I just met the greatest woman and she seemed to really like me! I gave this client presentation at work that went so well — afterwards, the CEO thanked me and told me, ‘You’re a smart guy.” I put a bid on the coolest little house and they accepted it! Oh, I’m so happy!
Being happy is awesome. I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy? On the other hand, to be happy is to be dependent on what’s happening. Happiness is caused — you’re happy because you met the guy or gal, got the job, the house, the fancy boots. This presumably means that when you don’t experience any of those things, you’re not happy. Which means that your emotional state of being is contingent on things you have no, or at best little, control over. So while I’m all for being happy, it seems to be that the goal to be happy necessitates that you will, in fact, not be happy.
A friend of mine has recently been feeling blue, lost, out of sorts — she quit her job of six years because of the awful office politics and finding a new gig is proving difficult, despite her impressive acumen. So she thought traveling might help clear her mind and took off on a whim that turned into a seven-week tour of South East Asia. She was happy traveling — but then she came home. Traveling was fun, exciting, distracting, edifying in its way, perhaps. But, to state the obvious, wherever you go, there you are. If she’s only happy traveling, she has to keep traveling — or else be unhappy.
Now that she’s back and feels bad about herself because she doesn’t have a job (how did capital ever achieve that — that we feel bad about ourselves for not working? It’s genius!). So what does she do? She looks down, literally and metaphorically — at a screen but also down at the mundane, at the tangle of things that are causing her anxiety in the first place. If she’s anxious that she’s not ‘good enough’ for a job then mining LinkedIn and judging herself against other resumes is only going to accent her misery. I don’t know Excel! I don’t have good management principles! I need to emphasize my financial experience! All of these things may or may not be true but none of them will alleviate that anxiety. On the contrary, this scrutiny, this endless parsing of why why why of course only intensifies her anxiety.
You don’t get out of shit by miring yourself deeper in it. You get out of shit by getting out of shit. And that begins by looking up, looking out of the mire, out of the entanglement of petty issues. This is what’s wrong with most so-called therapists. You go to them and say, I’m sad and confused about my boyfriend or girlfriend. And how do they respond? They begin analyzing it with you. What did she say? How did you feel? Have you ever felt this way before? That is, the shrink is working to keep you mired in the nonsense, keep you anxious, keep you sweating the absurd minutia of life.
Now, of course there can be some value — or at least some pleasure — in understanding how or why or even that you keep doing the same things over and over. This is the dominant model of talk therapy: understand it and you’ll stop doing it.
But, for the most part, focusing on your problems intensifies your problem — precisely because your problem is that you focus on your problems. This same friend, knowing somewhere in her that LinkedIn will not be her existential savior, began saying daily affirmations that she found on the web. And this is what I hear her saying, I shit you not: Amazing opportunities exist for me in every aspect of my life (See more nonsense here >).
OK, sure, that sounds good. But people already believe the world is filled with opportunities they’ve missed — I should have married him! I shouldn’t have quit that job! I should have got my PhD in computer science, not rhetoric! This talk of opportunity once again focuses on the mundane — only with a rosy tint. It suggests there are these doors everywhere and it’s our job to find them and then figure out how they open. So we’re either filled with regret for missed opportunities or constantly anxious that we’re missing the opportunities right in front of us. In both cases, we’ve missed life, looked right over its head, glanced sideways and backwards.
Fuck opportunity. This moment right now is beautiful and perfect. It’s not an opportunity. It’s already happening whether you like it or not — so you might as well like it. You don’t need to search for anything out there, for opportunity, for doors, for love. Life is always already beautiful and perfect — necessarily. What is more depressing than someone saying she wants to be loved? To say that means she doesn’t love herself, that she doesn’t love life — and that’s the only fucking thing in her control! She claims to want love but all she has to do is love herself and, voilà, she’s found love.
This is the difference between joy and happiness. Joy is not contingent. Joy says, This world is perfect as it is precisely because there is no other world. This is all there is and I love it as it is! Happiness, meanwhile, says, There are good things and bad things. I only want to find those good things and shoo those bad things away. If I can do that, I’ll be happy. How do I do that? What drugs do I take? What magic words do I say? Which girl or boy do I date?
But, once again, to judge and hierarchize your life events into good and bad is to hate life. It’s nihilistic. It suggests that life is something that happens to you rather than happening with you, or better, as you: You are life! You are not an actor on a stage; you are part of the stage. There are rocks and bugs and gas and dreams and ideas and fingers and whiskers and noses and blood and people in this world. It’s all stuff going with stuff. This is not nihilism; this is joy. You are this piece of the world happening now. You’re as special and irrelevant and essential as stardust, a gnat, that junkie puking there, a CEO, a fetching French poodle.
This is not to say that everything in life is rosy and grand! Of course it’s not. It’s often a veritable shit storm, moreso for some than others. But shit is not bad; it is beautiful, too. So shit storm is not a bad thing per se. Anyway, it seems to me that the trick when feeling anxious, blue, distracted, depressed by the mayhem of it all is not to look down at the screen of life with all its all-too-mundane bullshit but to look up — at the sky, the clouds, the infinite horizon of which we are all a part.