Live Long & Prosper

“Behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, and happiness scales can be used to measure social progress and the success of public policies. But happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.”

-Tara Parker-Pope, “How To Be Happy.” The New York Times.

Open Question: What does it mean to be “happy”?

In brief, the author seems to take the ideas of Blue Zones:, i.e., places where people tend to be exceptionally long lived, and flesh these concepts out with “happiness” research. The nine key ideas of Blue Zones:

  1. Move naturally, or have a lifestyle that incorporates movement without doing movement for movement’s sake, a.k.a. as exercise.
  2. Have a purpose.
  3. Downshift, take time every day, week, month and year to do nothing or be contemplative.
  4. The 80% Rule for eating. Eat until you are 80% full.
  5. Eat mostly plants.
  6. Drink alcohol in moderation, 1-2 servings a day.
  7. Belong to a community.
  8. Prioritize your relationships.
  9. Make sure the relationships are with good people.

The New York TimesHow to Be Happy” reframes these into categories: Mind, Home, Relationships, Work & Money & Happy Life. Then, it attempts to provide more detailed advice.

Mind

  1. Become acquainted with cognitive behavioral therapy, i.e., become proficient at managing negative thinking.
  2. Boxed breathing for acute situations and breath focused meditation to cultivate a more equanimical disposition.
  3. Rewrite your personal story, positive without the pedestal.
  4. Exercise.
  5. Make an effort to look for the positive in any situation.

Home

  1. Find a good place to live and a good community within it to be part of.
  2. Be out in a natural setting.
  3. Keep what you need, discard the rest.

Relationships

  1. Spend time with happy people. Conversely, avoid the unhappy and the unlucky, the stupid, Hoodoos, toxic people, psychic vampires, and associated others. Obviously, the negative formulation is a hot topic here at cafebedouin.org.
  2. Get a pet. [Editors note: Pets, children and other people aren’t going to make you happy, save you, etc.]
  3. Learn to enjoy being alone. In this historical moment, with fewer communities and relationships mediated through the Internet, it’s an important skill. If you can’t manage it, find ways around it, e.g., join an intentional community. If you are turning on the radio or television to hear human voices and escape your own thoughts, you might want to think about finding ways of being better company to yourself.

Work and Money

  1. Money isn’t going to make you happy. The more money you have past a certain threshold, the more problems you will have. But, being poor is no virtue and is its own source of suffering. Try to avoid the material extremes.
  2. The New York Times wants you to find your purpose at work. Right livelihood is important, but defining ourselves through our work is a major issue post-industrial age. When surnames became necessary, people chose their occupation. Think of all the occupational last names: Smith, Miller, Cooper, etc. The problem with finding purpose at work is it often turns into our life’s purpose. Our life should be about more than work.
  3. Find ways to reclaim your time, which I interpret to mean work less.

Happy Life

  1. Be generous. Show gratitude.
  2. Do things for other people.
  3. Stop being a judgmental prick to yourself and others.

Conclusion

Something about The New York Times presentation leaves much to be desired. Is it the focus on work? Is it because much of it seems like platitudes? I’m not entirely sure. The ideas aren’t bad, particularly the ones that stem directly from Blue Zone suggestions. But, the focus on “nesting” in the bedroom, volunteering (with the implication that it be the modern form and involve some kind of institution) and so forth managed to rub me the wrong way. But, most of this is good advice, when you get down to the nut of it.

The Market of Truth & Faction

“Fooling people only requires telling them what they want to hear, over and over again. People love to hear how right they are.”

—Stan Beeman, in The Americans.

The market for truth is a small one. On the scale of the universe, it is true that we are insignificant. On that level, we don’t factor into truth at all.

But, this is true of truth more generally. The truth is that on every level above the personal, the immediate environments of our day-to-day existence, our lives are of no consequence.

But, we want to believe we matter. We want to be powerful, famous and wealthy. We want agency in a world where most of what we think or do is irrelevant and worthless.

The only way to achieve that goal of relevance and worth is to believe in anything other than the truth. Our ego wants to place itself as the center of the universe, like the earth in Medieval times, and believe that the music of the spheres is playing for us. But, it’s a lullaby, lulling us into a sleep of self.

Fractions of the truth, leads to fragmented minds and to faction. The Other becomes a defining factor in maintaining significance, despite the truth. Faction is integral to dissatisfaction. But, it’s all an illusion built on the desire for significance, which is built on someone else’s insignificance.

All of it is a temple of suffering, the cornerstone of which is our rejection of our own insignificance. What would happen if we were able to accept this truth?

Don’t Mistake Theater for Your Reality

I, too, have been called names. I have found myself sharing the living and thinking space of people with Cluster B personality disorders. I have seen them conjure worlds, hammer manacles, and frame possible views with their words and beliefs. And while their tutelage was hard, I learned a great lesson, which I will share: Don’t mistake theater for your reality. The actors are playing a part, the play is an entertainment, of sorts, and you get to decide when and how far to suspend your disbelief. We, the audience and the actors, are the magicians. We make the rain, the good weather, and the fruit, and we are free to poison them in the interest of a better story.

I will cast my spells, act the role I have chosen, and say my lines. In the end, when the play is over, my only sincere wish is that it has all, at least, been entertaining. If they call me the fool, the villain, or even the hero during the play, have I not succeeded? People don’t want truth. They want to care about something. In a world where meaning is hard to find, we all most want, more than anything, to matter. The Matrix is both metaphor and the unvarnished truth of our times.

Real Life is a Game

“In this game of life there are two ways of living.

The shadow life and the hero’s journey.

In prison, or in freedom.

As a slave, or as warrior.

What makes the difference?

Your mind. The strongest of all weapons.

-/u/GameStartCancel, “Real life is a game.” reddit.com/r/selfimprovement. November 1, 2019.

While there are worse metaphors than understanding life as a game, or more specifically, a role playing game. It seems that a strong mind would understand that life is exactly what you decide to believe it is, nothing more or nothing less. Cite Viktor Frankl if you must. But, the whole world is mind-made, and you get to choose your metaphors too.

You Can’t Tell People Anything

“We all spend a lot of our time talking to bosses or investors or marketing people or press or friends or other developers. I’m totally convinced that a new idea or a new plan or a new technique is never really understood when you just explain it. People will often think they understand, and they’ll say they understand, but then their actions show that it just ain’t so…

…What’s going on is that without some kind of direct experience to use as a touchstone, people don’t have the context that gives them a place in their minds to put the things you are telling them. The things you say often don’t stick, and the few things that do stick are often distorted. Also, most people aren’t very good at visualizing hypotheticals, at imagining what something they haven’t experienced might be like, or even what something they have experienced might be like if it were somewhat different.”

—Chip Morningstar. You Can’t Tell People Anything. Habitat Chronicles.com. April 22, 2004.

A variant of “show, don’t tell.” If it is not based in experience, then imagination has to do the heavy lifting to make meaning, and most of the time, people’s imagination isn’t up for the task.