Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Checklists of Life

Many of us seem to think of happiness as a mental checklist, where once you have checked off each item on the list you will have achieved total happiness. Common, cliché items on the list include finding the right spouse, having children, getting a car and house of your own, having a successful career,  retiring to Florida or wherever... I think most people are actually quite conscious of the checklist at this level. Some may chose to aim for completing the entire deal, whereas others may pick and choose which items they'll aspire to and dig their heels in against the rest.

But what wasn't immediately apparent to me is that there are checklists within each of these larger items. For example, the checklist for a romantic relationship. There are some of the more obvious clichés to choose from (eg. “a first date involves going out to dinner and a movie, or perhaps just coffee or a beer”), then there are much more subtle ones; details that at first glance appear to give meaning to a relationship, but on closer inspection are really just common themes in the stories we watch, read, and tell ourselves and each other.

Personally, such checklists have a nasty tendency to upset me. I've never been entirely sure whether it's because I'm so much further behind in checking things off than my peers or if it's because I can't quite seem to bring myself to accept these happiness lists as my own. In theory, I should be able to compile my own checklist for happiness, then follow that.

Easier said than done. From all my personal experiences of true happiness, there is no item I can pinpoint and say, “That's the key right there!” and then expect the feeling to happen in a predictable or permanent way. In reality, there is so much richness to life, so much variation and depth of meaning to be found from the smallest blade of grass to peace between nations, that no checklist could ever be long or precise enough to guide an individual to the purpose behind living.

In my experience, happiness is not something to be acquired at the completion of some task or the acquiring of some goal. It is a state of mind. It is lost and reborn in every moment of its existence. Every instance of happiness differs from the last from the subtlest of ways to the most definable. Environment and circumstance may help determine the tendency towards or away from happiness, but ultimately it is a matter of perception. Those able to see the good, even in the presence of the bad, will be much more likely to feel good about life.

While I might not be able to provide specific directions for being happy, I have been trying to form a rough idea. Here's my “checklist” of ingredients for happiness:
_The absence of perceived judgment from others and any other obstacles to being true to oneself.
_Mind focused on the present (no anxiety for the future or guilt from the past).
_Any reason, large or small, for life to be seen as beautiful and meaningful, even if “this is all there is”.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Talking about Problems Vs. Talking about Solutions

For anyone who has ever realized how messed up the world is and that reality hardly seems to live up to ideals they grew up believing in, it's only natural for their first reaction to be to wonder why on Earth no one seems to see these horrible problems very clearly. Why don't more people care? Why don't more people do something? Do people really want to live like this? These are the questions that plagued my mind when I first started to truly, deeply question the culture I've lived in all my life. I had doubts before, but it was too terrifying to look at them closely. Because it goes without saying that changing the world is more than a one-person task. I eventually chose to look at the world's issues despite my fear because the world's problems are my problems; they affect the choices I make and the quality of my life... and everyone else's.

So for years I questioned my preconceptions, started looking at life from as many different perspectives as I could think of. And as of late I've even started to whole-heartedly believe that a more humane, meaningful and connected life and community is possible. However, one thing I haven't done much of is act. Action towards forming a new kind of culture or community requires not feeling alone. Not feeling alone requires seeking out others who are also willing to look at and question the world's problems. And here's the important point, the thing which has thus far kept me from action: many of the people I personally encounter who are willing to look at problems are like me; wondering why other people aren't waking up.

The thing is, amazingly, I never consciously realized (or perhaps admitted) just how many other people are “awake”. It's more than a case of chronic preaching to the choir; it's not even being aware that you have a choir, and a large one at that. Granted, they may not be singing in the same key, but that's not the point. The Occupy movement, for example, has been one of the most beautiful affirmations of humanity I have ever witnessed. And it has certainly redefined my conception of how many people are not only conscious of a broken system, but willing to speak openly about it.

Continuing with the “waking up” metaphor, I'm starting to think that maybe it's not so much that more of us need to wake up, but that more of us need to get out of bed, walk out our front doors and say hi to our neighbors. (It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to do this literally, either.) So here's what I intend to do: stop feeling so alone and give people more credit. The number of conscious but lost humans will always be underestimated simply because we assume we're more alone in our fears and goals than we really are.

Perhaps convincing everyone there is a problem is not a required first step. Perhaps all the resources needed to make a change are already in place. Perhaps we can start right in on talking about and finding solutions. After all, “the masses” may be much more willing to wake up and join in if they see something beautiful being created. Rather than someone bludgeoning them over the head with guilt trips and horror stories. It's like waking up to the morning sun peaking through the window, the sound of chirping birds and the faint smell of someone making coffee and maybe some bacon... instead the incessant racket of a blaring alarm that just makes you want to hit the snooze button repeatedly or possibly have done with it already and smash the blasted electronic contraption to smithereens.

In conclusion, I'm going to stop beating my head against a brick wall, go find others who are currently beating their heads against brick walls and suggest an alternative :)