Let’s talk about happiness.
Some famous dead guy included the “pursuit of happiness” as one of our “unalienable rights” described in the U.S. Constitution, right up there with life and liberty. It would seem that, at least to that famous dead guy, we live and we have the freedom to choose our own way for the purpose of getting happy.
We have lots of self-help gurus who write books giving us advice on how to get happy. Impossible to know how many of those gurus are truly happy themselves. Clearly they wrote their books out of an unhappiness with their financial situations before writing the books. The Dalai Lama wrote a book entitled, The Art of Happiness. So, even the world’s most iconic Buddhist figure proposes that there is a spiritual basis for getting happy.
We’ve got lots of products that promise us happiness and were seemingly developed and produced with our personal happiness in mind. Food, for instance. It appears that lots of bacon makes us happy. It isn’t enough to have bacon on the pizza; we need it stuffed into the crust also. And pills: We can turn on tv to see really miserable people get medicated in a commercial and then run around wide-eyed in a kind of creepy-Disney animated world that apparently makes them happy and is supposed to make us happy too.
You always see happy people in beer commercials. None of the bars I ever attended looked quite like that.
I suppose that our commercial culture, where we have a paradigm of the sciences called “consumer psychology,” partly explains our sometimes-ineffective approach to happiness. We are somewhat brainwashed into thinking that if we are not happy– if we aren’t shiny-happy like the folks in the beer and pharmaceutical commercials– then our happiness can be obtained if we go out and get something we’re missing.
What I mean is, the pursuit of happiness really becomes a pursuit of happiness; we go seeking our own happiness and we chase it. We look for what we’re missing. Maybe it is a piece of furniture or a car we think will make us happy, or perhaps someone to love us. We run after things outside of ourselves, like a small child chasing butterflies.
That’s an approach that works well for those who sell us bacon and beer and pills; I don’t know that it works well for us.
It seems to me that happiness has to come from inside of us. Happiness, I think, is a sense of satisfaction and contentment, a general feeling that your situation is good. To me, that means you have to be living a life that has meaning and purpose, a life that gives you the sense that what you do, and who you are, matters.
I remember in grade school, teachers asking us stupid kids what we wanted to be when we grew up. I remember the responses. Some kids wanted to be police officers or fire-fighters or soldiers… because those occupations would give them a sense of meaning and purpose. Some wanted to be doctors or lawyers. When the teacher called on me and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “I want to be a man.”
It seemed to me then that if I was to grow up, I would want to be an adult human, and that’s what I wanted to be, apart from whatever it is I might do. So, from this answer, we can extrapolate that at the age of six I was either unusually wise or I was something of a moron.
Let’s go with “wise.”
In order for us to engage the world in a way that makes us happy, that gives us purpose and meaning, we have to first arrive at a place where we value what we are. Only by arriving as someone who values what we are can we then engage the world in a way that gives us purpose and meaning.
So, in this darkest and most-miserable time of the year, I urge you to drudge up a great deal of really depressing stuff by engaging in year-end introspection. But the important question to ask yourself, if you want to be happy, and if you want to live a life of meaning and purpose, is this: Do you value yourself?
I think that’s an important place to start the pursuit of happiness because, if you don’t value yourself, you can never get happy– you’re not happy with yourself. And being unhappy with yourself is probably a pretty common thing, seeing how we’re trained to be unhappy with ourselves.
Unhappy people are much better consumers than happy ones. Go figure. So, there are forces at work to make us unhappy with ourselves, to make us value ourselves less.
Let’s stop listening to that messaging and start actively valuing ourselves, so we can be reasonably happy with who we are and engage the world in a way that is meaningful and purposeful, a way that gives us a sense that we matter.
In a world like this, valuing yourself is a radical act. So, let’s do more of it.
And since I haven’t mentioned it yet in the whole five minutes I’ve been rambling, let’s also tip over cop cars and burn them.
This is Anarchist Prisoner Sean Swain from Warren Corruptional in Lebanon, Ohio. If you’re listening, you ARE the resistance…
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