I first put this comment onto someone else’s blog, but think really it belongs here, so I’ve expanded it and am posting it.
I’ve been thinking about happiness vs. bitterness lately, and optimism vs. pessimism. Surely at times I am too pessimistic, to my own detriment, but more often I like to think I am simply realistic and that most people prefer not to actually look at reality.
The reality is that in daily life most things are neutral – just getting through the day and doing your job, feeding and dressing yourself, caring for family etc.. Neither good nor bad, simply necessary.
A lot of the rest of your day might be spent fighting through or ‘dealing with’ what everyone else wants in their lives so that you can get what you want. Your boss wants that report and you want to get paid or be able to get home early but now you can’t etc..
Every once in awhile you get what you want without hassle, and are then – bingo you are happy. Or perhaps you worked damned hard and got what you want and this makes you even happier as your ‘fight’ or ‘struggle’ was worth it. Conquest. Success.
Most other times, life gets in the way and you have no actual way to change what is happening, no control – people near your heart and or other beings you love die, wars start which will only benefit the power structures out of your direct control but these wars could affect your life negatively (your house is bombed, you are killed, inscripted etc.), someone mugs you because you look rich and vulnerable, someone rapes you because you are female and in the wrong place at the wrong time and they hate women and you are handy, the stock market drops and you lose retirement money, someone rear ends while you are sat at a traffic light etc.. You can try to control your reactions to these events, but you cannot prevent or stop them in most cases. This causes unhappiness, and can lead to bitterness and regret. Regret you took that particular street home, that you did not move house, say ‘I love you’ the last time you saw her before she passed on, change your investment strategy before the crash etc..
Without all that unhappiness, the moments of happiness would not mean so much to us.
I am reading a book now that a friend gave me to try to change me into an optimist (which I have by the way no intention of becoming). But I am reading it for curiosity’s sake.
Interestingly the author points out scientific research that proves pessimsts more accurately analyze their own abilities and the abilities of others to accomplish any given task and can more accurately determine all the things which might go wrong in a given situation than an optimist. This means that they will do better jobs for example as trail lawyers, industry analysts, writers, software testers and doctors among other professions!
To me there is no great value in becoming ‘happy and dumb’ to be honest. He says that supposedly optimistic people live longer. I say it probably just *seems* that way.
Adversity builds character, strength and resiliance in a person. Happiness builds none of that. When did getting everything you want in life ever get credit for improving someone’s character, for example? Who the hell wants to read a novel about a happy person who has a great life? Who can identify with that? Obviously no one – the great novels are tragedies or stories that show people either overcoming or succumbing to life’s challenges, love lived well and lost or never attained at all – they are stories that other people can relate to and which tug on their emotional ties to similar situations in their own lives. Artists and writers who are great are making art about what they know, about the human condition – and the human condition isn’t generally to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, grow up to be a famous or powerful person who has no trouble and die a peaceful death well respected by all. I guess if it ever happens it will make a great film but I bet no one will care to see it.
True happiness to me are those rare momements when life is good and all is well, when you can savour it and frankly this condition will not last – but that is OK too … if you work at it, happiness will come again (but to me not by being simply ‘optimistic about it’). The other kind of happiness to me is a fake happiness or a forced happiness (or a self-enforced ‘do not look at the man behind the curtain’) — the ‘don’t worry be happy’ kind is the one responsible for mindless playing of video games, mindless TV addiction etc. and is really the reason that IMHO American has become dumbed down esp as regards news and politics and any type of independent thought being respected and revered. I would so prefer it if the country would start to listen to punk and Joy Division again.
If people would wake up and unplug their iPods and see what Bush has done to the country and our civil rights laws, I think they’d realize it was high time for another revolution similar to 1776. Now that would make me happy. But I am not optimistic it will happen.