Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Happiness Is A Warm Gun


- You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown

Yinyin says, "happiness is 70% delusion."

The bottomline is happiness is a state of mind. Human desire is innately insatiable and what lures us to the future is the renewal of this appetite. When you live in a culture that is obsessed with the pursuit of happiness, it reflects a sad chasm of sorts. Sure, I'm not saying that we should all then seek to be sad, or as tautology would have it, be not not sad, unhappy or seek the lack of happiness. It's just that when so many people place such a high value on something that you can't always count on, then it gets overrated.

People mug their lives off to get the degree, which would give them the chance to slog their lives off to get that house, which in turn gives them the opportunity to incur more housework and bills, all in the name of pursuing something that should've made them happy. It seems that our brains are all wired to form logic-processing errors that make us want the things that cause us to be unhappy (and perhaps not want the things that produce happiness).

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.
- A.A. Milne

It's then easy to see how many people can find a happy state of mind to be delusional. It is transient, lifts one up above level 0 and then drops you down to -1 when it's over because the you dwell on the fact that the happiness wasn't real and convince yourself that you were better off without that temporal state of joy. Everything that happiness promises therefore becomes something you'll never have. Happiness then becomes something to shun and that in itself causes further burden.

I think this is a self sustaining reinforcement of general unhappiness which starts from somewhere. It could be self created when there is evidence that happiness is mostly genetic, or it could've been triggered by an event that makes one believe strongly enough that there really is no true happiness and that such a revelation plunges one into a dungeon of despair that is always at odds with happiness itself, thus creating that self sustaining cycle of unhappiness with any state of mind: happiness as well as unhappiness.

As psychologist Daniel Gilbert writes, "it's as though we're equipped with a hedonic thermostat that is constantly resetting us back to our emotional baseline." Happiness could very well be a biological tool. "How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers, talented lovers and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners and deflated soufflés?" Gilbert asks. "The answer is simple: We cook the facts."

That's why they say the insane ones have it better, as parts of their brains designed to fool us with the right amount of delusion to get through life are impaired. The clinically depressed seem less susceptible to these basic 'cognitive errors'. Healthy people can be deluded into greater happiness when granted the mere illusion of control over their environment; the clinically depressed recognize the illusion for what it is. All in all, it's evidence that unhappy people seem to have the more accurate view of reality — and that learning how to healthily 'delude' ourselves may be the key to leading a better mental life.

A great deal of this gripe with the realisation that we are deluded stems from the fact that we, especially the more westernised, are spoon-fed with an ideal concept of happiness to keep us complacent. Once that fragile delusion we define as happiness is crushed, so are many people who can't handle it.

I know my own happiness, and I'd also like to think that I know enough to ensure that I'd never fool myself about what's real and what isn't. There is joy in being in the company of good friends, of having the opportunity to be pensive on a long bus ride, of having a can of beer and a packet of chips, of buying a new gadget, of having a satisfying discussion about stupid and pointless things, of having something to do, of having nothing to do, of being able to simply be alive. I know I am pissed if someone tells me I am damn bo jio, I am sad if I end up doing badly for psychology, I feel loss if a loved one passes away or whatever unhappy emotion that accompanies forgetting to watch an Arsenal vs Manchester United match of the season when I didn't have anything to do anyway.

In fact, paradoxically, there is joy for me in being a cynic; i.e. I can be happy being skeptical of happiness. I know happiness is flawed; the resultant 'happiness' is my ability to spot it, deal with it, etc. The problem lies in the pursuit of joy because happiness is funny - the more you want it, the more it eludes you; the more you place it on a pedestal, the more it becomes the worst hypocrite; your worst nightmare.

Personally speaking, it is when your focus in life is right and you can transcend the superficialities of what others would like to have you believe is happiness that you can embrace the moment. Embrace the wondrous by-products (for lack of a better word) of the means to happiness, and then learn to let go.

People always dwell on guilt or regret, which is such a waste of mental and emotional resource. A lot of life is lived on hindsight, and a barrage of things such as, "I shouldn't have bought that Mango shirt I never ever wear", "NS was crap, but looking back I guess it was okay" or "I feel cheated having come to SMU" only to say it wasn't so bad years later when you're in the workforce.

Why not just realise the situation you're in and then embrace it? This is an honest, in-the-moment assessment; any other hindsight revisiting is self-lying delusion. Such post-hoc self-rationalization for irrational behaviour, to me, also contributes to why so many people are unhappy with happiness and the resultant delusion that seems to accompany it.

That said, much of the unhappiness that comes along with happiness itself centers on the aspect of one's expectations of happiness and how one deals with it. It is thus unfair to say that happiness is detrimental and is hence unnecessary/evil/a burden and we could or should do without it. This is a somewhat controversial point but it is largely agreed that a universal determinant of emotion is one's level of happiness (i.e. anger, sadness, etc all only have value in relation to the benchmark of happiness - think brightness as amount of light, goodness as degree of morality, coldness as lack of heat, etc arguments). Hence to eliminate the potential for happiness is to kill off emotion altogether. How much of a human does that make? There's only an issue when one is at odds with happiness itself.

There are many tenets to life that show that dwelling on the fact that happiness is delusional (which really may not be a bad thing) is unnecessary. Focusing narrowly on a love lost is forgetting that it is a greater deed to have loved than never. Brooding excessively over a broken dream is unfairly shutting out the beauty of having had a sense of purpose. We all could have it so much better if we stop romanticising the unnecessary dwelling over unhappiness. It is all a matter of coming to terms with things the moment, especially when you are fully capable of it.

"There is no mystery to happiness.

Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn - or worse, indifference - cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn't look ahead. He lives in the present.

But there's the rub. The present can never deliver one thing: meaning. The ways of happiness and meaning are not the same. To find happiness, a man need only live in the moment; he need only live for the moment. But if he wants meaning - the meaning of his dreams, his secrets, his life - a man must reinhabit his past, however dark, and live for the future, however uncertain. Thus nature dangles happiness and meaning before us all, insisting only that we choose between them."

- Jed Rubenfeld, The Interpretation of Murder

Essentially, happiness being a delusion isn't the problem. We are often as unhappy as we can allow ourselves to be. Sure, people may dismiss this as being further disillusioned, but the equation is really simple. Some people have to be enlightened to the fact that it's all a matter of perception and focus in life that allows you to seek happiness when it matters and seek meaning when you have to. These are two different things but, when well understood, they sum up to make our lives so much better.

Go forth, enjoy the process of being in school, of being a teenager, of being a friend, and when that is over, move on. Dwelling on the fact that your happiness was inevitably short-lived is but a futile attempt to cling on to something that cannot last. Look forward where your passions lead (rather than be told what degree to choose, what job is best for you, what you should do at all) not because you will find joy, but because it will give you a sense of meaning in life. The pursuit of happiness only leaves you flailing at thin air; true joy will come inevitably when you seek meaning through your passions.

Happiness is a Warm Gun is a Beatles song written by John Lennon. The American Rifle Association adopted Charles Schulz's Peanuts book titled "Happiness is a Warm Puppy" and came up with the controversial phrase for their cause: "Happiness is a warm gun in your hand" which John Lennon chanced upon in a magazine. He said, "I just thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you just shot something."

And since this is a post on happiness, I might as well have a couple of quotes rather than the usual one liner.

If only we'd stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time.
- Edith Wharton

Nobody really cares if you're miserable, so you might as well be happy.
- Cynthia Nelms

Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.
- Robertson Davies

The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.
- James Openheim

There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.
- Logan Pearsall Smith, Afterthoughts, 1931

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tranquil pleasures last the longest; we are not fitted to bear the burden of great joys.
- Christian Nestell Bovee

We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.
- Frederick Koenig

Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit.
- Hosea Ballou

A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour.

Today's Listenables:
Angels And Airwaves - Demise

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