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Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

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What if you knew that you would live to be 100? Would that change your Here and Now?

Not long ago, I decided that I had reached the half-way point of my life. My parents had both passed away, having barely reached their seventies, and I thought, why should I desire to last any longer? Life at the time seemed much too long already. I had struggled for over thirty years, and in my mind the struggle stretched on beyond me for far longer than I could care to comprehend. In fact, planning to live to 70 was a huge concession: an admission that optimism might actually have a place in my life — I might actually continue to survive the drudgery of life for as long as I had made it thus far. Not that it seemed like such an exciting thing to aspire to, but at least I had a plan that involved having a future to speak of.

Since then, by some mysterious circumstance, my outlook seems to have changed. I find myself happy, most days, and at least capable of avoiding despair on those days that are not so enjoyable. Life begins to have a meaning that I never understood before: simply to live it, perhaps even enjoy it. By whatever miracle my brain has settled into a state of positive vibration, wanting to see and experience and enjoy as much as possible. So this is what chemical balance looks like! So this is what a well-functioning mind can bring to the table. I find myself wanting to create more and more. I want to learn. I want to work more cleverly and come home satisfied in a job well done. I want to spend my leisure time soaking in every sound and every peaceful moment, knowing that they are made of gold and that I can have billions more to glean, if I so choose.

And so I find myself very recently thinking: what if I weren’t at the half-way point? What if I were still somewhere just near the beginning? What if, instead of feeling calloused and jaded, I realized that I have seen so little of what life has to offer? Yes, I would be inviting a greater risk of sorrow and trouble into such a lengthier lifespan, but what if that weren’t a bad thing after all? What if those misfortunes were seen as giving birth to the happy times? I find it difficult to find the words to express what I am coming to realize. And yet: I now feel no urgency to find those explanations, because I could have several more decades to explore this very idea! I could spend a lifetime — a long lifetime — just searching for a way to explain to my young self that a hundred years is not such a bad thing after all.

I could think that I have seen all the good and all the bad that life has to offer, but I would be dreadfully wrong in so many ways. To think of it: I could be just beginning. I could finally decide, at 85 years old, that I am ready to settle down and get married. Or perhaps I will move to France in the year 2045. And perhaps, in just fifteen years, I will decide to return to school and gather more degrees to my name. Maybe I will end up with a career that I had never before dreamed of. Maybe I could read 5,000 books in the course of my lifetime. If I live to 100, I can do just about anything yet. And if I can do anything yet, then I am freed from the burden of trying to control where my life must go in this year, or in this decade. Where do you see yourself in five years? Who is to say? I can try to control that, but it discourages me to worry over it. Now, where do I see myself in 70 years? That is the much more exciting question to ponder! I could be anywhere, and I could be anyone. I could be a different person, one that wouldn’t recognize the self that was so very young but also so very ill in the beginnings of her life. I feel as though I am just being born. I feel young, but without the impatience of the young. I feel fresh, but no longer easily bruised. I feel a hope and a wonder for life that I have never, ever felt before, even in my actual physical childhood. I feel a child again, and yet one just barely precocious enough to know that she has nothing but potential before her. Anything is still possible for me. Happiness, as I have come to find out, is actually possible for me. And who knows: I may find that I have another 100 years of it to enjoy. Because now I know that anything is possible, and now I look forward to it. And now I know that life — even a difficult life — can be an enjoyment. Let’s see where this one takes us.

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It’s a simple life I live, but one full of happy moments. Here are just a few that made their way onto my camera this week:

1. Sharing the Cozy Chair.

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2. Rainy days at home.

DSCN25433. My merry minstrel.

DSCN27474. Optimistic tomatoes.

DSCN27505. Surprise white bleeding hearts.

DSCN27536. The best scones ever. (Archer Farms!)

DSCN27627. My garden’s first flower.

DSCN27648. Pointy ears.

DSCN27659. A beautiful view on a gorgeous 70-degree day.

DSCN276810. Mulberry season.DSCN277011. Anything Charley Harper.DSCN277312. Foster kids.DSCN2777

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 I’ve been spending much of my day pondering Life’s Big Questions. I’m not sure what brings it on, but occasionally these existential problems come sailing out of the blue, nearly knocking me out cold.

Perhaps it came on as I considered my financial situation—I live quite comfortably, and have no complaints. However, my car is approaching that point where it is no longer reliable. I need to replace an object that I would rather be able to just live without. I need a car to get to my job at the Humane Society, which I enjoy. However, this job doesn’t afford me much more money than it takes to own and drive and upkeep my vehicle. I could quit my job and adjust my lifestyle to negate the need for a car, but then I wouldn’t get to go to work, which is a way that I have found to meaningfully pass my time.

Which brings me to the question: why do I need to pass my time meaningfully, and what exactly is that meaning?

What, in turn, is the Meaning of Life, if all we are doing is working in order to pay for the things that we need to keep ourselves in such a condition that we are able to continue to work?

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

If you are the religious type, this question is easy to answer. God made us in his image and created the Earth for us in order that we could glorify his existence and prove ourselves worthy of his reward of everlasting life in his presence….right?

As appealing as that sounds, unfortunately I gave up on that mode of thinking a long time ago. It’s just not my truth.

So, I’m back to trying to figure out the Meaning of Life, sans religion. It’s been done before, of course. Nietzsche concluded that life is meaningless, and that this is an opportunity for humankind to reinvent itself.. whatever that means. Freud believed that searching for your meaning in life would make you mentally ill (I can’t argue with that one). Even Einstein, my personal philosophical hero, stated that searching for the meaning of existence is, simply, “absurd from an objective point of view.”

But I just can’t help my self.

I spent some time today considering the idea that the Meaning of Life is to experience pain. Pain and suffering seems to be the only real constant in life, and without it we would be unable to experience joy or pleasure. This is one of the main reasons why I simply don’t believe in a heaven. After a while, even complete bliss becomes the status quo, and ceases to have any meaning (or affect) unless it is paired with its sad and torturous counterparts.

But no, that doesn’t get to the real root of why any of this is all here, and how it came to be here. It only explains why pain exists and is a completely necessary part of life.

Then, as I was wandering around barefoot in my yard and pondering nature, as all good little philosophers do, I came upon my perfect answer. The Meaning of Life, of course, is simply the Propagation of new life. Every single thing that breathes, squeaks, flagellates, photosynthesizes, divides and conquers, is striving toward one true end—to sustain the survival of its own species. If you think of it from an evolutionary standpoint, this explains everything—except the Big Bang, but I won’t go there today.

So….what, now we all have to go out and have babies in order to fulfill our true existence in life? Well, not exactly. For humans, propagating our species comes in many forms. For the vast majority of us it involves furthering progress, whether it be by laboriously researching a cure for cancer, or by handing fries out that drive-through window all day. Whatever your occupation or station in life, you are doing your small part to keep the world turning and the human species growing (and growing and growing…).

In other words, we are all cogs in the huge machine that is humankind.

That’s the depressing part about it. No matter what, no matter how fancy of a car you drive, how many children you have and what they grow up to be, or how many cures for diseases you discover in the course of your life, you are still just a cog.

Sorry.

Of course, anyone else in the course of history who has come to that conclusion has found solace in the fact that they do, in fact, have this Meaning in their lives—to live for others, and for humanity in general. I hope it’s not too horribly presumptuous of me to say that I think Einstein would agree with me. He did say once that “…without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people…” Even though Einstein was a very solitary man who didn’t feel the need for much interaction with other people, he described himself as having that “passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility.”

I like that.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sympathetic toward humanity. I don’t know if that makes me anti-social or what, but I’m certainly not out to make anyone’s life miserable or even inconvenient. I simply don’t particularly believe in Progress. And the thought of helping the human race to become a more powerful and dangerous behemoth than it already is does not particularly appeal to me.

So, I guess I’m stuck. I have a Meaning in Life, but I don’t believe in its virtue. I’m an unwilling cog, wishing that the world contained a significant amount of fewer cogs, or at least more conscientious cogs. I wouldn’t mind not being a cog, but I’m not about to remove myself from the machinery, if that’s what you were considering suggesting for somecog as hopelessly apathetic as I.

Fortunately, Meaning is not completely essential in order to enjoy life. I think most people, even many of the passively religious ones (or should I say, especially the passively religious ones), don’t give much thought to Meanings or Questions. They are content to coast through life grasping after all the little things that Life doesn’t really give a hoot about—jobs, possessions, money, education, vacations, even happiness—just don’t really matter in the big scheme of things. But those are the things that everyone seems to occupy themselves with acquiring.

And not without reason. As sociologist Michael Casey puts it, “Unless you are very lucky or have some sort of religious background this makes you much more averse to asking “deep” questions. We settle instead for our own personal solutions to the question of meaning, taking “small M” meaning from the little things we find along the way and giving up on the idea of a source of meaning which is available to everyone.”

I have no room to judge the people who strive for petty earthly happiness (however blunderingly) because, as you see, I am in the same boat as they are in the end. In fact, the whole premise of my blog and the meaning of the title point to my personal philosophy of finding happiness in the small things: the joyful little Christmases that happen every day.

So how does a girl like me, who has plenty of “small M” meaning, accept her fate as part of the inevitable “big M” Meaning, without really caring to feel like a part of human progress, and without deriving much happiness from social interaction? How do I fill my niche, remain a recluse, and still feel like I’m contributing something really meaningful to the world (if only for my own sake of vanity)?

I’ve thought about this during the course of my typing frenzy, and have come up with a few good answers. First, I Support those who I love and enjoy sharing company with. They are doing great things in this world, and I’m happy to be there behind the scenes just in case they need something. Second, I help the animals that give small M meaning and big S Support to countless human lives. I may not care much about the average person’s life, but I do care about their pets’ lives. And that, in turn, brings happiness to my fellow humans. And finally, I find a great deal of meaning and creative expression through writing. I can keep my solitude, and still tell you exactly how I feel. And maybe even contribute a little something to the world along the way. It all works out like that.

I’m not sure how to conclude this cathartic rant of mine, but I’m pretty sure it’s almost over. My angst has passed, and I feel happy to be getting back to my modest life and endeavors, knowing that my success can only be measured by me, and feeling like I’m doing a good enough job just by being here and doing what I’m doing.

And, not to beat a dead scientist, but, I will leave you with one last quote from my favorite philosopher:

“The life of the individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful. Life is sacred, that is to say, it is the supreme value, to which all other values are subordinate.”

~Albert Einstein

 

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