Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pardon Me (Part Deux)

When last we conversed (Pardon Me), I was sitting cross-legged on the floor at Gate C22 in McCarran Airport, Las Vegas and they were calling my seating group for boarding. I'd been sharing some of my thoughts as to why people seem so reluctant to be generally enthusiastic, energetic and or happy, reserving those experiences for a small number of limited circumstances.

I had enumerated four reasons for regulating enthusiasm.
  1. Fraud: the assumption that people who appear to be positive and happy all the time are somehow faking it and that there must be some hidden agenda or ulterior motive!
  2. Flakiness: the assumption that people who are overly enthusiastic and energetic are simply out of touch with reality.
  3. Disappointment: becoming enthusiastic and happy is just a setup for future disappointment when it doesn't work out the way you planned it.
  4. Conservation: if you use all your energy right now, you'll burn out.

As we boarded our plane, I passed our companions from the gate. The husband was having difficulty maintaining his general sense of malaise as the plane replacement had resulted in only a ten minute delay. He grunted something about not reading too much into the apparently miraculous turn-around as I moved on towards the back of the plane to find open seats in the emergency-exit row. I grabbed one for me and one for Iris and sat down with plenty of room for my 17" MacBook even if the guy in front of me were to way 400 lbs and were to nap from Vegas to Hartford.

Enjoying the spaciousness of my primo exit-row seat, I thought some more about reasons for not being happy all the time.

You're Insensitive
There seems to be a commonly held sense that your being happy can cause others to be unhappy and that it's important to calibrate your happiness to that of those around you. For example, you don't want to walk into a funeral laughing loudly and telling jokes or into a cancer ward beaming about all that is good in your life. You don't want to highlight how unhappy others are by turning up the contrast with the brightness of your own happiness.

Stagnation and Failure
Another reason to not be too happy is that you'll never be motivated to change or to do better. Why would you ever move on to a new job if you're happy in the one you have? Why would you ever leave a bad relationship if you're happy there? How will you ever get A's in school if you're happy with C's?

Everyone needs a little unhappiness to motivate themselves to move on and to do better, right?

Of course, if you were happy all the time, then it would be easy to push you around. You'd never take a stand for anything. You're sitting at dinner enjoying an ear of buttered sweet-corn and your older brother grabs it from you, replacing it with his gnawed leftover. If you were to be happy regardless of circumstances, then you'd just pick up the remains of his efforts and continue where he left off.

But I Don't Want To!
Of course ultimately the reason that we govern and regulate our levels of energy, enthusiasm and happiness is simple: we do it because we want to.

We want to, because we feel that it's the best way to take care of ourselves.

We may fear being perceived as fakes or a flakes; we may fear disappointment or burn-out; we may fear being insensitive, or losing our drives to do better, or becoming victims and not fighting for ourselves. In the end, however, regardless of the motivating fear, lethargy, apathy and unhappiness are choices with reasonable motivations.

They're reasonable, but likely not well founded.

OK, being perceived as a flake or fake, is probably well founded, but the question would be, "Why do you care?" and more importantly, being perceived as a flake or a fake doesn't make you a flake or a fake. I believe that it's the deepest and most sincere people who find abiding happiness.

Not getting what you want is only coincidentally associated with disappointment (disappointment being just one of many optional responses) and, as far as I can tell, lethargy and apathy drain you much more quickly than energy and enthusiasm.

Being happy doesn't require a loss of decorum; energy, enthusiasm and happiness can come in the form of a dancing, babbling brook, but also in the form and intensity of a deep, steadily flowing river.

To be sure, unhappiness is a great motivator of change, one that we use all the time. In effect, unhappiness propels us away from what is; however, there are other more sustainable motivators for change, ones such as vision, recollection and role models, ones that draw us towards what we want. And of course, one can take a stand for who they are and what they want militantly or happily.

Time to Plow
Well, when we got home last night, turned out that it had snowed a bit while we were in Vegas. Iris will be off to play with her little friends in a just a bit and the car is about halfway up the driveway. Time to jump on the ATV and plow (enthusiastically, energetically and happily!)

Happy Saturday!

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