Don’t Worry, Be Happy
“For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” -Ecclesiastes 1:18
tl;dr – Don’t worry, be happy. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we’ll die. Or, whatever flavor you choose. Whatever variation of that theme suits you best…
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to ‘know.’ I’ve wanted to know how things work, where things come from, how they get there, why we’re here, what it all means… and it has lead me to become a non-believer; an atheist. Not because I have anything against religions necessarily, and definitely not because I ‘set out to prove religions wrong’ or any other such thing. I simply wanted to know the truth, and the stories religions told me didn’t make sense. They didn’t provide meaningful answers.
But in finding the truth, I have also found an answer that I have a hard time dealing with. The truth is, there is no meaning. There is no purpose. We’re all just here because certain chemicals under certain circumstances react to each other in ways that ultimately leads to once inanimate objects thinking about how they’re thinking. Of course, a higher power could have pushed that original domino but then who created that higher power that pushed that first domino? There are no answers there, and I don’t think it really matters either way.
Ernest Hemingway said, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” I’m not claiming to be ‘intelligent’ by any means (there are some smart people out there!), but I do believe that my understanding of the universe is correct in the sense that life has no ultimate meaning; thereby knowing this fact elicits a level of inherit hopelessness and/or depression. I’ve been through much inner turmoil for many years now as I’ve tried to find ways of coping with that knowledge. I’ve been forced, as many others have before me, to find my own meaning and purpose in this meaningless existence – which I have. My meaning basically boils down to being a good friend and neighbor, husband and father; to love as much as I can and to be as happy as possible in this limited time I have here on this tiny ball of dust in the vastness of eternity. Easier said than done…
I’ve only recently began to really devote substantial time and energy into the idea of ‘being happy.’ It sounds counter-intuitive right? I mean, why would you have to work to be happy? Why not just be happy? Well, for me I can’t, so I have to work at it. I’ve begun to really try and let things go, to not worry so much about what I’m not accomplishing, to accept the fact that I do only have a limited time here and that fretting about what standards I’m not living up to shouldn’t count. We should only compare ourselves to ourselves, not others, and improve ourselves today from what we were yesterday. And don’t forget about the Joneses, be happy for the Joneses! They are finding their way through this thing just like you and me. We are not to judge…
In doing this, I’ve been able to let a lot of little things go that would normally get to me on a regular basis. You know when you’re an adult when you can be right without the other person being wrong. I’m still working on that, but I’m getting better. Walking away from certain situations can be very foreign and uncomfortable when you first try but after a while, a deeper fulfillment can emerge from such confrontations that you could never get from engaging in a winnerless battle.
I’ve spent an unnecessary amount of time worrying if someone would break in our house at night, whether my wife would get into an accident on her way home or not, or even if she was having an affair. I worried about little things like, who left the dishes out without putting them in the sink and why were there crumbs on the couch?! I worried about all these things and everything in between. But most of these things I can either not control so there’s no use in worrying about them, or they’re so trivial that no fretting need occur. Preparing for the big bad things then letting them go, and forgiving and forgetting the little things has made a huge impact on my daily attitude. “…do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.”
For the longest time, I could not comprehend how folks could waste away their days watching ‘pointless’ TV shows and gossiping about movie stars when there’s so much prosperous work that could be done. I’ve recently forced myself to see what all this fuss was about. Why do so many people I know rave about this TV show or that? I’ve put aside my unjustified judgments and have relaxed a little and opened my mind. I’m going to put a timestamp on this post and admit that I’m currently enthralled by a new Netflix original series called ‘Peaky Blinders.’ While it is objectively a great show – the cinematography and soundtrack are great, the acting is astounding, the story is amazing, etc. – it is still merely a ‘show.’ But again, who the hell am I to judge? So many people have put an incredible amount of work and heart into making this show become reality. It’s something they believed in and devoted themselves to. Did the Apollo project involve any less heart, devotion, and love? Maybe, probably not. Were the outcomes tangibly better for humanity afterwards? Probably. But art is art, and love is love. The folks who made that TV show made more than a few folks happy for at least a short amount of time. Isn’t that enough justification?
What’s more, what are TV shows if nothing more than modern day tales told around a campfire? Everyone needs a little time to decompress and what better way than to experience other peoples stories without all the negative effects of having to experience them first-hand? I love stories of the Old West, but sure as hell don’t want to live there! Plus, there’s demonstrable evidence that contemplating hypothetical scenarios whether fiction or non-fiction, can have a positive effect on someone’s behavior. For the longest time I’ve touted my love for video games while simultaneously giving people grief for watching movies – but I’ve come to realize that there’s no difference. Games, books, movies, TV shows, theater, concerts… they’re all just stories experienced in different ways.
In order to feel like I’m being productive and do a little self-reflection (meditation?), I’ve recently taken on small projects which have ‘meaning’ to me and which keep my mind busy and occupied. When I create something, I feel like I’m ‘contributing’ (regardless of the actual impact) instead of sitting passively, and it gives me a purpose if only for a short time. This website is an example of that. I’ve also recently completed a stop-motion video project I’ve been working on for over a year and a half which provided ample time to reflect on the days events while ‘mindlessly’ engaging in a project with a tangible goal. I’ll take on smaller projects as well like my ‘Desiderata’ framed picture (left). I’ve said this countless times but Desiderata by Max Ehrmann is my ‘bible’ so I took some time and created a framed version of it which I wrote by hand. It took a while so I used that ‘quiet time’ to relax and meditate.
I digress… The point is, sit back, relax, and enjoy! No matter your age or situation, “you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”
And after all: a bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.