Wednesday, June 02, 2010

What Holds Us Down

I don't think that we, as human beings, are equipped to recognize happiness:  instead, we're hard-wired to strive for more, for better.  Generally, it's not a bad trait, but sometimes, there are unintended consequences.  Take antibiotics for example:  100 or so years ago, scientists were determined to figure out a way to fight infection, and now, because of their work, the world is a much safer place as a whole, and people live longer, healthier lives.  Well, except for the whole antibiotic resistant bacteria thing.

I've spent the last two-plus years since my mom died trying and failing at figuring out how to be happy.  Some days I feel as if I'm just not built for happiness.  Other times I feel as if I'm a victim of circumstance.  As with most things, the truth likely lies somewhere in-between.

By way of contrast, two years ago, my father made a point of saying that he was going to try to not be unhappy -- and, by all objective indications, it seems as if he's been quite successful. I think the end result of my quest for happiness is that I find myself even less happy than I was to begin with.  And the end result of my father's quest to not be unhappy has yielded some sort of happiness.

It's not until RIGHT NOW that I've realized that the two things are distinct.  Not unhappy is not precisely the same as happy:  the Venn diagrams overlap somewhat, but the circles are not the same.

I have many things to be thankful for.  I have a home, a car, a job, an education.  I have more than enough in the way of material possessions.  I have friends and family.  But I still find myself looking at what I don't have and it tears me up.  I don't have enough leisure time, or the money to do what I want whenever I want to do it.  I don't have children.  I somehow manage to surround myself with people who have an expert way of making me feel second-rate or second-choice or just not good enough.  And, when push comes to shove, I'm not even sure that I have a person that I could really rely on to take care of me in case of emergency.

Am I wrong for wanting more than what I currently have?

Don't get me wrong:  I am extremely grateful for my current situation.  I like my clothes and shoes and CDs and DVDs and books; I like my condo and my car.  But this is not happiness: things are not happiness. If push came to shove, I don't think there's much that I would fight to hang on to. It would be very easy for me to let go of things, people, and places and move on:  there are so few things in my life that I am particularly tied to, and even less that is irreplaceable.

On a very basic level, I am a traveler.  And not just for work -- which I do, a lot.  Somewhere, in my personality, I have some kind of nomadic streak. At this point in my life, I've been a lot of places.  Still, there is so much more out there for me to see, and I desperately want to get there, before it's too late. If I could, I would start tomorrow -- just get on the plane and go.  The where doesn't even matter anymore.

It's the logistics that get in the way.  I have a job, responsibilities.  I have a mortgage.  I have family, more or less.  Still, other than my material possessions, what is anchoring me to any one place?

Maybe that's the solution to all of it:  I should let go of things, get rid of the clutter that weighs me down and holds me in one place.  Be ready to go on a moment's notice, whenever the whim strikes.


wendryn said...

Happiness is hard to get to; not unhappy is easier, and once you get there, you can kind of fall into happiness more easily.

You can be grateful for things and have them not make you happy. I am grateful that I have not just one but two jobs in this economy, enough to pay the bills and put my husband the rest of the way through school, but two jobs, at 61 hours a week between them, suck the life out of me sometimes.

I sometimes have problems with depression, and sometimes I just have to look for one good thing that day. Sometimes I can only find one, but if I've decided to focus on finding that one thing, my approach changes. I look for good things instead of focusing on the frustrating ones.I know it sounds rather silly.

Getting rid of clutter is very freeing...

I hope you find a way to get towards happiness, one way or another.

dara said...

I know I wrote this around in circles and it's not very clear, but it's been a long couple of days.

I think what I've figured out (thanks at various times to books, therapy, meds, alcohol, and the passage of time) is that you don't decide to be happy -- you either are or you're not, and it's really a moment-to-moment thing. Perhaps more important is the decision to not let yourself be unhappy, which seems to be a necessary step towards happiness. The other aspect is that you have to simultaneously be grateful for your blessings and able let go of the rest. But for any of it, it's easy to know what to do and hard to actually do it.

And I know what you mean about work sucking the life out of you. I only have one job, but the work and the hours and the travel are occasionally overwhelming. It's awfully hard to be happy when you're tired and worn out. In that regard, I'll take not unhappy and grateful for my blessings. The letting go is a work-in-progress.

Ashburnite said...

I've been going through something similar. I've always tried to "find" happiness and only now realizing that it's an impossible search. I'm now working on the not being unhappy part. In a way, yes it is easier, however the hard part is changing that mindset within yourself.
I read once that the key to being happy is not to look for it, but to just "be," which is much easier said than done. We're all definitely hard-wired to seek out things outside of ourselves that will make us happy. I drove myself crazy trying to just "be," whatever the hell that means. However, not being unhappy makes a lot more sense and is much more realistic.

dara said...

I think the "just be" thing is really the key. I've recently been reading a lot of Buddhist literature on the whole thing. I've been making a list of some of these things, and one day, when I have the time and inclination, I'm going to write about some of them. It's good stuff in theory. But, like anything else, the problem lies where the rubber meets the road.

Anonymous said...

I can definitely relate and I have no words of wisdom...just wanted you to know that I was here, reading, hoping you find an answer, or not, but looking forward to reading about it in the future.

Ed Pilolla said...

i struggle too. i've learned that i'm a finely-tuned machine, and when i feel great, i emit a great energy and things are generally wonderful and i am happy. but when something in one of the major areas of my life breaks down, i fall apart. and as i get older, regrouping gets more difficult.

you're so right, happiness is what we're after, and when we're after it, it's so fucking elusive. when i've been happy, i was so foolish to think it would last forever.

traveling is great. i've done it for years, been nomadic for years. i believe humans are generally nomadic. but the pendulum swings the other way. even nomads settle for a while and take a break from the road. living the conventional life has its benefits, for sure. but it's just so difficult to move back and forth easily in this world between the conventional life and something less conventional, like a couple years of living nomadically.

Anonymous said...

OMG, Dara. You nailed this. The quintessential human struggle. I'm breathless.