the price of things is something that we have to come to terms with in order to get on and not spend our lives wishing for some change that would bring about perfection or wondering what is wrong with us because we are so very fortunate and yet still feel anxious and melancholy from time to time. A degree of dissatisfaction is necessary for progress.

Life is beautiful, but it is an animated, complicated and flawed beauty rather than something air-brushed, still and symmetrical in a magazine. And indeed, it may well be the transience and imperfection that make our passion for it so very intense.


Anonymous said...

I think, basically, that you get what you pay for in this life. Put as much as you can in, and you will get more back. That goes for work, relationships, pleasures, whatever. And many of the miseries are cause by people trying to get what they have not paid for - using other people, or drink, or drugs, or spending oodles of money, to get experiences or rewards that have not been earned.

Anonymous said...

Very wise words here indeed. I think it is all very true even thogh I, maybe by my own mistake, come from the camp of that I and no one should suffer a thing.

I must admit that my expectations of life and others have been too high. I definitely get this one from my mother. Her's are much higher than mine and when i hear her speak, I often think "well, you should know full well what so-and-so is like, what more did you expect?" She'll go on about how crap her cake decorating is when she does such a great job at it. She'll constantly ask my sister, anyone "are you sure it's good enough"? I think, accept the answer for crying out loud, what more do you want?

I've come to point where I'm asking myself that question. What mroe do I expect out of life. Have I led myself down some kind of utopia that doesn't exist? I think that's the problem most people have got. Somewhere along the line, people have promised themselves and each other that there's alwyas something better, that what we have doesn't measure up, isn't "good enough". Many seem to think happeness lies with more material possessions and lottory wins. It's clearly a myth, a myth that even our shallow obcessed media have exposed. Yet, people still think a million quid equals happiness.

I feel this all started with religion and the proise of heaven, or the promised land of today. It's been a message instilled in believers and non-belivers alike, thoughout the education system and any religious teaching, at school, through the media, by watching a prominent vicar/priest on TV during a half and hour slot.

I also think that we are told that we can have it all. This is just too unrealistic and, when people learn this, that's when they become resentful, hurt and miserable with their lives.

I don't know what the answer is though. We're hear to learn, to learn a great deal. Yes, we do learn a hell of a lot through many kinds of suffering, trauma etc. However, it's a shame our learning has to come from that source. I suspect that we all had it easy all our lives, we'd never learn a thing. Especially the vital lessons in life.

The Goldfish said...


I think Charles, what you say, is basically true, but some people do suffer great misfortune, get into abusive relationships and crap jobs that they struggle to escape. However, there are probably all sorts of complicated reasons for this, so all else being equal, you're probably right.

Justin, I think your points are very interesting. I certainly agree that we have perhaps been sold the idea that if we buy this product, drive this car, lose weight, get a mortgage or whatever it is, then we will suddenly be happy with all areas of our lives. Hmm, this is somethig I will elaborate on later.

Anonymous said...

Goldfish, I love your wisdom. My life is in a state of disarray at present, but sometimes your blog has the power to put things in perspective. You really do have true insight, talent and a beautiful and unique take on things. Don't ever stop writing.

The Goldfish said...

Thank you Anonymous, that comment was really heartening. I hope that you soon find yourself entering calmer waters.