pursuit of happiness = oxymoron

experience addition

In the last few years, “happiness” has been a major publishing craze. A plethora of books, articles and blogs were obsessed with happy. Suggestions like:

  • surround yourself with happy people (who’s authentic and cheerful all the time?)
  • think happy thoughts (if only life were that easy)
  • walk in nature (of course)
  • drink red wine (xoxo)
  • go to church (hmmmm)
  • be with family (lots will cringe at this)
  • breathe deep (yup)
  • exercise (yes)
  • do fun things (sure)
  • get high (okay)

The trouble is many people do some or all of the above and happiness still eludes them. Maybe because happiness doesn’t exist. At least not in the way marketing tells us it does. The secret to happiness won’t be found in the striving for it.

In progressive circles, the “bucket list” trend—a checklist of non-ordinary things to get done before one dies—is quite popular, but I find it wearying. Lists help me organize my life but checking things off doesn’t make me happy. I know people who raise kids, have sex, travel and live with a mindset of ticking off an agenda. That’s not living as much as orchestrating.

Where’s the ‘being with?’ Where’s the sitting still? The reflection? Residing from the inside out?

Distracting oneself from ordinary life gives momentary pleasure but that’s not being in it. If bliss lies in what you do and where you go, then you’ll be chasing experiences all your life. A ‘geographical-new mate-new job’ cure is no better than a ‘heroin-Jack Daniels-cannabis-random hook-up’ cure. One’s just culturally faddish, less moralistic. However, it only seems like you’re moving toward happiness.

I’ve got nothing against big experiences but none of them have made me any happier than brushing my cats, working with clients, playing guitar, talking with friends, writing, cooking, weeding with my grandson, reading, hiking in big trees, lake swimming, sweeping, staring at clouds, drinking red wine, washing dishes.

Here’s the deal: When we get the new relationship/new city/house/dog/tool/job we feel great but not necessarily because we’ve gotten something or done whatever, but because—for that very fleeting minute—we’re free from desire.

True happiness isn’t so much about getting what we crave, it’s about appreciating what we already have. Bertrand Russell said: “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

If you see your life as tedious and in need of ‘amusement,’ you aren’t in your life; you’re in the future and that future is the dangling carrot just out of reach of your ravenous mouth. Distractions are delusions of delight.

It’s the gorgeous journey not the destination that’s genuinely enjoyable.

So what will work?

  • Be where you are, as you are (like a toddler)—sorrowful, laughing, angry, singing
  • Enjoy bathing your baby as much as eating foccacia in Firenze—don’t value one over the other
  • Cultivate sincere depth of connection with others
  • View play and work as identical
  • Accept what is [see after ecstasy, the laundry]
  • Appreciate what you have
  • Inspiration over Stimulation
  • Quit trying to be happy

you as you, it is it, as it is

The closer the U.S. gets to election time, the more it feels like a force feed. I’ve been on a serious news/media diet for some years now. The Stewart/Colbert team give me the farcical sound bites illuminating the one-up-ness polarization inherent in U.S. politics, I read choice tidbits and listen to Fresh Air. During election season I mostly fast.

Occasionally I get duped. Like with Michelle Obama’s DNC speech. FB friends were happily raving with one saying, “Dems got their sexy back.” (that I do agree with). Michelle talks and I love her spirited Self and her fun/first-class dress displaying her strong “yes we can!” shoulders. But then, this: “Every day, the people I meet inspire me…they make me proud…they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth…” la la la la blah blah blah.

In real life People, there is NO greatest, ultimate, perfect, best; there’s just what you like. That doesn’t make it best; that’s what’s “best” to you. Every time you assert that what you favor is the greatest you’re insulting someone, manifesting arrogance, being a bore.

We won’t let our children boast: “I draw better than everyone,” or “I’m the best player on my team.” Why? It’s polarizing and disrespectful. When someone says they live in the greatest country in the world, how haughty (and patently untrue) is that?! Most of my family lives in Tuscany. I wonder if they’d agree that the U.S. is “the greatest.” On just the food front, I loudly and unequivocally challenge that assertion.

Good/bad comparisons are a major dysfunctional component of the patriarchal paradigm. We loathe them in politics but we do this in our lives all the time. I bought the best laptop. I use the ultimate smartphone. The Patriots are supreme. Really? The first two may be better designed for some situations and may be easier to use than many but that still doesn’t make them “best,” and the Patriots will be down soon enough.

Must we compare, elevate or denigrate? Why can’t we just prefer the city we live in, our school, our religion, the wine, the book, the olives, the bread without pompously declaring it’s the ultimate? It may seem safer to impose your opinion as fact but it doesn’t make it true.

How about we replace:  “This pizza’s good,” “That dog sucks,” “These are the crispest apples” with: “I love thin pizzas!” “I don’t like yappy dogs,” “These apples are my kind of crisp.” The pizza, the dog and those apples are what they are despite your personal proclivities. Let things, teams, towns, countries and people be as they occur—without qualifying them as better, best or worst—in and of themselves. They’re existence isn’t just in relation to you.

Respecting differences, celebrating diversity, honoring others’ favorites will bring us all more happiness. When the Orioles make a splendid play I’ll cheer even if I’m fond of the Mariners. A fine play is a fine play regardless which team achieved it. Yes?

men can ‘hate’ patriarchy, too


Over dinner one night, a (male) friend teasingly said, “But you hate men.”

I laughed and said, “No, not men—patriarchy, and entitlement which harms both genders.” I paused then continued, “It’s not my fault that the most entitled group in the U.S. happens to be white males.” He nodded.

Not counting my jesting friend, I’ve found it amazing that when I point out the evident, others inject an assumptive opinion about what I mean or think, often trying to discount me personally for noticing and speaking up.

This is especially true if I verbalize anything to do with patriarchy. In my experience, the tetchiest people in the world are men. I’m old-ish now and I’ve been talking about the damage patriarchy has had on women, men, children, fauna, flora, dirt and the galaxies since I was a teenager, yet I can count on three fingers the times a man wasn’t defensive about this. You know, the tired (and dismissive) trope, “Not all men.” This is especially true as income level rises.

First, no one is talking about You unless You identify with what is being seen/said.

Secondly, if something is obvious, it’s still not personal. It’s just obvious.

Thirdly, I’m not the only person who can identify this as a problem [see: testosterone: the most lethal substance on earth (george carlin)]. Observing something—female or male—doesn’t mean anyone’s choosing sides. Just because I see it and I’m female doesn’t mean I fabricated it or that it’s erroneous.

I’m on the side of ‘truth,’ not gender, the side of repeated empirical and anecdotal evidence. I just want “it” to get better, people—not to be right, which, BTW, tends to be more of a male concern.

Zen tenet suggests that misery comes from not accepting “what is.” If you can’t look out at our world and not see that women are often prey, do 70% of the world’s work, bring home 17-30 % less than men (look it up)—just because, have males trying to regulate their wombs with laws and panels to discuss reproductive rights populated only by men, carry the emotional bulk of ‘relationships,’ put in 4-5 more hours per week of domestic-related work than men, and that 95-97% of mainstream media, movies, TV are created by men most of which rarely pass the Bechdel Test, ad infinitum, ad nauseum…then you don’t have senses.

Women don’t cause the majority of the world’s conflict, are rarely terrorists, attackers, molesters, mass shooters nor do they blow the tops off of mountains, clear-cut, create CAFOs or—basically—throw Planet Earth under the bus. No, they don’t. See rabble, rabble, rabble : : women create, men destroy for more rant-ress information.

How about stepping out of denial and step up to acknowledgment. The first course of action in healing anything is to accept “what is,” to name it. If you won’t do that, there are no other moves.

As Schopenhauer said: All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Let’s race for Self-Evident, okay?

pollyanna is passive aggressive


Why is it when you have a complaint about the world, governmental ineptitude, hair, academic insularity, overcooked spaghetti, other people, xmas glut, phones, public toilets, the arts industries, parties, dumb guy movies, vampires, the patriarchal paradigm or religion some people feel compelled to nullify it by shoving the “bright side” in your face? Or dismiss your “sad, cynical state” with a gentle-yet-smug head shake.

Pollyannas aren’t interested in profound darker truths about life; just light ones. It seems that a day without nighttime is fine with them, and maybe they only prefer inhaling. But, realistically, that isn’t the full, round ambiance of our planet. Shadows materialize and are more “lustrous” in the sun, yet the pollyanna seems blind.

The problem is not just that pollyannas excrete a positive viscosity over life but that they’re illogically optimistic; you can’t discuss serious issues or philosophies and opinions that might touch those nasty banished parts of themselves. They get visibly anxious, start projecting and see you as Debbie Downer. No resolutions can be found to most of life’s events from large to small except: “it’s meant to be” “is god’s plan” or “it all happens for a reason.”

I, too, believe things happen for a reason but not from denial of what is. Contrarily, engaging in what is—be it deemed “negative” or “positive” by the pollyanna—helps me make rational sense of that reason. BTW, my definition of good and bad: what wakes me up is good, regardless of whether or not it feels good, and what’s bad is what puts me ‘to sleep’ even if it feels great.

Pollyannas take genuine truths but twist them into sappy sentiments because they’re not infused with living pain. I didn’t say pollyannas don’t have pain, they’re just so afraid of and powerless in the face of their anguish—apparently never having been taught how to be with it—that they cage it in the cellar and have Golum feed it saccharine: I am the master of my fate! It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown! Chin up! It’s not happy people who’re thankful but thankful people who’re happy!

I’m sorry for children who aren’t taught to embrace all of their emotions with compassion and I’m sorry for all the rest of us who are judged as being too intense, sad or—heaven forbid—negative. But mostly, I feel sorry for pollyannas and their delusional half-lived state. We can’t really touch them because they’re not yet fully formed.

You can only participate in life’s bliss—which often feels few and far between—if you willingly cuddle with your shadows. Pollyannas seem a long way away from this acceptance as they ‘bright-side-of-life’ their suffering away and discount anyone who reminds them of their ostracized despair.

Let Monty Python take it from here: always look on the bright side of life.

holding hands with reality

“Look mamma—a V,” says Tara at age two, loving to demonstrate her letter recognizing ability.

“Where, I don’t see it,” I ask peering down Colfax Ave, looking at all the signs, the billboards.

“Right in front of us; see it?” I scan the skyline as Tara continues to point, trying to explain. “It’s at the end of the street—there.” I know she sees something, but I’m tempted to decide she’s mistaken as to what she spies because—after all—she’s only two and just learning her letters and daily toddler-hood excitement can sometimes be taxing. But her happy insistent tone makes me keep looking. And then, I get it.

The V that never leaves, that’s right in front of us, at the end of the street. It’s the actual horizon line, not the written letter V that I’d imagined.

We all have different perspectives as to what and how we view. Each is neither true or untrue for a variety of reasons too lengthy to get into here. But the greater truth is that one vision doesn’t negate another, though it could transform it. If we gave it a chance to do so.

The famous Jain parable: six blind men are asked to deduce what an elephant looks like. Each touches a different section from trunk to tail. The elephant is like a rope says the man feeling the tail. The one stroking the ears knows elephants are like large hand-fans while the man pricked by the ivory tusk: the animal is spear-like. Each knows what they felt so they’re sure the others are wrong. Of course they’re all correct…in part.

If we decide someone is: foolish, not an expert, is an expert, just a child, just an animal, senile, too emotional, PMS-ing, a dumb jock, a know-it-all teenager, a gansta, a cracker, a hippie, a suit, a bleeding heart, an Asian, only a woman, a redneck, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, even if some part of those observations are true, we close our visionary eyes and cease to comprehend beyond the labels, the judgment. This is an annihilation of sorts as everyone becomes invisible beyond the part we “see.”

We have to realize there’s much we perceive, try hard to discern but can’t, don’t want to see so don’t, and through all this, the thing remains as it is.

The Buddhists suggest that misery comes from not accepting what is. “What is” does not alter, but our perceptions do. Maybe it’s time we listen to another’s version to understand if it can expand our own.

Sunday-driving through California wine country, passing vineyards of perfectly pruned grapevines, Tara pipes up, “Hey mom-mia! The vines are holding hands. They must be singing.” Yup.