Posted by: cavemanwithmartini | March 9, 2010

Happiness Is For The Heartbroken.

Chapter Two of How To Be Relentlessly Happy:

II. Happiness is for the heartbroken.

As I go to write the book, “How To Be Relentlessly Happy”, it is during the big gold-rush days of happiness, and there are many people going down to the rivers with a pan.

The severe downturn in the economy, the changing of the Millennium, a choose-your-own splay of doomsday scenarios, the aging of the general populace, a lot of people who never asked the question, are now asking the question; how can I be happy and how could I have wasted so much time on anything else? A realization which can only increase tension, and happiness goes a little further away, still.

It’s a stock-portfolio many forgot to build, one that at the same time, others are living quite high on. Imagine a new gilded age, happening at the same time and right next to, a severe economic depression, and you got a sense of this psychological moment on our planet. Many have gambled badly and are now taking heavy losses, hemorrhaging chances to be happy with no clue how to reverse course. Some are running to the safe havens of happiness only to find, sure, plenty of safety, but not much happiness.

At the same time never have we been so deluged with depictions of people being, apparently, happy. These happy people are: traveling, rich, exploring new trends, cutting-edge technologies, plastic surgeries, diet-trends, sex-techniques, you could go your whole day and never be separated from a steady stream of information on how other people are living better, but not necessarily happier, than you are. And many people do spend much of their day that way; watching from the sidelines, other people living happy lives.

The New York Times has added a column examining issues of happiness from the perspective of well-known authors and noted high-profile persons with quirky, chirpy perspectives. I almost feel a regular column on genuinely experiencing grief might actually give someone a better chance at happiness than another aphorism-strewn everything-is-great-or-could-be-if-only item by someone who has plenty of insurance, money in the bank, several far flung homes, and all day to sip tea and talk to their agent about writing a happiness column for The New York Times.

Several well-respected scientific studies have been dutifully released, examining happiness clinically, as if you could put something so ineffable under a microscope. (They can.) And there are books combining approaches and disciplines to amplify results. Get more sunlight, they say, eat more fruit. Organize your clutter, and maybe something will happen! We all rush to try it. As if hearing from a friend that using lemons and the sun is a great way to get natural highlights in you hair, when in fact some people are getting a few highlights and many others are just getting really sticky hair.

I can’t help but feel that, for the average person, lists of things to do and pursue and immediately become can only make things worse. You weren’t happy anyway, and now someone is telling you that on top of not being happy, you could also be eating a lot more salad, getting more exercise and live somewhere much funner. Stop being a loser fatty and get to feeling positive about life! is the subtext here. Advocates of The Secret, I’m looking at you.

Telling people to be happy is a bit rich in my view, demonstrating how people could be happy is a little bit better, but all of it is very tricky to attempt without alienating your already thoroughly aggrieved audience. Advocates of a program like The Secret underestimate how deeply-insulting saying something like Think positive and improve your world! is to the person who has been dealt crippling blow, after crippling blow, by life. Even the title “The Secret”, this implied exclusivity, the whole approach. For many people there’s no entry point to it.

Who the hell asked you, and maybe my life is just fine the way it is, could both be heard as completely reasonable responses to the boot-camp-y, over-caffeinated happiness devotees of some of the more strident new-age disciplines. Bubbling up from a spontaneous assertion of self-acceptance, I daresay verbalizing either of those punky sentiments to someone who was suggesting that of course it’s your own fault you are so fat, might even make an overweight person, for the moment, a bit happier.

What if someone demanded you immediately imagine something you have never even seen or even heard of before? You’d either get angry or wearily dismiss that person.

Our inability to think more positively is more than the fact that we just can’t see the positive, our cynicism is how we know the world, the filter through which we experience everything, precisely because it is a valued link to a previous experience in our lives which we see as the part of ourselves we know or like the best; the time in our lives when we were in love (even if it was painful), the time when our family was all together (ditto). Our pain is the only feeling that we’ve ever fully memorized, to toss it out can sometimes feel like we are wiping out our identity and flinging ourselves into an abyss.

Our identity as something larger, bigger and better, might be wonderful but we almost never know that in a single instant. Something I noticed for myself in my struggles through life was that I had to build my confidence up, a lot, even to do something as beneficial to me, and as obvious, as letting go of all the garbage from my past I was holding to my chest like it was the only greatest treasure I’d ever know. Letting go of that which is holding you back can be, for many people, an overwhelming, even terrifying process. Even as I write those words, I must close my eyes in appreciation that anyone ever does it. What a leap of faith changing our deepest thinking can be!

Deciding how and what to exist for, can by itself contain many difficult even painful decisions. This existential-level pain that we all share should inspire deep compassion in us, not a feeling of, “hurry up and change”. “Hurry up and be exactly like me”. That is a very un-attractive, limited mindset.

The point of view of “hurry up and change”, which is implied everywhere in our culture, should we choose to continue it, will keep humanity in the emotionally-dark ages indefinitely. We need to have much more gentleness, much more patience and much deeper care for each other, and we can get there. I see this process as already started, and the success of this movement absolutely sure.

For too long, the pursuit of real happiness has become purview of fewer; those who have read up on it, who own land, who are hip, who have time to experiment, those who retire early, those who know other people who are also happy and whom they can therefore hob-knob about it with, and those who can afford the never-ending accessories being happy supposedly requires.

The search by so many for something so essential might even be amusing, maybe, if time weren’t passing and our lives weren’t tick-tick-ticking by. If people weren’t suffering. But, we are. The passing of time in a human life with still no happiness must be noted, not just for those without advantages but also for those that have every single one.

In this respect I feel equal concern and empathy, and equal excitement. Let there be a full-accounting, a full measure of happiness, finally, both for those that have everything and have tried everything, and also for those that never for a moment tried a single thing ever. Those who never considered that they could be, because they were too poor, because it wasn’t meant for them, because they don’t deserve it. And for each person I contend, soaring, expansive happiness, is possible. And that is terribly exciting and comforting.

I say, even, that this seismic-shift toward leading a life of greater fulfillment, is the future of humanity, if there is to be one. In the voices of the youngest people I meet everywhere I particularly hear it; that the environment must be protected, that no country is on the earth alone, that people are suffering that are help-able. They are bored of talk and political posturing, and are ready to make sweeping changes to this world themselves. Not only are they ready to act, and not only are they acting, they are ready to act out of something very different than cynicism or a quest for personal power. Happiness would be a very protective aura to enshrine the Earth in. And greater happiness is much more likely to be achieved in our lifetime, than happiness as a by-product of some universally-accepted religion.

If we’re waiting for that to happen, it’s going to take too long.

At the end of the day I don’t feel happy because of any of the factors in any study I’ve seen or heard of, not because I followed some books demand that I immediately think positive, eat a lot of fresh vegetables, live in California, or have a well-organized closet, even though all of it of course helps.

A bit of poetry, a glass of wine-we all know these can go either way-make you feel like royalty or leave you crying with your head down on the table. All of these factors are neutral, on their own. Golden sunlight streaming through the clear air and settling gently on your face? There is no promise inherent in the experiencing of golden sunlight, if all you feel inside yourself is anxiety, insecurity, fear, grief and rage.

And not everyone whose house is clean and whose life is organized is happy, not by a very long shot. I have the addresses to prove it.

I am happy because I learned how to deal with, once and for all, the recurrent obstacles to my happiness. Time and time again, these were:

● Debilitating romantic heartbreak.

● Terror and deep confusion over death and dying.

● Acute sadness and extreme resistance toward dramatic loss and rapid change.

● Because of an inability to build a sense of self on something stable, authentic, interesting to me, and uplifting.

● Because my ideas about God, my relationship with God, was unworkable, painful, and overly complex.

These obstacles which represent a list of things that kept me from being happy also demonstrate what I am going to write about, the outline of this book. But I am able to do that only because more than anything else, this list is my own biography. I will write and tell you my thoughts about these things not as a credential-laden official with letters after my name but simply as a human being who has lived a life, who has suffered through life differently, until I suffered not at all. I will write what I experienced, who I met and what I was told, what books I read, what I saw with my own eyes. Not as a doctor, but as a patient with wounds that wanted for so long, just the right kind of attention, and ultimately got it. My life is one experienced not as a teacher, but a student, an observer, an utter failure. Until it was somehow a success.

I didn’t stop asking questions just because doing so was becoming became harder, stranger, more frightening, or ended in a different result than the one I hoped for. With very little let-up, I only became more resolute to have a few key breakthroughs, until it was nearly the point of living my life. And with every single one, I did.

I wanted my life to mean something. Not just to others, I didn’t consistently care enough what others thought, but to myself, and as much pain as I was going through, I didn’t want to leave this planet without answers, without a chance to face up to what I saw as the grand issues of life. The intention was to bring everything I knew to bear on my pain until either it ceased to exist, or I did. The results were that I, very slowly, became the happiest person I knew or heard of.

I didn’t set out to become the happiest person I knew. I just became this, bit by bit, without realizing it. I never made it a goal. I just wanted to end my constant upheaval over the things on that list, and if I could do that, then whatever happened, happened.

What happened was pure, unsullied happiness. If I added something then, like good weather or a café macchiato, something from someones list of things to try (and for kicks, I do include one of my own way toward the end here) I’d become even happier, just silly happy, ridiculously, mad-hatter happy. But in the absence of any add-ons, any flourishes, I was always, always the happiest person I knew, wherever I went. And that is the case most everywhere I go now.

I realized this, a few years ago, when I began being regularly accused of happiness, by other people.

“Why are YOU so happy!”, I’d hear, emphasis on the pronoun.

Occasionally the emphasis would change and it would be, “Why are you ALWAYS so happy?”

I love when it’s the last word and the question is kind of disgustedly spat-out, “Why are you always so HAPPY?”

One friend pulled me aside and with great curiosity said, “It’s like you have the secret to all of life written down on a little piece of paper in your pocket.”

I laughed. I liked that, but thought if I did, that I should perhaps take it out, and read it aloud. I doubted if I could like it as much if I didn’t share it.

All this continued with more and more frequency until a year and a half ago. I was in a large group of friends and acquaintances sitting in a big comfortable living room, in a light-filled, gorgeous house, on a beautiful warm day in San Francisco, one of the paradises of the world. None of us had work to do, and the only question before us, was how we were going to leisurely spend the day. But-that isn’t what we discussed.

Little by little, the talk turned to how unhappy people were. I don’t mean unhappy people abstractly out there in the world somewhere, but right there in that house. I got very quiet and simply listened as the friends around me; which included some rich people, some medium-income people, and some poor people, people with family, kids, degrees, Well-traveled people, people of worldly or soulful accomplishment, in substantive relationships with attractive people, fit people, all detailed the many ways that they were, to one extent or another, kind of vaguely un-happy people. This continued for some time until there was a pause in the conversation and one friend called suddenly over to me.

“Hey you! TROY! Why are you always so relentlessly happy?”

No particular emphasis on one word or another. Just all together like a river. I didn’t say much just then, but something about hearing it just that way, at just that time greatly affected me. It’s true I thought of myself as happy, and I also had to admit, I identified something relentless about my happy-state.

I knew that I would answer him, and I recognized that the decision to do so had changed the air, and made the moment memorable. Everyone leaned over in my direction, as if to listen to what I would say. I only looked down and became very sober.

I smiled, the moment passed completely. But I continued to think and take my friends question seriously. I knew the only way to possibly answer him, if I dared to, would be with deep compassion for him, for myself and for the life that I had lived that somehow resulted in the idea that I could possibly have an answer to this.

by
Troy Ygnacio Soriano

All my writings on How To Be Relentlessly Happy are on scribd available for your chosen e-reader here.

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