Saturday, February 6, 2010

Is Happiness a Good Idea?

So we've been having lots of fun with the distinction between choosing happiness and choosing the philosophy of happiness. If you recall from my last blog on the topic, Is Happiness a Choice?, we started with the statement that Bruce DiMarisco's philosophy is the second best way to become happy, the first is to simply decide to be happy. We went on to see that, if you're actively working through your unhappiness using his philosophy, then in that moment you're actively not believing that happiness is a choice.

Judging the Philosophy
This last statement drew some interesting responses via email, phone calls and from Iris, so let's clarify it a bit more:
fundamentally, using the philosophy is just like using cocaine, but with different side-effects.
Iris asked me, why such an extreme example. I think extreme examples often provide much brighter light and greater clarity.

I haven't used cocaine myself, but what I understand from people who have is that cocaine leaves them feeling clear, focused, confident and energetic. In my experience, working through and reconstructing my beliefs leaves me clear, focused, confident and energetic. Cocaine of course has many potent and undesirable side effects (loss of taste and sense of smell, breakdown of nasal cartilage, addiction, financial ruin, prison) that the philosophy doesn't have, but nonetheless, both are ways to become happier that don't involve simply choosing to be happier.

Using the philosophy to become happier is fundamentally no different than using food or money or sex or drugs or medication or psychoanalysis or diet and exercise; your happiness is a side effect of having changed beliefs, not a direct effect of having decided to be happier. All the above can lead to greater happiness; they just vary in their cost, accessibility, effectiveness and unwanted side effects.

I believe that many of us have judgments about good ways to become happier and bad ways to become happier and therefore set the philosophy apart as though it were fundamentally different. It's not; it's just better. The philosophy is simple, is easy to learn and practice, doesn't require special training or degrees, is free to anyone who wants it, has no lasting side effects, can be used any time and anywhere, and it works. Hence, better.

Still, if you could take a happiness pill that had no undesirable side effects, cost nothing and was available everywhere, I would take the pill. If you would have issues with that, then you probably have judgments about the philosophy versus other methods of becoming happier.

Get Over It
Most of what I learned about the philsophy, I learned from tapes recorded in the early eighties.

One of the things that really hooked me on the philosophy is that it is ultimately a self-extinguishing process."

As we practice the philosophy, we build evidence that happiness is indeed a choice. At some point, the evidence tips the scale and we try out deciding to be happy rather than working through beliefs to get happy. As we get better at choosing happiness, our choosing happiness displaces working through beliefs; before we know it, you've become someone who doesn't need the philsophy to be happy: someone who just decides to be happy.

I imagine that when teachers started teaching the philosophy, the didn't envision people becoming junkies and coming back to classes over and over again to rekindle what the teachers had envisioned as a self-extinguishing process. I'm sure that they would have seen repeat offenders as an indictment of what was being taught or how it was being taught. In the end, the effectiveness of how the philosophy is taught and applied can be measured by how quickly it becomes unnecessary. I can't think of a better quality for a product than it's being self-extinguishing.

Wanna Don't Wanna
The other concept that seemed to grab a lot of you is that, within the philosophical framework:
Unhappiness is an involuntary experience that is a consequence of beliefs, not a voluntary action. Therefore, one can simultaneously be unhappy and want to be happy.
There is a pervasive belief among many schooled in in the philosophy that if you're unhappy, it's because you want to be unhappy. Within this school of thought, to say, "I don't want to be unhappy, I just am" would be considered inauthentic and not useful.

This belief is particularly counter productive if your goal is to become happier. By insisting that you must want to be unhappy when everything inside you is screaming, "but I don't want to be unhappy!", you end up looking for answers in all the wrong places. This belief appears to walk hand-in-hand with a judgment that unhappiness is bad.

If instead, you simply view your unhappiness as an unwanted experience that you want to change, you can approach it without judgment and you can start looking in more productive places. Rather than endlessly exploring, "why do I say I want to be happy, when my unhappiness is a clear indication that I want to be unhappy?", you can actually start exploring "why am I unhappy?"

Blue Pill or Red Pill
While talking with Mark K last night about the wanna/don't wanna debacle, he said, "Now that I see I can be unhappy while wanting to be happy, I'm not so sure that I want to be happy! I mean, I might lose all my friends."

When I asked him about this, Mark responded, "At least 90% of my conversations with people are about unhappiness: things we don't like about ourselves and others, things we want to change, and so on. If I were happy all the time, what would I talk about?"

This go me thinking about the happiness pill (or based on the work that Jonathan has been doing, perhaps the happiness chip). And the question that came to mind is this:
If I were to offer you a free pill that you could take once and from then on be happy without any side effects (from the pill), would you take it?
I'm quite curious about how you might answer and why, so I started going through reasons we might have for not wanting happiness. See if any of them resonate with you.

Happiness is Uncool
I think the biggest reason that many of us have for hanging on to unhappiness or not letting it shine too brightly is social acceptance. It starts way before we become teenagers trying to fit in with the cool crowd. At very early ages we begin to learn the benefits of guilt and remorse. We learn that, if we feel badly about what we've done (at least outwardly), then adults don't punish us as harshly as when we don't.

To simply say, "I understand now that my actions have displeased you and therefore I will not repeat them" doesn't in any way go as far as "Oh, mommy, I'm so so so sorry. I feel horrible. I'll never ever do that again!"

Big displays of unhappiness can be quite effective in garnering social acceptance.

On the other hand, if you walk around being happy, people begin to dismiss you as lacking depth or unaware or stupid. How can anyone who sees all that's wrong in the world be so happy!

Happy Vegetable
Another reason to avoid the happy pill is the belief that you'd never do anything. Take an inventory of why you do what you do. How much of what motivates you is based on unhappiness or avoiding unhappiness. Of course, every activity involves a mix of motivations, but you gotta ask yourself... Do I work more because I love my job or because I need the money? Do I spend time with my kids more because I delight in them or because I should? Do I get up in the morning more because I can't wait to start the new day or because I gotta get to work on time?

With so much of our daily activity motivated directly or indirectly by unhappiness, it's easy derive that without unhappiness as a motivator, you might end up not being motivated to do anything!

Happy Sociopath
As I've mentioned before, Iris has been reading books by Martin Seligmen about positive psychology. As she's been reading excerpts to me, it's become clear to me that Dr. Seligmen has uncovered some really great ways to become happier and to have a more positive outlook; it's also become apparent that he doesn't always consider ultimate happiness to be a great idea due to the side effects of being completely happy.

Given how we humans interact (and how much of Mark K's time with friends is focused on unhappiness), it would be easy to conclude that it's our shared unhappiness that binds us together as a species. It's our unhappiness that makes us human. If we were to lose it, we would lose our ability to empathize with and care for others.

Happiness Should Be Earned
At the core our work ethic is the idea that I don't deserve things simply because I'm occupying space and using air. I deserve things because I work for them. I believe that many of us apply this to happiness. If we don't work for our happiness, if we don't earn it somehow, we cheapen it and don't value it.

Happy, but Lonely
Of course, if you were happy all the time and weren't motivated to be with people out of obligation or to share in the latest gossip or to listen to and tell sad tales, then you might end up all by yourself. And then you'd be... unhappy?

Happy, but Bored
While talking about losing all his friends if he were to suddenly become happy, Mark K also mentioned that he just wouldn't know what to do with himself. What would happen tomorrow morning if you never, ever again had obligations or fear of the future or regrets from the past or limits on what you could learn? Would you revel in it or panic?

Happy End of the World
The culmination of all the above beliefs about the downside of happiness is that the world would simply fall apart. Imagine if all at once everyone, everywhere were to become happy! It would be as though the glue that holds everything together (businesses, religions, families, countries, marriages, friendships) would dissolve. The result would be chaos.

Is Happiness a Good Idea?
Although I can relate to and understand the above beliefs and others, I don't buy them. There are cases where I see them play out in the moment, but the results we anticipate are coming from a place of unhappiness and fear.

It's not that being happy wouldn't potentially lead to many changes in your life (new job, new career, new religion, no religion, new partner, new location). It's not that many people wouldn't decide that you're no longer their cup of tea. It's simply that, in the end, we do all this unhappiness for one express purpose... to become happy.

In the movie, The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo the opportunity to leave the matrix forever or to return to it as though nothing had happened.
"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
So, what would it be for you, blue or red?

Happy Saturday!

1 comment:

  1. "Too" Funny, (almost) ~~Ain't it da tooth?
    Thank you for sharing your artistry Tef bw


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