The Happiness Machine isn’t Meaningful

A couple of years ago, when I first started this blog, I decided the purpose would be for posting about things that made me feel alive. I think for a long time, that meant posting about things that brought me joy. Life experience = Feeling Joy = Feeling Alive (or something like that). And that equation is true. Mostly. Feeling joy really does bring fulfillment and meaning for me. However, that equation has become more complex over time.

Life experiences that allow for feeling joy aren’t the only ones that lead to feeling alive. Big, harder to deal with emotions and experiences also make me feel alive.

Grief.

Passion.

Fear.

Anger.

A lot of different feelings are formed through important life experiences and each are part of life. However, two years ago I wasn’t ready to accept these emotions. It was terrifying to think that I will have to feel real grief in my life. It was terrifying to think that I might love someone so much that it might change the course of my life (MY LIFE! Wasn’t it mine to own?). It was terrifying to think that I might love someone so much it would actually hurt to lose them. Ultimately, I wasn’t allowing myself a lot of life experiences because I was afraid they might lead to my unhappiness.

There was an argument in one of my philosophy classes in college called the happiness machine. Basically, if happiness is the meaning of life then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with creating a happiness machine where people spend all of their time becoming happy and don’t do anything else with their life. They go into the happiness machine, they become happy, the end. (A more present day, realistic alternative would be to say that there is nothing wrong with a person using heroine everyday who happened to own an endless supply of money and a caretaker because it makes them happy and happiness is the meaning of life. Can life be truly be wasted on drugs if the person is happy because of the drugs?)

I knew at the time that there was something wrong with this idea but I couldn’t tell my professor what it was. The answer that I now think to be true is that happiness is not the meaning of life.

But don’t we do everything to be happy?

Happiness is a good feeling, of course, but our lives are not built around happiness and nor should they be. Isn’t constant happiness boring? Doesn’t feeling pleasant everyday also make pleasant feel mundane?

The more pleasant our lives become the more inconvenienced we become by insignificances. My nail polish is chipped and I’m too embarrassed to wear that flashy ring that will draw attention to my hands, and God, I really wanted to wear that ring tonight. And then I stop and think, do I really care about my nail polish or am I just looking to care about something?

Classic case of “first world problems”. I’m so grateful for the life I’ve been able to live. I’m grateful that the only problems I’ve had to deal with are insignificant ones. However, those problems really did matter to me. But maybe I would’ve cared less about insignificances if I’d found more significances to care about.

I believe that the purpose of life is to care about life. Having passion for a subject, an activity, and a person have all brought meaning to my life. So that’s what I’m setting out to do. I’m setting out to find a subject that I could ace the jeopardy round to, because I love learning about that subject. I’m setting out to find new hobbies that I love to do even if they are terrifying (skiing is literally falling down a mountain and I am obsessed). I’m setting out to allow myself to be vulnerable, because the risk is also the reward.

The World Isn’t That Hard to Navigate

It’s Scary. Doing things you’ve never done before. Talking to people you don’t know, who are asking questions you may not have prepared answers for.

We think that our parents must hold the life experience necessary to get things done. It always seemed like it was so much harder for me to make an appointment than my mom. Even when I did actually put in the effort, it seemed to take me two days longer to confirm something with school or the doctors. I thought that my mom might actually have some kind of superpower.

However, sometime in the last couple of years I realized that the person on the other end of the phone is literally paid to talk to you. And usually, the person on the other end of the phone knows enough about what they are doing, that you only have to get halfway to the point. After all, it is their job to help you.

I realized that my mom’s superpower was actually confidence she held in her ability to do it (whatever it happened to be). I realized that everyone has the ability. I realized that the reason it took me two days longer was because I was putting it off for two days. I realized once I started, the thing I was dreading isn’t really that hard at all.

Right now,  I’m in the process of moving across the country. I have talked to so many moving companies I can’t even remember what all of them were offering. But I did it. I found the lowest price for good quality service and my stuff is all going to be put into a moving truck next week and I did that.

Maybe we think the world is hard to navigate, that the doctors appointments are hard to make and the bank is going to be mean to us, because we didn’t have to deal with those things in the past. When you drove around in the back seat as a kid you didn’t know your way back home. I hope now that you’re in the driver’s seat, you realize the whole world is accessible.

It can still be your song

You both like the song. It’s a good song. Right now, you think that song is ‘our’ song. It’s one of the things you share. When you are no longer with him it cannot be shared. Couples who are no longer together don’t share things. That’s why ex-husbands and ex-wives get lawyers. They can’t agree on who gets what. But that restaurant that you used to go to together? It’s not one of the things the lawyers talk about. Neither is this song. This song could continue to be his. He could define those lyrics and that melody. You used to sing and dance along but now you will have to turn down the volume or change the station or, most tragically, take if off your favorites playlist. The better choice? You keep the song. That song can be yours. It should be yours. After all, you both liked the song because it was a good one. So listen to it. While you’re listening to it think about the exact thing you’re doing right then. Be in the moment.If you’re driving, pay attention to the scenery. What does the sky look like? Think about how damn capable you are, driving yourself to the grocery store. If you’re running, smile and feel how strong your legs are. Run and breathe to a rhythm in time with the song. And next time you hear it?This can be the memory you think of. Redefine that song by reliving listening to that song. It can still be yours. It can still be good.

-EKJ

I saw graffiti on a park bench and wondered why someone would want his/her neighborhood looking bad

When you were little and you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, did you imagine all of the possible lives you could have lived?

Doctor. Author. Lawyer. Hairstylist. Scientist. Accountant. Clothing Designer. Architect.

I always felt that I was expected to choose. That I would eventually commit myself to one sole profession and that is how I would identify myself. I would be a doctor OR I would be a clothing designer.

This weekend Benjamin Franklin reminded me that having a title doesn’t restrict me to that small area of work, because people are capable of taking on more than one title. Once again, I began thinking of all the things that I might be capable of doing.

Of course, I haven’t jumped into any exciting new projects or written any ideas that might change the world. Instead, I spent last night pondering over the selfish thought that the world is mine to change.

Your World: A philosophical thought experiment.  

You are your neighbor, your teacher and your student, your doctor and your patient, your president and your advisors. You are society. You are the whole world.

If you were living in a world filled with only ‘you’ what kind of world would that be?

Would it be a kind world? Empathetic and understanding? Supportive? Cold and unforgiving?

What about a productive world? Would all of YOU have enough to eat? Would all of YOU survive the next winter? Would you be inventing new ways to make all of YOUR lives better? Would the roads be maintained? Would the buildings keep rising?

I can’t say what my world would look like, but I can tell you that I’m tired of complaining about what it doesn’t look like.

I complain about inconveniences and expect other people to come up with solutions. I complain about having nothing to do, when there is much much more than to be done than what I could ever be capable of doing. I complain about society, but I am part of that society.  This world is mind. This community is mine. This life is mine. It’s time I take ownership.

 

 

What’s the Matter?

I’ve seen people base their attitudes on the question: “Is this really going to matter in five years from now?” It seems to me the problem I have with this question can be best explained by using a philosophical argument called the slippery slope. Here’s how it goes:

Why stop at asking if it’s going to matter in five years? Why not ask ten? Or twenty? What about in a hundred years when you’re no longer around to care about the feelings you felt? All probability points towards this moment in question not mattering at some time, and if it won’t matter in the future than it shouldn’t matter now.

The problem is that nothing is really going to matter at some time in the future. (Not to make you feel small or insignificant but even the most important parts about humanity won’t be remembered when the universe no longer exists) Therefore, nothing should really be important to you now.

Since things obviously feel important now (as they should), the argument that we should base our current feelings solely on how we’ll feel in the future must be wrong. Right? I think so. I need to believe that if it’s important to you right now, then it matters.

In contrast, others live their lives based on the notion that every decision should be based on what is going to give you the most immediate happiness. This is the “live in the moment” philosophy. While I think that it’s important to be present in the moment you’re living in, I don’t think we should abandon goals and dreams. If we lived everyday for the sole purpose of living that day, I don’t think we would feel like we accomplished very much. In fact, I think that our lives would feel pretty meaningless.

Something that I wrote down the other day explains exactly how I feel about this: I let myself dream about future good things when I need to, because I never want to find that I don’t want to be in the future. For me, this daydreaming can be a ten year plan or it can be as simple as picking out names for a cat I want to get later. Someone literally told me that I shouldn’t wait to get a cat because I shouldn’t wait for the future to do what I want to do now. However, I’m not ready to get a cat yet because I leave town for weeks at a time and my budget is unstable and my apartment is tiny and that’s okay because I don’t plan on always living in this tiny apartment on a “I’m going to grad school” budget where I leave town all of the time. It’s just not the right time for a little kitten.

So, what do these thoughts leave me with? A balance between trying to enjoy the place of life I’m in right now, but still working towards something better. Being in the moment, and not telling myself that my bad days don’t matter. The good feelings I have right now and the bad feelings I have are both things that I’m experiencing and they are both making up what my life consists of. If part of living life means I might have a break down over a presentation for class, then I’m in because living life also means that I’m going to get to learn about things that fascinate me, and meet people that I genuinely love to be around, and drink really awesome coffee. I do enjoy my life how it is right now and I accept that right now, this is where I am.

So, what do you think? Bellatrix or Freya? (I’m talking about cat names of course!)

Also, if you want in on the really awesome coffee get yourself to a Vietnamese coffee shop and thank me for it later.

Why I Hate Football Less Than I Did Last Week

As the title seems to suggest, I’m not into sports. Well, watching them anyways (I don’t mind playing a game once in a while). To me, a football game is an indication that mankind hasn’t evolved nearly as far as we’d like to think. I tend to hope that humans have a lot more to offer than their physical attributes, and I certainly have never been inclined to spend any of my time watching a bunch of huge men get out onto a field, glorified for being able to knock each other over.

If I have to be completely honest here, I have never been able to understand someone who puts so much value into any sport. In my mind, whether a team does well or loses shouldn’t have an actual effect on a persons mood or life. Why should something that doesn’t need to bother you, bother you?

So, back to the title. What changed?

This weekend, my cutie pie boyfriend asked me to go down to The Lone Star State for his college reunion at Texas A&M. At first I wasn’t keen on going to the game. (I was wanting to go to Houston! My parents and sister are down there and despite the game I thought it would be a great opportunity to see them.) However, as new experiences usually allow for… my mind opened up to something I thought I hated.

I’m not saying that I’ll be following ESPN or anything. I found that I do understand people who follow ESPN a little better, though.

Students and alumni of A&M have so much pride for their school. When they are on that campus, and even later in life, being an Aggie seems to be part of their identity. The football game is a way for them to showoff their support for how much they like and appreciate their school. There are a ton of things that A&M is known to be good for, football is just something that everyone can easily get behind. It’s hard for the whole school to get together and cheer for an engineering program, but that doesn’t mean the school doesn’t have just as much pride for that. (This was just an observation. I’m not trying to say this is an absolute truth.)

This may seem silly, but I guess I never realized that the fans are supporting more than the team itself. The team stands as a symbol. When people are going out to the Ravens game, they are rooting on Baltimore as much as any individual player.

The reason that I like this, is that I think that the more a person is able to like and support the place they identify with, the more they are willing to help that place become better. If that starts with a fondness for a football team, so be it.

(Pictured: Me wearing maroon in support of cutie pie boyfriend who is wearing maroon in support of a team that represents a school he loves.)IMG_1472