My friend sent me a video this morning about happiness. It was the most depressing video I have seen in a long time. It was these rats, all chasing happiness like humans do. The rats engage in all the things we do to achieve happiness: work, consume, drink, spend. The rats were surrounded all the time with messages, advertisements that _____ will bring the happiness you seek. Guess what? Happiness never comes, but in brief momentary spikes where it appears that whatever it is the rat is doing will bring happiness, but there is always a let down, where the very thing that caused the spike in joy, brings about more pain and suffering.
I read something yesterday that struck me and helped deal with the “rat” issue...
There was a woman who had just lost her husband. She was in her 80s. She could not live alone anymore and was moving to an assisted living facility. God, even the phrase “assisted living facility” makes me want to barf. Please, God, I do not ever want to live in a facility...
So decisions were made about her life, where she would live, in which facility. When she got there, one of the workers of said facility was taking her to her new space, her new “home”. The worker said to the woman, “I think you will like it, it is a very nice room.” To which the woman replied, “I already do like it.”
The “facility” woman said, “well, I am sure you will but you can’t like it yet you haven’t seen it yet.”
The woman said, “Oh, I know, I haven’t seen it yet but I made up my mind already that I would like it. So I am all good.”
The “facility” woman thought the woman a bit odd but was also impressed that the woman just decided to like something before she even had all the information.
Once the woman was shown her room, she got settled in and commenced living her life in the new place.
Now, I have a few things to say...
On the one hand, I am impressed, she just made up her mind to like something that she didn’t even know about. She just decided to like it and that was that.
I am not this person. I am a cautious liker of things. I am much more discerning and evaluative in my decisions. But I was struck by this woman’s simple, yet profound decision to just decide she would like something before she even saw it. Could it really be that simple? Was this woman mad and a little off her rocker thus the need for a facility?
I thought about this woman and her decision all day. It vexed me, it kind of ate at me. I kept returning to it over and over again. I was perturbed by this seeming nonchalance about abandonment of our own freedom of choice.
But as the day wore on and I couldn’t shake the woman’s decision from my psyche, I realized that what she really did was remove herself from the equation. She just decided to like something rather than get all bothered by the details. It was such a simple act, but with profound consequences. Her act felt so far out of reach for me with all my desires, ways, quirks and fundamental insistence that things look a certain way, feel a certain way, be a certain way.
It took me back to a time when a friend bought a new house. As we were moving her stuff in, I asked her what color she was going to decorate the bathroom. She looked at me perplexed...
“Um, what do you mean?” She asked.
“Well you just bought your first house and you have this lovely bathroom, what colors are you going to decorate it, with new towels and rugs and the like?” I said somewhat incredulous.
“Well, I already have towels and rugs so I am not going to buy anything new...” She replied.
“But your towels are old and they don’t match...” I said even more incredulously.
“Yeah, I just don’t care about that I guess...” She offered then walked away.
She moved to unpack another box in another room while I was left there standing in her lovely, albeit poorly decorated bathroom. I was shocked and couldn’t relate at all. For me, I needed to make it look right. I needed to buy new towels and rugs and other items to make the space look the way I wanted it to look. It was a compulsion for me. It made me want to run out and buy her new towels...and some paint.
I didn’t really think of it more at that time. I probably arrogantly thought that I had much better taste than my friend and was grateful to be me rather than her. Yes, I do know that I am kind of an ass.
But that moment in the bathroom has plagued me for years. How could she not want to make it better? How could she buy this lovely home and then not care about every item that went into making it look the best it could?
It dawns on me now that I have always been way more concerned with how things look than the underlying quality and content. Let me dress this pile of dogs shit up so that it passes for something more aesthetically pleasing...
It struck me yesterday that I am nothing like the woman who just decided to like her new room in the “facility”. I would not be that kind of person. I would bitch and moan and be upset. I would want to decorate it and paint it and likely wholly remodel the place. I would insist that the surroundings bend to my will and creative ideology. I would never, ever decide to like something before I even saw it.
And I realized, that happiness is something that is available to me all the time that I intentionally put conditions on and miss opportunities to experience. I pick a kind of slavery of the self instead of freedom of spirit.
This woman walked into her new life with the decision already made to like it and move on. She was free to move about the grounds, make new friends and get on with the fun of living. Not me, I would be in there toiling and cussing and perfecting. I would not have the time to meet anyone or do anything fun for weeks until my new place looked the way that I wanted it to look. Then I wouldn’t want anyone to come over and mess it up.
God, I am really kind of an ass. The kind of ass who is missing opportunities to connect, to live and to just be happy.
And even with this knowledge and insight, I can’t say that I want to be different. I mean I know that I should want to be more like the woman who just makes up her mind to like things but that feels like a not so subtle violence to who I really am. I care immensely about my surroundings and the way they look. I care a great deal and spend a lot of time cleaning, decorating and maintaining things like my home. It is a passion if not an obsession.
But I do see that I am missing a great part of life. A part that exists right outside my comfort zone. The place where I just don’t decide to be controlling and unhappy with the way things are. I can just like a room I have never seen and get on with the business of living. I can reject the rat life and select another one. But I am still so seduced by my own will and mind that I will never be truly happy because I have made it so conditional...
Wow, hard truth for a Wednesday. I am not sure that I even want to be like that woman. But I also know I do not want to be the rat...I have lived that life, thinking that this new thing, that guy, those shoes, this city, that job is going to make me happier and I know for a fact that all of those things bring a momentary uptick only to also bring an attendant and often worse downswing.
So today for me, happiness exists somewhere on the continuum of the rats and the facility woman. I can see the rat life is never going to bring me any real peace and I have begun to take contrary action but I am still a very long way off to being the kind of person who can just decide to be happy about something she hasn’t even seen yet...
Perhaps this is just my greatest lesson in that nothing outside me will ever really make me happy. Happiness is not a thing or a person or even a feeling. Perhaps it is a decision. A mentality that I decide that is not based upon anything but my own quiet decision to just love or like something before my head gets there and fucks it all up for me...
I am going to keep going...even though my head has quite a lot to say about it all. Today, I am just going to decide to like the day, sight unseen. And that can be the beginning of a whole new happy life.