The Account of a Lifetime

April 8, 2008

What is happiness, anyway?

Filed under: Cogitations — xisor @ 5:17 pm

It’s a silly old conundrum, isn’t it?

I sit here…happy. I’ve finished three books in the last ten days, I’m sitting working on my Gravitational Dynamics revision, I’m listening to a bit of decent music (the track: Boe, as it happens) and I know that even before I’m done writing this, I’ll probably be distracted enough to go an make a pot of one of the dozens of tea I have sit in the kitchen. Suffice, I’m quite happy. My housemates are back, I’m here in St Andrews again, I’m not absolutely skint and generally things are all good.

But, there’s a darker side to all of it. Families. There’s huge problems with families just now. Well, for me their…intellectual problems. I’m not emotionally bothered by them, but others are, and that upsets me rationally. There’s a whole lot of bother going into preserving relationships and generally keeping the boats unshaken. Unsurprisingly, it comes down to happiness. My sister makes a very important point of ensuring things are comfortable for people. She stresses alot about certain things, but overall she’s far more concerned that people aren’t upset at that point in time. Similarly, an academic niece is focussed on the happiness of her family rather than resolving problems. Perhaps it’s a psychological thing. Happiness is one of the few things in life we can directly control, so they compartmentalise things.

Similarly, even my mother goes to great lengths to…well, to gloss over things in the name of happiness. But for me, happiness is quite independent of the issues. I’m nowhere near stoic enough to be classified as ‘stoic’ (personally, I’m beginning to suspect that ‘cynic’ would be more appropriate), but it does hold a lot of appeal for me. I like the idea that the only things that are important to me are those I can control. I recognise that I’m upset by a whole lot of things outside of my control. But I don’t think I use that too often to limit my reach. If something is within my control and is bothering me, surely it’s possible for me to simply eject it from my control?

Again, I don’t think I’m that stoic. I can’t simply cut off bits that I can control. I may not be the cleverest student in the university, but I know some of my own strengths. I know a few of my weaknesses too, and there’s a whole bag of insecurity right there, but that’s beside the point. Rather, I feel it’s terribly important that I do concern myself with things that I can control. I will, eventually, have to learn to limit my control, but as of now, as a senior honours theoretical physicist, there’s no particular reason that everything I can affect and exert some influence over should be ejected if I don’t like it.

That is to say: Just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean I should ignore it, push it outside my remit or otherwise elect to pass it on to time to deal with. But I also recognise that others can, will and perhaps should make these decisions. It often haunts me in my darker moments when I realise that this is perfectly plausible for everyone I care about…that they could elect that I am the one to be ejected from that realm of control.

But that’s just a haunting thought. An insecurity, if you will. More significantly amidst all of this is that my own sanity, my own reasoning, my own…insight isn’t transitive. What I see as a viable solution, as worthwhile advice is not always a viable solution for other people. This has made me somewhat awful at giving advice and providing reassurance recently, but I think that, in a selfish way, it has served me well. It preserves my own sanity more than just a little. My advice is usually something consisting mainly of platitudes. I’m a terrible…forward thinker. I can plan with the best of them, I can come up with good ideas and great solutions…but I tend to struggle at thinking a few moves ahead. This is surely news for no-one that knows me. I’ve been passing through life on a wing and a prayer since I was about fifteen, and again: it served me well.

Unfortunately, this is a painful realisation. Reliance on luck or on my subconciousness providing me with great ideas is not a good way to go. It might work brilliantly and lead me to places I could never dream of, but by the reverse token it might lead me to ruin. So, my consciousness, my ‘waking me’ will have to get its act together, in case it needs to survive independently of the inner me. Certainly, seeing that my grandmother has reasonably advanced dementia makes this a more paramount concern. This sort of thing is about as close to fighting to save my immortal soul as I’m ever now likely to get.

So building up my mental fortitude is very important. But of happiness? Well, that’s the other question, isn’t it?

I have no doubt that I can remain happy for the time being. But in the future I can’t be sure. I was an unhappy kid, so to speak, thanks to bullying and posessing an awful temper, but I did okay until now. Since 2001 I’ve been genuinely happy for a long time. The six months since August had been some of the best of my life, I doubt if I’ll ever repeat that sort of time, I’m not sure I’d want to. It was so good. But moving onwards from all that: Happiness, for me and for others. I can’t bring happiness, no-one can. Not by pure deliberation alone, people are too fickle for that.

So, to answer the question: What is happines, anyway?

Currently I’d say that it’s a fairly natural state for people. Most people are happy now and again. When they’re…on form. It’s possible to engineer things to make happiness possible, but as I’ve come to see both second- and  first-hand: Having everything you always wanted will not bring happiness. People are a problem, but they’re often the solution too…

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