Saturday, January 19, 2008

And in the category of 'Gee, I wish I'd said that...'

BUT FIRST, in BREAKING POLITICAL NEWS (3:45 p.m. Nevada time): Duncan Hunter has decided to drop out of the Republican presidential race after learning that (a) less than 1% of voters in today's Nevada caucuses supported him, and (b) over 94% of voters nationwide never even knew he was in the race....

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And now, a few more choice words on the obsessive pursuit of happiness stoked by today's enough-is-never-enough movement.

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Also today, I present for your reading pleasure a mildly edited email I received from Linda S., a Los Angeles-area reader, after my essay on happiness appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News. I reprint it here with her permission:

"Your article reminded me of something that happened in my life several years ago. I had been devastated by the loss of a favorite horse, along with the fact that my finances were not in great shape, and I was very depressed.... Then one day I found that I was smiling as I walked to the market. At that point I realized that my happiness wasn't dependent on things because it came from within.

"Since then, I've been through some other tough times. In fact, very recently I ended up leaving my place of employment after several wonderful years because it was no longer a good fit. About a month after I left, I found myself taking a most roundabout detour to get where I was going. [Then] I found myself smiling; I found myself chuckling; I found myself guffawing. I knew that I was positively bubbling with irrepressible happiness.

"Happiness dependent on money or things is not genuine happiness. Happiness based on those items is temporary and requires materialist fuel. I don't mean to negate the happiness that comes from receiving a special Christmas present*, but again, isn't that warm feeling coming from the thoughtfulness expressed in the giving of the present?

"This is longer than I meant, but I wanted to let you know that your article touched a chord."
OK, so first of all, let's state the obvious: This is one pretty joyful (and lucky) lady. It's not too many of us who, while (circuitously) en route somewhere, find ourselves in mid-guffaw. Irrepressible does indeed seem like the right word. The point, though, is that she finds herself that way. It just sort of bubbles up from inside and overtakes her. She's not always testing her happiness, asking herself, Am I guffawing? Do I guffaw as often as I used to? Will I guffaw this way again tomorrow? (And Linda, if you're reading this, I'm not making fun of you. I'm using your own honest, evocative language to make an important point. We could all benefit from a few more chuckles and guffaws, I'm sure.) She isn't expecting or demanding guffaws out of life, as many will these days, and what's more, she isn't constantly seeking artificial, external stimuli—that "materialist fuel"—to provide more guffaws. Even when she receives such artificial stimuli as Christmas gifts, she regards them in terms of the "warm feeling" that links giver and recipient, not in terms of the jolt of adrenaline provided by the gift itself.

Anyway, Linda, I find myself feeling happy that I struck that chord for you.

* Linda wrote this shortly after Christmas.

23 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I never met your father, but have to admit that there is a lot of wisdom in his statements to you about happiness. I know that when I seek happiness, it eludes me, yet when I simply engage what I'm doing, it frequently sneaks up on me.

I don't know for whom I feel more sadness - people who obsessively chase those elusive guffaws, or those whose lives are so filled with whining and railing against things to which they can ascribe blame for their misery. the common element is frustration at joys not felt.

I spend enough of my own life dealing with that frustration, and genuinely appreciate reminders, such as Linda's message, that the laughter is there somewhere, waiting for us curmudgeonly types to allow its emergence. That message is especially poignant for me right now, when I could really use a good belly laugh... or at least a contented smile.

Thanks for the reminder.

Steve Salerno said...

Anytime, Ron. Thanks for your thanks.

As for me, I can't say I spend that much time guffawing of late, but I think I felt an errant chuckle a while back....

RevRon's Rants said...

You're welcome for the thanks. And be careful... that errant chuckle was probably gas. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Damn bran muffins.

The Crack Emcee said...

Steve,

I, too, have had the experience Linda describes. Several times, since my divorce, actually: I was just walking along, doing nothing in particular, and then realized I was happy.

I was so relieved the first time, to know it was still there for me. But I probably shouldn't have been, because (and I think this is important) compared with my wife, I was always the happy one. The one that didn't have to make the effort (go to a restaurant, on a retreat, etc.) to smile. And now, here I was, depressed, because she was gone. Weird.

Ron,

Go here: http://www.xenutv.com/us/blainetology.htm

It got a few laughs out of me when I wasn't feeling like it. Might work. You never know. Good luck.

a/good/lysstener said...

I agree that happiness is something that comes from inside you in the way you react to life, or it doesn't. I have spent large parts of my life, which admittedly isn't that long yet, trying to force the issue. It never works. Whether it's a matter of pursuing relationships with guys who I'm "supposed to" want to be with, or following a course of study that's "supposed to" be right for me, or whatever setting you're talking about. Now that I think of it this is one aspect where I probably agree with the Secret too (sorry Steve!) and the law of attraction, in a sense. There's something inside us that wants what it wants in life, and is turned on by what it's turned on by, or who it's turned on by, and that's that. You can play against that script maybe, but it's not going to create happiness out of nothing. It's not going to negate the allure of the kind of happiness you really want in your heart and mind, either (if that makes sense). You're either happy to start with or you're naturally drawn to certain things or people that are meant to satisfy the happiness needs that already exist in you.

roger o'keeffe from nyc said...

I hate to be the cynic again, but I know a lot of people who are damn happy, and the way they got there was by enriching their lives with nice homes, nice cars, vacations, etc. It's fashionable to say money doesn't buy happiness, but it can certainly provide a reasonable facsimile of same. That doesn't mean we have to be selfish pr--ks, either. I'm just tired of people, usually not especially successful ones, who argue that life is about finding pretty sunsets, walking barefoot in the sand, blah, blah, blah. You need a certain amount of security and dare I use the word SUCCESS to have happiness. That takes money, people.

Steve Salerno said...

Roger, I think you reversed the emphasis at the end there--I think you meant to say that one needs success to have money, not the way you phrased it. (Or were you intentionally arguing the rather more interesting point that it takes money to even have success?) But whichever way it is, your point is well taken. Perhaps it comes back to that most overused word again: balance.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - Overused, yet remarkably under-sought.

I think that balance comes when we're realistic in assessing our needs. While it is pretty tough to feel happy when you're dead broke, I've found that real happiness occurs most readily when the basic security issues are covered, and that being happy doesn't require you to have much more than you actually need.

If one's happiness requires much more than that, perhaps they're confusing happiness with the satisfaction they get from acquisition or a sense of power. It's a common distraction. And I, for one, would prefer a delightful experience over a prized possession any day.

The Crack Emcee said...

Roger and Steve,

I think you're wrong. I gots no - I repeat: no - money. And I'm not a "sunsets, walking barefoot in the sand" kind of guy, believe me. But I'm, still, pretty happy with, and within, myself. (I think having talents I developed, and other real interests, helps.) If you're not there, you should accept that you've got a mental problem, and seek real help. I used to tell my ex that, too, and it just pissed her off.

Happiness, I think, comes from a sense of contentment with yourself. I've stated here before that I don't feel I need to "grow" because, when it comes to what all those people go to seminars, ashrams, cults, etc., for - I've 'got' it. I wish I was better at math; wish I had the time and money to go back to school; take a writing and typing course - that kind of thing - but that's about it. The rest seems pretty obvious to me.

BTW, feel free to donate on my blog, and I'll be sure to let you know if it makes me happier than my moments of self-generated giddiness.

Purely scientific, of course.

Case said...

Hi Steve,

Two posts related to your book on fame ... how's it going?

YPule


And this strange one from Time where people hire their own Paparazzi.

Time

Case

Steve Salerno said...

Case, man, how you be? Been a long time, no?

The book is on vanity, not fame, but thanks, these are certainly interesting--and revealing--posts.

Steve Salerno said...

Crack, yeah, I had you pegged as a really happy kinda guy. ;) I mean, the good humor just drips off your comments.

(OK, cut me some slack...just funnin' on ya.)

RevRon's Rants said...

Had a mouthful of milk, and I think I just ruined my keyboard laughing! :-)

Thanks... I needed that!

The Crack Emcee said...

LOL.

Naw, I get angry at other people's nonsense, and how difficult they can make life (Mine and everyone else's) but, left to my own devices, I'm fine.

And let's not ignore the resentment that being at peace with yourself (without a need for Self-Help, religion, spirituality, etc.) can generate in others: How they can want to bring you down a peg, etc. Vicious.

But, really, that's enough about my divorce for one day,...

Cal said...

I'm wondering if anyone has read the book by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert titled "Stumbling On Happiness". I haven't, but Steve's post and the subsequent comments remind me of what (I think) is the essence of the book. (At least what I read from the reviews -- it may have already been talked about before on this blog.) I know there was a recent article in my local paper where the author spoke to Gilbert who indicated that happiness is easier said than done.

One of the things mentioned in the article was a study that indicated that people who received a gift for no reason were happier than people who got the same gift for an obvious reason.

I feel that way about Christmas. I feel like telling my family you don't have to even get me a gift. It's not the same as when I was a kid and knew what I wanted, but still was excited to see whether I got it.

RevRon's Rants said...

The main reason I left the monastery years ago was that I knew my life within those walls was idyllic, and that it was easy to feel peaceful there, but that I still had things to do and challenges to face in the outside world. As it turns out, most of those challenges were people, but they have (thankfully) only provided a transient interruption to that peacefulness, as well as adding to my appreciation of it.

Max Ehrmann's "Desiderata" comes to mind... Perhaps one day, it will actually sink in. :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

"Desiderata" was okay. But I have to say I preferred National Lampoon's "Deteriorata":
http://tinyurl.com/32hc7a

I was particularly taken by the lines, "Whether you can hear it or not / the universe is laughing behind your back." I'd always suspected as much...

Steve Salerno said...

In my experience, that's an optimistic way of putting it, Connie. The universe actually laughs right in my face.

RevRon's Rants said...

You guys are lucky... It tends to "fart in my general direction" ...
But at least, I get to light a match & laugh.

Cosmic Connie said...

Ahem, Ron... are you sure that's the universe and not Rex The Farting Dog?

Steve Salerno said...

Like I always said, the discourse on this blog is first-class all the way. ;)

Well, at least we don't put on...airs...

Cosmic Connie said...

There's methane to our madness, Steve.