Posted in Book Reviews (updating), Uncategorized, writing

Happiness 2.0

Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I picked up Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments because I just couldn’t handle Hollow Kingdom at midnight. Not because it’s scary, but because I didn’t feel like raising my blood pressure.

If you click through some of my older posts, you’ll see I’ve talked a lot about happiness. One post entitled Happiness I wrote when I was taking pain pills for my injured back. I noticed the stark difference between my baseline happiness and this new, inorganic happiness. I struggled with accepting that our brain runs on limitations: we get a finite amount of dopamine, endorphins, and other stimulating neurotransmitters, unless we bring in an outside source. In this case, my outside source was Percocet. It pained me to think the contentment I felt was initiated and could never be natural.

So when I came across the essay The Dangers of Happiness by Carl Cedarstrom, I was inclined to absorb every word.

He talks first about Aristole. If you recall from your undergraduate philosophy days, Aristotle insisted happiness came from being a “good person” and that meant living an ethical life, guided by reason and cultivated virtues. The Stoics, Cedarstrom says, decided no matter how daunting life became, no matter the circumstances, people could be happy. Christians took that and 360’d it: pain was more desirable, as it lead to a “divine union in the afterlife.” Happiness, after all, couldn’t ever be met on Earth, only in the Crystal City with God.

Today in the west, where capitalism rules, we are more inclined to pursue that unobtainable happiness within ourselves. Cedarstrom says “to be happy in a time when we price authenticity and narcissism, we need to express our true inner self, get in touch with our deeper feelings, and follow the path set by ourselves. . . we are assumed to find happiness through work and by being productive. We are required to curate our market value, manage ourselves as corporations, and live according to an entrepreneurial ethos.”

This means if you’re unemployed, you’re worthless.

Okay, not worthless. It means you can’t truly be happy. You must never rely on other people for help, you must “struggle for self-improvement” and your fate is in your own hands. ONLY in your hands.

This is why people beat up homeless people.

This is why money, particularly in my county, is shoveled away from community organizations that are set up to help lessen the circumstances that can cause homelessness. This increases drug use and relapses in mental illness which in turn increases homelessness. Do you see the problem, yet?

Cedarstorm says, “If we may all be equally happy, irrespective of our circumstances, then that would equip politicians like Mr. Bush with convenient excuse[s] to stop looking at structural issues like class, social and economic inequality, or poverty.”

What Cedarstorm is getting at is quite disturbing: we’re using this message of the American Dream, of this deluded individualism, to distract ourselves from the actual problems we face in society. This is why people go hungry, it’s why crime rates soar and people think “thoughts and prayers” on twitter means something. We’ve created an illusion of happiness.

That’s not to say we can’t be happy, something Cedarstorm doesn’t get into. It’s true we use our self-righteousness as a way to shun those we think aren’t “trying hard enough”, but there is truth to the message that if we want to get somewhere in this society, we have to push ourselves–not because that’s the formula for happiness, but because that’s the formula society has created. It’s an unfortunate creation; rather than help each other, we trample over each other and call it helping.

When I took Percocet, the happiness was distracting. I didn’t worry, I didn’t think, and I nodded out in class. My notes look like someone with Parkinson’s wrote them. But I was happy.

We’ve basically drugged ourselves.

I’m not bashing people who work hard, and I’m not bashing people who don’t work at all. I’m encouraging us to look at things from a different perspective. I’m personally someone who strives for progression in the self and beyond myself; I don’t consider it progress if I’m not lifting others up while I do it. I’ve been lucky enough to have groups of encouraging people surround me. Were it not for them, I wouldn’t have continued to progress.

My stubbornness helps.

But the point is, this idea that we have to do everything by ourselves is complete and utter bullshit. That thought process is designed to keep those who are already down further down; when we see them as lazy, as not working hard enough, we don’t feel the need to expend our precious energy on helping them. But in reality, who has helped you get to where you are today?

My parents have helped me, even through all the pain we’ve suffered together.

My former coworkers have given me more emotional support than I’ve ever received, and they are the sole reason I’m continuing my education.

My friends.

Professors who ran after me in the rain and pleaded with me to never stop writing, never stop learning. Professors who walked me through a calculus problem step by step because I learn differently. Professors who just inspire.

Random strangers who have smiled at me on the street, who have engaged in conversation not knowing I was feeling terrified, scared, sad.

The nurse at the last hospital I was in who told me my so-called illness is actually a gift.

The doctors who have been patient with me through all my worries.

And so many more. Without them, I wouldn’t be me, and the same goes for you. You haven’t done anything by yourself.

It’s an illusion.

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and catch me on instagram @alilivesagain or twitter @thephilopsychotic.

Posted in Late Night Thoughts

Happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be happy. Here are some of my thoughts.

I’ve done what all good, sheep-like psychologist eventually do: create categories for something that is probably far too complex for such an explanation.

But, hear me out.

I’ve reasoned there’s organic happiness and there’s constructed, or synthesized, happiness. An organic happiness would be someone’s baseline: how you are when you wake up in the morning, how you respond to the corresponding events of the day. This is the happiness we often feel we need to correct.

A synthesized happiness, then, comes in peaks and waves from an outside source. It eventually decreases gradually or exponentially. It may be uncertain, untrustworthy, or fleeting.

These thoughts came into my head not only because of our humanly need to correct all feelings we feel don’t line well with other’s feelings, but because there is such a stark difference between the happiness I feel organically, the one that sprouts naturally in my consciousness, a simple product of biological existence, versus the happiness I feel after I’ve accomplished something I had doubts about, after spending a day with the people I love, or after I take a pain pill for my back.

I think I’ve made this distinction because I notice I’m often disappointed in my organic happiness, in my baseline of existence.

There are tons of speculated biological and evolutionary reasons why certain chemicals peak at certain times in our brains–to keep us focused, to associate good feelings with good friends so that we build connections which were at one point most essential for survival, to simply bring us enjoyment. But now, there are so many things in life that can trigger intense rushes of endorphins, like substances and fame, that what we experience in the day to day just can’t compete. I am happier and friendlier when traveling. I am happier and friendlier when on pain medication. I am happier and friendlier to strangers when I am also among people I care for and love.

And so I find now, when I have a moment to rest and reflect, I remind myself that everything is enough.

I’ve had three of my six past therapists tell me I need to tell myself that I am enough, and I’ve tried that, but I think this stretches deeper. I think that realizing that life is enough, that how I feel is enough–negative or positive–is what paves the way for accepting myself. If I can truly believe that every negative feeling exists as a moment ripe with the potential for growth, and that every positive feeling exists as a moment ripe with the potential for contentment (as opposed to: oh no, I’m happy, let’s see how long this lasts), then I think that may be the key to actually existing.

But believing something doesn’t mean I create a mantra and repeat it to myself until I drop dead. That doesn’t foster belief and studies show that reiterating positive mantras to yourself can actually make you feel worse. I measure how much I believe in something by the rate and construction of my reactions. Let me give an example.

Last night while watching television, I felt the same disappointment I discussed earlier: I felt sad that I couldn’t spend every day feeling the fuzzy, determined, focused happiness that pain medication brings. I felt sad that I felt sad about that. I felt sad that my own level of being just didn’t seem to be enough; I enjoy my personality, I admire my intelligence, I accept my flaws, but the feeling of existing, the feeling of being human, limited, temporary, often enrages me. Being just isn’t enough.

And in this moment of realization, my mind reacted with a simple thought: let’s be okay with this.

Now sometimes I have voices responding to my thoughts, or voice-like thoughts responding to my thoughts, but this was all me, it was a reaction that I haven’t programmed. I haven’t spent the last two years off medication waking up every morning spewing “learn to love yourself” and “you are enough” quotes until I repeat them robotic, on demand. I’ve spent my time entrenching myself in the madness, the chaos, the pain. I spent time locked in my room staring at the wall, if that was what my pain was. I spent time walking off waves of panic, if that was what my pain was. I spent time being unhappy, if that was what my pain was. I resisted the urges for bail outs–a psychiatrist would have bailed me out, numbed me to my anxiety, tainted the voices and the paranoia, evened the mood swings and depression. And I would have learned nothing.

This is not to be said in a way where everyone taking medication should be offended. For me, medication was another avoidance technique that I’d perfected through years of trauma. For others, medication is the stability key that allows them the time and focus to come to the same types of realizations I have. We all reach wellness in different ways.

I’ve noticed in depression, I am no longer overwhelmed with sadness because I allow the sadness to spread. I choke sometimes with the paranoia, fight it, try and reason with myself and that often cycles me further. I am still growing. I choke with the anxiety as well, get lost in the sensations of my body, and the doom my mind screams. I am still growing. But the depression, which has been with me since I was eleven years old, has become a close friend. I am 24 years old. It’s taken 13 years to cultivate this friendship.

And so happiness for me does not mean contentment or joy or the absence of sadness. Happiness for me means experiencing being without judgement.

I figured I’d share some of these thoughts with everyone as we plunge through Mental Health Month as well as the Covid Pandemic.

This week we are covering Schizophrenia, Bipolar, and Dissociative disorders, starting tomorrow. The post will be later in the evening (PST) as I have some self-care and some things that need to get done at work. If you have a blog post on those topics that you’ve written and would like to share, or if you’d like to submit your own story, contact me here or on my social media handles below.

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Twitter: @philopsychotic

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