Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Happiness, potential

This blog seems to reflect my unfortunate personality: months of silence followed by ranting that no one understands. Even though I bang on about change, I’m really not sure anything has changed from the sad little person I was three years ago. Why did I come here? What did I achieve?

Instead I have pet theories about the most abstract things. Still I think understanding the abstract level can change the world. If you keep stepping back, eventually you’ll see the whole picture.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and its discontents. Why is it the things we want the most can’t be pursued directly? Love is an example, happiness too. The ‘pursuit’ of happiness is really misleading.

Hunger for happiness in and of itself is what utopias are made of – and utopias always turn into dystopias. They are what Nietzche calls “the wretched contentment.”

Even people with the most simple dreams find, all the time, that happiness doesn’t lie at the end of their journey. The woman who has always wanted to be a housewife feels bored and dis-respected when she gets there, the person who pursues money and status eventually finds them empty. We are terrible at predicting what will make us happy.

If happiness was a solid object, which we are apt to think it is, like a gold bar, or a journey destination, we should be a lot better at predicting how to get it by now. It was the point of the whole of human progress.

But our failure so far just goes to show it’s totally wrong. What if happiness is only a byproduct of something else and has no substance of its own? Like a mist that retreats with the dawn, we can only ever experience it intermittently.

The problem is we are not really built for happiness. We have it the wrong way round. We don’t exist to experience nice emotions, emotions exist to pull us or push us towards things that help survival. They only point the way, like candy they’re awarded for good behaviour. Happiness is sweet but it’s shallow, and the time it’s in your mouth is short.

We are however built for the less glamorous task of integrating our potential. But this is really complex because the potential is completely open. If there’s one thing in common in all peoples it’s versatility and adaptability. As I said before our natures are really like Mutant of the X-Men. We are like machines with an inbuilt panel that can be re-programmed to make anything. That kind of power is on a whole different level to even the most powerful machine that only makes one thing.

Everywhere in nature, versatility has won over brute force. But it’s not obvious, it looks gentle and soft on the outside, it’s a secret weapon.

Integrating all its strands may be impossible, but the more you can include the more successful the individual, or culture, civilization. We weave our lives like a wide plait of multicoloured threads. Its patterns determine our direction. The smoother, wider, more inclusive the weaving the more comes back to us. But what this weaving means in practical terms is another post – or another 10 posts. It takes some figuring out.

Happiness is incidental to this process. It’s only a boomerang that you throw in one direction and hope it comes back from somewhere, you don’t know for sure. It’s only a possibility.

So my conclusion is: don’t pursue happiness. It sounds bleak but the message is not nihilistic. The message is that it’s natural to experience happiness only intermittently. Don’t sweat the lack of happiness, your task lies elsewhere. Your task is bigger than happiness, life would be too shallow if this candy was what we strived for.

It’s like my theory on meaninglessness. Everyone would be more relaxed if you knew it’s inevitable. The real, worthy object for your striving doesn’t lie in trying to destroy that feeling, it doesn’t lie in eliminating the lack of happiness. Instead we are meant to take the difficult path, that’s why the reward of happiness exists. And so, paradoxically, along the way happiness is likely to boomerang back to you – though that’s only a possibility.

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