Does it Scale? It Doesn’t Matter!

This is an extended response to livelyskeptic’s question…

Let us say I have a way of dealing with pain that works. However, I only had the “opportunity” to try it on small stuff. How do I know if it will work on the large stuff? 

Short answer:  it doesn’t matter.

The rest of this post explains the short answer.

Happiness is largely a function of the small stuff. Studies show that 50% of happiness is genetic, 10% circumstances, and 40% intentional choices like meditation, gratitude, helping others and so on. These findings are bolstered by studies of lottery winners and people who recently became paraplegics. In both cases, the groups returned to their previous levels of happiness within a year after their changes. Sure, these events hurt but the pain was temporary as they adapted.

My experiences bear this out. When I think of my life, it’s many little things rather than a few big ones that make it happy or sad.  I also have adapted to much.  A lot has changed in my life, yet it has  become background. In fact, the worst time in my life occurred with no changes to my circumstance. So while I cannot quantify the breakdown,  I agree with the gist of the study.

So if I worry about big stuff, I am doubting a path that addresses 40% of my happiness because I’m unsure of how it’ll handle the other 10%! In the process I diminish my happiness with worry. I put 40% at risk by worrying about 10% and I don’t even know if the 10% will be a problem. Does that make sense?

Additionally, worrying about this can actually reduce my chances of coping with it. If I am on a path that is about letting go and abandoning the self, then I undermine my work/beliefs every time I worry.

By worrying, I am clinging to this event. Since my ability to deal with this event depends partly on my skill in letting go, I am doing something that will increase my pain should this event happen. I also suffer now.

When I worry about my reaction to something, I am asserting the existence of a stable self because my fear is based on a projection of how I am now into the future.  After all, the problem with the event is a function of my reaction, which is a function of my mental state, which  is a function if my experiences, but these  may be dramatically different in the future. In short, I am assuming I will be mostly unchanged when this event happens. But really, for all I know, I may not even care by then!  In the meanwhile, I am undermining a belief that can help me meet this.

An event may never happen, but worrying about it guarantees that it will hurt me even if it never happens.

In short, it doesn’t matter if the path doesn’t scale up. If it is working now, that is good enough, so abandon this question as unimportant. 

On a related note, Alan Watts wrote a book called “The Wisdom of Insecurity” in which he argued that our very search for security was the cause if our insecurity.

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4 thoughts on “Does it Scale? It Doesn’t Matter!

  1. “When I worry about my reaction to something, I am asserting the existence of a stable self because my fear is based on a projection of how I am now into the future.” One of these things I should be able to infer with my knowledge but that I had to read here to actually realize.
    Believe it or not, this post helped me to cope with some very real problems (more like “foreseeable problems”). Thanks.

    1. Thank you! One of the greatest compliments I can get is being told that something I wrote helped someone.

      You know, the idea of the self is so entrenched that we often don’t even realize it’s operative, so there are probably a billion and one ways it makes it into our lives and we miss it.

  2. Thank you very much for that! I find your article really inspiring. It’s like David Yerle said in his comment. I think I have the same problem with clinging to a stable self. An imagined stable self, no less! And that is also very relevant to my daily life.
    You still sound eerily like my zen master, by the way.
    I also agree with you when you say that happiness is made up of many little things, but I have experienced that the big things (in my personal life) have been like earthquakes and have made me shudder for a long time after the event. Ofcourse, the question is whether I should make preparations for the next earthquake or be happy, in a sense. Thanks for pointing that out.
    I like Alan Watts, if only for going against the zen establishment of his day. I am not familiar with the book you mention.
    Perhaps I should not dither, but take your advice and let go of the question.

    1. My pleasure, and thanks for the compliments.

      Those studies don’t deny that a major event will hurt, and there is a period of adaptation most people go through. So there will be pain and even ripples, although I imagine most of the ripples would be a function of clinging.

      Still, if you can take measures to help protect against certain things, then by all means do so. Temporary or not, pain is pain, and if you can do something concrete to guard against it, why not?

      However, at some point planning grades into worry and from then it’s pointless suffering, and that’s what I was trying to address.

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