If It Ain’t Broke…

Sometimes, I wonder if there’s a “first principle” to my blogs on happiness. I think so, but I’m not sure what it is. One good candidate is this: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

A pitfall to seeking happiness is that expectations sneak into the search and they can change everything — sometimes for the worse.  

Let’s pretend I’m a happy guy (I think I am) who stumbles on this blog. Maybe I read because it’s interesting. That’s fine. Maybe I think it’s nonsense and move on. That’s fine. But maybe I think I can use some of it to become happier. That may not be fine.

Specifically, let’s say I find the self = pain thread to be compelling, so I try it out. Now, in doing so, I might set an expectation of undermining my self-image. This can become a problem, because if I fail to undermine my self-image, I can be unhappy.

I’d have to take into account my successes, failures and compare to how happy I was before. What if I’m unhappier than before? That’s possible, thanks to the expectation of results. Yet, the whole point of this self-image exercise was to increase my happiness, but at some point, the exercise itself became the point! In this way, my search for happiness made me unhappy.

I have experienced this. I have experienced cases in which I followed a philosophy to improve my happiness and found out at some point that I pulled a bait and switch and was valuing adherence to certain parts of the philosophy over the happiness itself. At times, I even felt happiness and rejected it — and felt unhappy about it (!) — because it wasn’t the “right” kind of happiness!

This also raises a chicken and egg question.  Is anything I write true in any objective sense, or is it all born out of belief and expectation?  See, another possible “first principle” for my blogs is belief. Simply believing something can make it a condition for happiness. Is the self really a cause of pain, or do I believe this and because I believe it I see the impact of the self in my daily life? Is clinging really a problem, or do I just believe this and see the world in terms of it? Am I really experiencing joy because of selflessness or letting go, or because I accomplished a goal I set?  

In a way, the answer doesn’t matter.  If happiness is tied to belief, then what matters is to work with the belief. In fact, this is empowering because it raises the possibility of setting achievable goals for happiness if I can believe enough in them. The self = pain belief is entrenched enough that many people believe it (including me), and this alone makes it a path to happiness. The same holds for various other beliefs. In some cases, I may appeal to people by building a new belief by an argument, which simply connects their existing beliefs to this new belief.

So the real question isn’t if any of what I say is true, but if it’s believable enough to be workable, and conducive to happiness.

Make no mistake about it though; I write about other paths, even if I have my doubts. As long as I believe there is some merit (in terms of believe-ability or an audience who believes in it) and I feel I can add something, I will write about it.

When it comes to happiness, I don’t care about truth, unless it can lead to happiness. It’s all about happiness and belief, and very often the “truth” is only relevant insofar as it affects believe-ability. In fact, the truth is sometimes a curse, as some people value it above their own happiness. It’s another one of those “authorities” (like meaning) that can rob us of happiness by denying us certain pursuits or interpretations.

At the end of the day, please ask this question: are you currently happy?  If you are, then maybe the best decision you can make is to stop reading this blog.

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7 thoughts on “If It Ain’t Broke…

  1. Whose happiness? Should I only consider my own happiness as criteria for my choices. What if my choices devastate others? Doesn’t it seem that to leave others wounded and bleeding behind would taint everything else ahead?

    I think I already know what many people would think or do. I don’t necessarily anticipate agreement here. It sounds strange in some ways to me too. But perhaps discussion generating.

    Is it ok for my elderly mother to abandon my father who needs extensive care to pursue a happier situation for herself? It kind of seems a “whatever makes me happy” principle would allow for this.

    1. Good point as always. The one thing that would trump a personal search for happiness is the happiness of others because others matter.

      This is one of the reasons I believe trying to cultivate inner happiness is so valuable. It not only can put us less into conflict with others, but if we can define the criteria for our happiness, we can (and should) make one of them ethical behavior so that we can gain happiness by helping others.

      In a previous comment, you linked to an article that stated that helping others does not necessarily make one happier, and I responded that in my experience, I was happier for doing it. I believe I am because I successfully defined part of my happiness in terms of helping others, not doing tit for tat behavior, etc… I’m no saint, but I’m more in that direction than I was.

      I guess in a way, I see the “right” kind of happiness pursuit to be an ethical obligation…

  2. I’m pretty happy, but I definitely don’t want to stop reading this blog! It makes me happy… not the advice, actually. What makes me happy is the intellectual stimulation.
    On an unrelated note, I finished the book on meditation and I am doing it every day for 20 minutes. It does seem to have an appreciable effect.

    1. That’s great to hear on all counts and thank you! Being able to take happiness from intellectual stimulation is a great thing, and I think back to Russell’s article on approaching philosophy. To like the knowledge for its own sake (or the sake of the stimulation) rather than what is contained therein really opens some doors, happiness-wise.

  3. I like the way you think David. Not reading these blogs would very likely put a significant dent in my happiness although some of the topics are over my head or outside my interest range.

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