Emotions are a matter perspective. Rich people can be miserable, poor people can be happy, single people can be fulfilled, and married couples can be lonely. The most prepared amongst us can feel nervous, and the least prepared can feel confident. The situations we find orselves in provide cues to our brains, but our internal interpretation of those cues is the actual spark that creates emotion.
Happines is particularly interesting to me because I think that although just about everyone has the potential to be happy all the time, very few people actually are. I meet peoople who I think are content or entertained or stimulated, but relatively few who appear to be genuinely happy people.
I forget if it was in high school or college, but at some point I decided that I would always be happy. Not that I would pretend to act happy no matter the situation, but that I would actually be happy all the time. It worked. There are certainly various levels of happiness that I experience throughout my life, but you could find me on my roughest days and still find me happy.
My method for always being happy is so simple that most people reading this will probably excuse it as an ineffective new-age mindgame. But it's not-- it's powerful enough that it has quite literally extinguished any unhappiness from my life. The key is to put things in perspective.
Take this morning, when I happened to notice the floor tiles of the airport. I don't really like these tiles, I thought. My next immediate thought was: how amazing is it that I get to have an opinion on floor tiles? I couldn't help but smile and be filled with happiness at the thought. Life exists. I get to experience it. We've molded the earth's resources so precisely to our needs, that thousands of types of floor tiles exist. I have a level of consciousness that lets me not only form thoughts, but also form opinions and affinities, even for things lie floor tiles. It's crazy.
I shouldn't be alive. You shouldn't be alive. With an infinite universe, it's not so unfathomable that life would exist, but the odds of us enjoying it are so close to zero that in any other context, we could use tho word 'impossible' as shorthand. Think of the millions of generations of not just humans, but our ancestors, that had to stay alive long enough to mate. It's ridiculous.
And that just covers living, which all species enjoy. It doesn't take into account the incredible brains we have, or the improvements we've made to society, which have made our lives unreasonably pleasant. Right now I'm in an airplane moving several times faster than a human could move if he jumped off a large cliff. It's comfortable. Someone comes and brings me water once in a while. We shouldn't be here. We shouldn't have this. It is too good.
So when something bad happens to me, I remember all that. If someone steals money from me, I think about how fortunate I am to even be in the position to have money to be stolen, not to mention to be a human being and thus be capable of understanding the concept of loaning money. If I lost a leg, I'd be happy to be alive, to have another leg, and to have experienced what it's like to have two legs. When people I know die, I think about how lucky they were to live, how lucky I was to know them, how lucky I am to have other friends and family members who are alive, and how lucky I am to be alive myself.
The point is that the scale of all the good things in ANY of our lives is so great that whatever misfortunes we may experience are nothing more than minor annoyances in comparison. Life is good. Not necessarily every component of it, but to say it's anything but good is like saying the ocean is brown because there are a couple wooden ships in it.
RV Update / Video coming very soon. Spent 15 hours painting yesterday and I'm finishing up today.
I always read your posts, and always disagree with bits of them. I've never mentioned anything, though, but I think I'll change that. You seem like the kind of guy who can take constructive criticism in his stride and disagree productively.
In this post, I agree with what you're saying, but disagree with the implied advice that we should ever hope or want to be happy 24/7 and no matter what.
Emotions are one of the tools we have to understand the world around us, along with such things as reason, intuition, and so on. We feel fear because this response motivates us to take caution. This makes sense; if you're up somewhere high, you should be careful where you step. We feel happiness when the going is good- it makes us motivated to replicate scenarios where the going is good. We feel sadness when things are bad- it motivates us to take steps to avoid situations where things are bad.
The mistake some people make, I think, is in treating emotions as the reason for doing the things that they do, rather than as a way of understanding the situation that they are in. "I'm sad, so I'll eat.", or paradoxical things like, "I'm lonely, so I won't go out tonight."
Instead they should be thinking, "I'm sad. What's caused this, and how do I fix it?"
The answer might be something in their circumstances; it could be that they don't have many friends, or enough money to live, or something like that, and in that case, they should try to change those circumstances.
It could be something medical/psychological, and in that case they should seek the advice of a GP.
It could be something trivial and irrational. In that case, they should think it through, come to the conclusion that they are being unreasonable, and try to move on from the emotion.
I think it's this last point that's got you ensnared. You recognise that very often people feel emotions for essentially no good reason. They should think it through and move on, you suggest, and you provide a good method.
Where I think you go too far is to suggest that we should ever want to be happy all of the time, no matter what. If you are in a bad situation, you shouldn't feel happy about it.
For illustration, think of an extreme example: if you were being eaten by a lion, a sense of happiness with your situation is going to be very bad for you indeed. Sometimes a bit of negative feeling is telling you that something is going wrong, and it shouldn't dismissed.
It's important not to think that emotions are who you are, or that emotions are why you should do things. But they are a tool you can use to understand what's happening in your life.
Putting things in perspective is only going to work if there is no reasonable source for the emotions that you are feeling. If there is genuinely something upsetting you, then that thing is what must be tackled.
The happy person is indeed the one who practices gratitude. Great post Tynan. I don't know if you ever saw this gratitude video but to all reading here, it is worth five or so minutes of your time.
Life is good. And yes, it's good to put things in perspective. The problem is that when we are already distressed it's sometimes hard to do it. That's why we need to practice putting things in perspective every day! A great habit to have!
HaHa, my philosophy exactly! Currently stealth camping in Los Angeles in a V W camper that leaves me stranded in traffic on an almost daily basis, but posting a painting a day and a photo a day and having the time of my happy life! Hope to cross paths one of these days, as you've been a part of my inspiration.
John Juanderlust Farnsworth
A Couple things here ... youtube videos seem to go outside the comment window, and the videos go over the top sett bar. Chromium and Firefox on Ubumtu.
Wow Tynan, I couldn't have said it better myself. Posts like this are
one reason why I love you :) I feel exact the same way... it's like a combo of Buddhist philosophy and a Pollyanna attitude. Take care hon, Me.
Ya brother that's the level I'm on... life and the mere fact of existence is so amazingly awesome... the 'worst' can happen and it's all good. I frequently sponatenously throw my head back and laugh at how good 8-)
Today I was talking with my friend, Hayden. One of the things I like about talking with Hayden is that he probably has more insight into my life than I do. He'll often describe something I do or think in a way that I'd never thought about it, which then gives me something to ponder for a few days, weeks, etc.
Ironically, he's also the one who recommended the two books that made me adopt the MaxDiet, even though he doesn't follow it himself.
Today he asked me if I ever feel like crap.
Our lives are full of reruns. While every individual day may have its own unique set of events and experiences, most of what we see and do is something we have already seen and done. I often look back on a month and can only recall a handful of times when my brain was stimulated by a new challenge, environment or activity. The rest of the days seem to run together like some monotonous pattern that I habitually follow. I think I finally understand why this situation bothers me (and probably many others) so much.The mouse that runs the same maze over and over eventually gets good at the task. Its brain activity then plummets, because the task has become an easy routine instead of a stimulating experience. The brain senses a cue (being put in the maze and smelling cheese), it reruns the routine (running the maze along a remembered path) in order to reach the reward stimulation (cheese) at the end. The Power of a Habit explains that this is the process by which habits are cemented into our brains. This is very useful for making us more efficient, and it frees up brain power for other tasks. By doing so, however, the brain essentially cuts out the best parts in the name of efficiency.I see a parallel between being stimulated by the exploration of the new and the feeling of being alive.Routine is to exploring as living is to being alive. It sounds pretty obvious. I know that my brain chemistry in not exactly typical, but I'm sure that I'm not the only one who only feels good when my brain is forced to rev to the redline.Armed with this new insight, the pieces started to come together for me. The existential migration group, with which I now identify, has two identifying characteristics: the urge to become foreigners in a foreign land and a strong preference for the new and unusual. Both can be explained by a very high need for stimulation. Imagine ripping yourself from the comfortable routines of your homeland and transplanting your life into a foreign environment. You gain immediate stimulation from new and unusual (to you) locations, culture, people, food, etc. Also, you lose all of the cues that were the basis on which you built your habits. Suddenly, your brain is both free to make new choices and forced to make choices non-stop, because there are no rails to follow anymore.Here at home, I feel like we try to medicate this state of low stimulation (boredom) with entertainment. TV, movies, games, internet junk, and shopping each provide a brief fix, but the euphoria never lasts because this is only a simulation of "living". I have gone through major addictions to all of these at one point or another, because they were like junk food for my brain. One idea that stemmed from this newfound understanding of my needs was my "one new experience every day" challenge, which I guess I'll write about next time.The last point returns us to the rerun analogy. It occurred to me that if I live a rerun of a day that I have already lived, then I have essentially shortened my life by one day. I wasn't truly alive during that time, and I will never remember anything that happened then. Obviously, this happens quite a bit more than once a year. I think the whole idea of taking a vacation stems from this problem. Perhaps we vacation to exotic locales in order to get away from the reruns of our everyday lives and collect a couple of weeks of interesting experiences to satiate us for the rest of the year.