Friday, June 8, 2012

We Were Born Happy

     I've spent much of this past week, immersed in the frustratingly nit-picky business of closing on our loft. What a roller coaster ride it's been! Neither Brad nor I have purchased a home since the housing bubble burst, a catastrophe which unfortunately has made it nearly impossible for people like us, with jobs and good credit, to receive approval for a loan. As if that wasn't enough of a pain in the ass, we've also had to put up with the vitriolic, mentally imbalanced listing agent, who also happens to be our landlord. Because he is angry that we exercised our right of first refusal on this property, negating an initial offer made by another couple which would have given him both sides of the commission, he has been less than cooperative in this already grossly inefficient process.
     Despite the escalating hassles and time-crunched constraints of the last couple of days, I've managed to find time to contemplate a rather obtuse question. Marty, a friend of mine who writes seemingly simple, yet deceptively complex aphorisms, distilled a familiar passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes into this quote: "A time and season for everything, but happiness first." In a public discussion on our blogger forum, he asked, "Is there anything greater than happiness? Is there any cause or goal or achievement worth sacrificing one's happiness to?" Less than a year ago, my answer would probably have been affirmative. Somewhere amidst my job change, which later proved fateful in the best kind of way, our move from Atlanta to Rome, GA which separated me from my sons, and the agonizing ethical issues surrounding the death of my mother-in-law, I temporarily forgot about the importance, as well as the origin, of my own happiness.
     Today, my answer is a resounding, "No!" I don't view happiness as a trivial, fleeting feeling, nor do I believe it can be achieved by external means. We were born happy, central to our experiences, selfish. Somewhere along the line, we are taught that being selfish is an evil thing, that a power outside ourselves is responsible for our existence, reinforcing the insidiously damaging and counter-intuitive notion that we are peripheral to our experiences, that happiness comes from a life of working hard, making lots of sacrifices, and denying oneself pleasure. In other words, one has to prove that one is deserving of happiness to be happy. What a crock! If you are shaking your head in disagreement here, consider for a moment how this concept of authoritarianism pervades our everyday speech. As Alan Watts once pointed out, we routinely refer to ourselves in a passive sense, e.g. we say things like "I grow" or "I walk", instead of "I shape my own bones" or "I propel myself forward on my own legs." We are acculturated to give credit where it isn't due, to someone or something other than ourselves. This "selflessness" is little more than false humility which evolved as a mechanism for concealing our own egotism; it's what makes us feel worthy of approval and delivers us from criticism and judgment, giving an outward appearance of compassion or altruism. It's also the genesis of resentment and prejudice. I realize this viewpoint is considered blasphemous by the vast majority, but I don't buy into the "judge and jury" thing. I don't require prior authorization from an outside party. I do what I do for myself and others because I want to, not out of a desire for recognition, a sense of guilt, or a fear of rejection. My perspective on all this is relatively simple: selfishness and selflessness, broadly defined, aren't mutually exclusive, and happiness is a bit of both.
     I think for myself. I shape my own bones, beat my own heart, and transmit my own nerves. Likewise, I am responsible for my own happiness. It's accessible, here within me, and I pretty much remain tapped into it. My motivation for the things I do in life doesn't come from a yearning for approbation or a need to win the approval of others; it's a symptom of being true to my Self, the source of my happiness, instead of being driven by my ego. It is happiness that sustains me and allows me to be selfless. True selflessness doesn't come attached with a price tag of expectations or reciprocity; it is a sublime manifestation of one's own happiness. Because I am happy in everything I do, nothing seems like a sacrifice.

Marty's (aka NothingProfound) Aphorism of the Day
Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are 


  1. Ultimately, Kris, we're all responsible for our own happiness. It's not a question of selfishness or selflessness, but common sense. Can I make my parents or children or wife happy by anything I do or don't do, by actions I take? Do I really have that power? I think not. Since I do have the power to make myself happy, I will use that power, and be happy I do have it.

  2. Ayn Rand's 'The Fountainhead' explores similar thinking. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. I have to say, she would whole-heartedly agree with you. There's nothing evil about being 'selfish.'

    1. Janene, Several people have mentioned that author to me. I have never read any of her works...maybe it's time to check out a copy of The Fountainhead?