The Secret to Happiness

I am very, very happy with my life.

As I was luxuriating on our porch Sunday morning with our cat (luxuriating is something that this cat is an expert on and I was looking to her for some pointers) I was thinking that life really and truly is “perfect” for me right now. I need nothing, I have all the money and resources necessary to get anything that I want (if I really want it), our house is beautiful, our property is beautiful, my wife and I are still happy together after 30-years of marriage, I could probably afford to retire now at the age of 60 if I wanted to and even my job – although it sometimes annoys me to have to go in to it rather than spend 100% of my time lying around the house luxuriating like a cat – is as perfect a job as I could possibly wish for. In fact, it did occur to me that one of the reasons why I am so happy with my situation is that I do have to go to work, and so I value what we have at home all the more because I am not there all the time and it is all the more precious to me when I am.

Yes, my life right now truly is “Perfect”.

Ironically, this perfection in life also makes me a little nervous however, because as I mentioned to my wife a week or two ago, there is nowhere to go but “Down” from here. This will happen one-of-these-days too. Someday one of us will develop a serious medical issue because that is what getting old does; or there will be a sudden and unforeseen accident that will change things; or I will someday retire and our net-worth will then inevitably begin to decline bringing with it all the cark of an uncertain future. Still – you need to appreciate and enjoy what you have when you have it and not waste time fretting over nebulous “What-Ifs” that may never come to pass.

I heard a feature on NPR radio over the weekend that was talking about what it takes to “Achieve Happiness”. They started off by observing that many people, even some who seem to “Have It All” are still very dissatisfied and unhappy with life. One of the commentators – a Buddhist monk I think – said that while many people assume that folks who are happy are grateful, it is in fact the gratefulness that comes first and is actually causing the happiness. I’m not fond of the word “grateful” in this context because this implies offering thanks toward a sentience (like a friend) who has willfully done something nice for you. Of course, Christians, Muslims and Jews would all say that this is absolutely correct, but I prefer to think of this in more abstract and impersonal terms. Be this good fortune that I am now enjoying a product of God’s grace, a product of my own cleverness and hard-work, random and arbitrary chance or a mysterious alchemy of all three, I would rather use the word “appreciation” to define how I feel about it. Invariably, the happiest periods of my life were those (like now) when I recognized and appreciated the good things that I had at the time, regardless of the objective circumstances or any “challenges” that may also have coexisted at that point. The unhappy times in my life (well, maybe “less happy” is a better expression) were those when I was grudgingly and stoically accepting my situation and “persevering”, but when I didn’t actually “embrace” my status regardless of how much money, stuff or other environmental factors there were in my favor.

The point that the Buddhist monk was making in this NPR program, and with which I completely agree, is that this “embracing of circumstances” and “appreciating of what you have” and “gratefulness” is; A) unrelated to the actual objective conditions you are in; B) entirely conscious and deliberate – i.e. in your head. This is why some people who may seem to be in truly desperate condition can at the same time be truly and deeply happy with life in spite of their state of affairs.

So – if you want to be happy, don’t “accept” and “persevere” – those are Bad Things – rather, “Embrace” and “Appreciate”. Happiness really is just as simple as that.

Hello – I’m a Sociopath

That is a dramatic statement and it sounds pretty horrible, but no – I am not confessing to being a serial-killer or child-molester, although this term is often applied to those types of freakish antagonists in TV-shows. I do believe though that I am conspicuously different from most “normal people” and I think that I always have been. It seems to me that I simply lack some of the emotional “buttons” that appear to be quite common in the majority of the human race. It isn’t so much that I can’t feel things like love and disgust and anger and amusement and fear – it is that what appears to be some of the most widespread and sensitive triggers for these feelings in most people just don’t exist in me. It is as if the emotional light bulb is not in the socket and when the switch is thrown others might light-up, but nothing happens in me.

I’m not complaining of course, because you can’t miss what you have never had. I also don’t feel “deprived” in any way. I am perfectly happy with the way I have turned out and I wouldn’t want to be “fixed”, even if that were possible, which I doubt.

To put a finer point on it, from my layman’s Googling around I would further self-diagnose as “asocial” with a “schizoid personality disorder”. I would claim to be a high-function case in that unless you have close and extended contact with me (as a spouse or co-worker, for example), you would probably not detect anything “wrong” with me. I think that they call this “secret schizoid”. When I sense that it is necessary or advantageous, I can strike an affectation of interest and engagement and emotion, but this is strictly to put others at their ease and lubricate some obligatory social situation – the feeling isn’t really there. A good example is that while I can “sell myself” in a job interview as personable and likeable and friendly, I suspect that those who I have been working with for the last 2-years may now feel cheated by what I freely admit was a deliberate “performance” at that interview.

As I say, I wouldn’t want to be “fixed” though and there are many advantages to being the way that I am. I am very “laid-back” and even-tempered, I do not ride the highs-and-lows of an emotional roller-coaster and (unless I happen to be suffering from low blood-sugar) I rarely get angry or upset over anything even when I am personally wronged or slighted. To me, most of the “slings-and-arrows” in life are more like “water-off-a-duck”. The reason why I can write this post is that I feel no sense of “shame” or embarrassment over labeling myself a “sociopath” and declaring myself to be an oddball and outlier of humanity. I’m completely comfortable with myself and in being different, even if to some that might also mean “sick”. On the other hand, I quite literally have no friends in the world (not that this bothers me) and if not for my wife’s intervention I am sure that I would be a total recluse with my only human contact being the cashiers in the grocery-store – until they are completely eliminated by the self-serve checkout robots.

My complete mystification over the appeal of social-media is, I suppose, one manifestation of my sociopathology that keeps me forever out-of-step with most of humanity. I simply don’t understand why anyone would want to use that stuff. Another is an acute preference for written communication over verbal. I have a smartphone, but I am extremely reluctant to give the number to anyone for any purpose and it really serves me only as a dedicated link to my wife so that we may coordinate our schedules. I even prefer to write an e-mail rather than step into my boss’s office around the corner for a 2-minute conversation. Another personal habit that borders on the pathological is a strong dislike for communal eating. I’ll do it, if unenthusiastically – because I recognize that this is universally considered to be the height of human socialization and it is very hard to avoid graciously – but I don’t like eating with other people and I am far more comfortable consuming food when I am completely alone.

I should point out that “asocial” is not the same as “anti-social”. I do not actively hate (most) other people and I don’t (usually) go out of my way to be hurtful or discourteous. It is just manifest to me that I don’t “feel” stuff in the same way and for the same reasons that most people apparently do. This also sometimes makes itself clear when I watch TV shows or movies that are designed to play on emotion – especially when involving children or close family relationships. I sit there watching the scenes play out (be they fictional stories or non-fiction news programs) and I know intellectually that this is supposed to be gut-wrenching and tear-jerking or otherwise deeply moving and emotional, but it has no more effect on me than would watching someone dig a hole in the ground with a shovel. I’m not “hiding” my feelings because I am a man – I literally have no feelings in my deepest core. I find that I become quickly bored with these depictions of emotional drama on the screen because I can find no empathy for it. Rather, I sit quietly and direct my attention inward to curiously examine this strange “absence-of-something-that-should-be-there” – and I idly and unemotionally wonder why I am this way.

Are You Human or Borg?

I saw a re-blog reference to an article in The New York Times from July 25 called “No Time to Think”. The point of the article was the trend toward diminishing “Alone Time” in our modern society. It isn’t that we “can’t” be alone; it is that with all the social-media and on-demand electronic distractions and the universal expectation that everyone (including very small children) will be connected and/or Doing Something every moment of every day – people don’t know how to be alone. In fact, the article says, increasing numbers of people are becoming so terrified of being alone that they will do anything to avoid it.

As I have recently written here, to me this modern trend of hyper-socialization based on electronic gizmos and enhancements is eerily similar to the old Star Trek characterization of The Borg, and I reiterated that thought in a comment to this article’s re-blog. Someone else commented on my comment saying that humans have always been “social” and that this was one of our species’ greatest strengths and that the commenter reveled in it. Well; “yes” and “no”.

I too am social in that I do not and cannot live entirely without others. I use Society and its civilization to achieve a very comfortable and pleasant life. I am also used by Society in that my efforts and work are contributions both direct and indirect toward the “betterment” of other people’s lives. Although this may all be prerequisite for “civilization” to exist, I don’t find this physical symbiotic relationship with others to be in any way ennobling by itself. This is all simply a “business transaction” that I willingly participate in for the material benefits that I personally derive from it.

I think that the point of the original article isn’t simply an observation of humanity’s material co-dependence, which has been under development for millennium, but rather that modern-man seems to be accelerating into becoming a creature truly incapable of surviving on his own, not just physically, but emotionally as well and for even very brief periods. This monophobia may have always been true of a few individuals, but more and more people today need to have that TV blaring in a waiting-room, or the ubiquitous smart-phone to talk at while walking down the street or a soundtrack delivered through ear-buds while doing yard-work or ANYTHING but silence and personal thought because (apparently) there is no longer any personal thought in their head. This is not glorious and wonderful modernity; this is pitiable –as was the image of a Borg flailing helplessly on the ground when disconnected from the continuous roar of the voices of The Internet/Collective in its mind. There is a reason why that pronoun is used to refer to those fictional creatures too. When there is nothing there in the absence of others, then there is no individual and no “soul” and the thing, though it be alive, cannot even be considered human until like Hugh it begins to have thoughts of its own once again.