The Devil's Advocate To Happiness Prescriptions

A loose point-by-point response to a recent inspirational Internet meme on how to be more happy by giving up this, that, and the other behaviors in your life.

Of course, my response to most Here's The Way To Do It instructions is to ask "Is that really the only way to do it?" and "Is what the author is saying true in all situations for all people?" and to look for the smudgy areas between the black and white spaces.


P
lus, I generally dislike admonitions which are slyly posited as "just being helpful for your own good." It's smarmy. Which is a word not used often enough.

And so, I've toyed with the premise and bent the bullet points a bit.


Because to do so makes me happy.

15 Things To *Not* Give Up Just To Be Happy

1. Being right
Sometimes people will try to tell you that you are wrong when, actually, you are right. And sometimes it's important that you let the other person know that they are wrong. And that you are right. And damn, it would be a whole lot easier to just walk away, find a bar, drink a beer instead of getting into this argument. Walking away might make you happy. Temporarily. But sometimes, you do have to fight for being right. It's not about your ego. It's about the spread of misinformation. It's about preventing bullies from trampling on you, because once they trample on you, they'll go on to trample others. Someone has to stand up to bullies. Sometimes, that someone has to be you.

2. Taking control
You'll meet a lot of lemmings in life. Someone is going to step in front of them and start leading them off cliffs if you don't step up and lead them to a place of safety or their own place of control. Don't be apathetic and call it "Live and Let Live." Stick your neck out. Be a squeaky wheel. Don't drop out. Don't give up your power of control. Do something.

3. Blaming the right people
There are real jerks in this life who will put their own interests before humanity's - government officials, big businesses, environmental ravagers. Call them out. Form an avenging team. Lay on the blame loud and clear and back it up with big media megaphones and as many dollars as you can scrape together. Or, do what you can to remove their dollars. This could be a long, difficult process that involves a lot of sweat and sleepless nights and people threatening you. If you can feel happy through it all, god bless. But fleeting feelings aren't important. Blaming the right people makes for harsh days. Happiness is secondary.

4. Self-assessment
You might actually need a lot of work - physical, emotional, spiritual. Be honest about it, even if you have to be tough on yourself. "I'm okay, you're okay" is a lovely sentiment. A lot of chronically miserable people have the bumper sticker. Being unhappy with yourself for the short run can be a good thing.

5. Being realistic
There is no limit to what you can do...mostly. But doing the impossible will very likely take a lot of time and work and sacrifice. Don't jump off any ledges with paper wings, no matter how much the thought of flying right here and now makes you feel happy. And sometimes, being honest about your limitations and coming to terms with your capabilities is just as happy-making as attempting to be superman. Don't be afraid of failure. But don't bang your head against your own brick walls, either.

6. Allowing people to complain
If you don't want to complain, that's swell. But until you've walked 320 miles in a person's shoes, you have no idea of the full picture of their life. They may really have had a shitty time of it and you're just seeing the tip of their iceberg. If they need to vent and blaspheme once in a while - or even a lot - to get through their day, the least you can do is shut your happy mouth, open your happy ears, and listen with deep compassion. If you've had enough, bow out gracefully.  Being angry and trying to get them to see that they really have nothing to complain about will never, ever, ever work, and you'll just get more angry in the process. I work in Customer Service. You know how to get people to shut up? Allow them to feel heard - fully, completely, and without reservations. No, it's not easy. But people can't move forward from complaining until they feel as if someone out there is listening to them - just once - without judgment or a "helpful solution". 

7. The responsibility of criticism
There is a time to extend compassion and understanding and to withhold judgment. And there is a time to say "enough is enough", when what others are doing is wrong and hurtful. Take careful time in figuring out when to criticize and when to hold your tongue. But if criticism serves the purpose of calling out Bad Deeds by People Behaving Badly, then don't worry too much about seeming as if you aren't politically correct or are going against the majority opinion or are being a spoilsport and meanie baleanie. You can still be compassionate and understanding in regard to people's culture or lot in life while drawing a bright foul line.

8. Etiquette and respect for protocol
There's nothing wrong with rising to occasions and behaving in ways which make other's feel comfortable and respected. There's nothing wrong with censoring yourself and running your mouth through a few well-placed filters of different screen sizes so that the message of Who You Are doesn't get lost in raw medium. This is different than being artful in a manipulative way. Being able to temporarily adjust your behavior or goals with respect to another person's own social-emotional limitations or world view is a Nice Thing To Do. Instead of forcing people to the edges of their own comfort zones because you just gotta be you - I mean, assuming you aren't a performance artist or Lady Gaga - be generous and gracious. There's plenty of time to fly your happiness freak flag. And taking the time to make people feel somewhat comfortable around you will eventually give them the confidence to fly their own freak flag. Eventually. And you know everyone's got one to fly.

9. Knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them
Change can be good even when the change initially sucks. But sometimes, change sucks and then just sucks some more.  Change for the sake of change could be your wake-up jump into cold water. Or change of the sake of change could be as stupid as skiing down an icy hill at full clip without a helmet. Sometimes, you can take the adrenaline rush of change too far. And sometimes, your need for dramatic and drama-filled change drags along a lot of innocent people who only experience the Sucks So Bad of your change. Be careful. Change slowly, mostly. But when unintended change happens, sure, look for silver linings.

10. Not opening your mind so wide that people throw trash in it
Keep asking questions. Look for the other POV. Maintain a healthy skepticim. Search out the science (peer reviewed studies, if possible.) Withhold acting on emotion. Suss out the bias. And for cripe's sake, check Snopes before you forward any hysterical emails.

11. Fearing the right things
“Denial is a save now, pay later scheme.” ― Gavin de BeckerThe Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

12. Your right to your "excuses"
The reality might be that it's extremely difficult to juggle all the physical and psychological balls you're juggling. Don't let others bully and guilt you into taking on more than you can handle. No one has endless resources. Say "no" - to others and to the "I should be doing more" hobgoblins in your own head. My learned opinion is that people who attempt to aggressively motivate you to do more by piling on guilt are actually talking to themselves; it's just easier to beat up on someone else. Tell them to chill out. Or to do your laundry if they have so much time on their hands.

13. Respecting your past
It's your source of empathy, both for yourself and for others. It's the history and lesson plan you may choose to repeat and recreate for the benefit of yourself or your children, or the hard facts you need to remember so that repetitions don't happen. It can be your anchor as much as it can be a horizon you sail from.

14. Binding yourself to others
Independence makes us islands. Dependence makes us powerless. Interdependence makes us human. Love may be selfless, but altruism and selflessness are generally high-falutin', unattainable goal for most non-Buddhas. Find some point of attachment between yourself and the person across from you, no matter how fine a cord. Making connections between what you jolly well like about yourself and finding sympatico in another person is just that kind of attachment that could prevent you from strangling the person later. Until the selfless kind of love is perfected and kicks in.

15. Stop glorifying happiness.
You're not a middle school cheerleader, for cripes sake. Searching out only those events, people, and activities that make you happy often has the unfortunate consequence of mowing over other people's needs and feelings.  And chances are you are going to have plenty of days when you aren't happy, no matter how many affirmations you post on your bathroom mirror or how much you log your gratitude for life so you can flagellate yourself with your own words later on. On the days happiness eludes your best efforts, be stoic. Take notes in your empathy journal. Write a damn sonnet. Read Russian authors. Be still with yourself and okay with not being constantly grinning and ecstatic. 

There will be times when even following your bliss means working diligently on tasks and skills. You may feel frustrated. Angry. Possibly even unhappy. Tough it out. Don't let a momentary or even extended dearth of Whoo-hoo! convince you to look for short cuts or a way out prematurely. It's okay not to be happy. Not being happy isn't always an indication that what you are doing or feeling isn't also somehow worthwhile. 

And during those blessed and luxurious moments when you do find yourself in the enviable position of being hap-hap-happy, do attempt a measure of humility in your glee. As Mark Twain noted

There are people who can do all fine and heroic things but one - keep from telling their happiness to the unhappy.

People may be somewhat responsible for their own happiness or lack thereof.

But being a happy jerk-off?

You got it all wrong, mister. You got it all wrong.




3 comments:

John K Conway said...

Nice to read your thoughts Josette. I am reminded of an often published letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter - while she was away at camp. Perhaps you have seen it. If not, here it is:

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/03/things-to-worry-about.html

Keep writing.

John K Conway

josetteplank.com said...

Wow! That's a great letter!

Sara Perkin said...

for me sharing happiness with other is what makes me happy... its kind a viral thing

Blog Ping