“That’s why I’m Happier than You”

Posted on June 26, 2018 by

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When I was a kid and asked what I wanted when I grew up, I always answered that I wanted to be happy. It’s still true (and as I sit here smirking while I type this, I dare say I’ve been doing a pretty good job of meeting this simple goal)— even if I haven’t quite grown up yet. What I have learned along the way about being happy is there are definitely some things that inspire my happiness and others that detract from it. Discerning the difference has been a useful skill.

Since this is a blog about flow arts, let’s put it in prop terms for a paragraph. There are infinite ways of expressing your craft — the only constraints are your time, your imagination and your body limitations. What that means in practical terms for most artists is they must pick and choose the things in which to invest their time because there simply isn’t enough time to do, learn and master everything. Being picky is an ongoing process. One day it might be investing in moves. The next it might be investing in transitions. The next it might be in a performance persona. The next it might be in learning choreography. None of them are more or less “right” than the other and they all serve their discrete purposes.

On a grander scale, this is very much the case with our day-to-day activities. There are  limited hours in a day and various tasks that we both want and need to accomplish. With our free time, we must decide where to expend our energy. Do we move through our day sticking to a schedule to maximize time and never “stop to smell the roses”? Do we take a stand at even the smallest thing we see wrong even if it’s at the expense of our own happiness? Do we get bothered by internet trolls who do their work effectively?

At it’s core, the question really is this: do we choose to notice things and get outraged/upset/triggered/apoplectic/some-like-concept or do we flow through it, noticing where we can and can’t make a difference and letting go when we can’t? This question is incredibly powerful if you want to master your own happiness and utilize your time in alignment with your values (if you’re even present to your values, something people take for granted and often inappropriately so). I’m reminded of this section of the Serenity prayer:

Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

This is not a little thing. First, having serenity around things that truly bother us can be incredibly challenging and with the state of the media and social media hype with which we are inundated daily, it makes sense that we’d be knocked off center almost daily with what occurs something like the outrage olympics beset upon us. Then there is courage to take action against those around us not defending our principles — again, we have to both know them and be willing to act in alightment with them — and even more tricky, is knowing which is which. Where are we attempting to move a mountain with a teaspoon vs flowing like a leaf on the wind?

There are endless opportunities to take action in 2018. This isn’t a question. What is a question is how do we stay sane in the face of that? How do we continue to propagate joy in the world in the face of things that seem untenable? How do we make an actual difference when it seems like media and social media are fortelling the collapse of the world as we know it for something far more insidious?

For my part, I focus my attention on things I believe I have control over. Here’s are a few things I know I can change:

  • my attitude
  • my contribution to the world around me
  • the lenses through which I choose to interpret my experiences
  • the intent of my impact on those around me
  • how much I do my personal development work
  • how frequently I practice
  • where my attention goes
  • the passion with which I approach my life
  • being a walking embodiment of living my values
  • cleaning up after myself
  • dealing with my own needs or asking for help to get them met
  • how often I receive coaching
  • how curious I am
  • how quickly I draw conclusions
  • how much I judge others
  • how kind and compassionate I am with other people
  • how frequently I examine things from perspectives other than my own
  • how open I am to feedback
  • how tolerant I am of different ideas, views, people and experiences
  • how frequently I allow myself to get angry and build up cortisol in my body
  • how much joy I invite into my experience

Those last two are really key for me. I’ve noticed that I’m happier, in general, when I laugh more. And when I laugh more, I reduce the cortisol levels in my body while increasing my immune response. (I wonder if there is a correlation with my incredibly rare occurences of illness?) Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from my dear friend and mentor, Mark Michael Lewis:

Truth is the single most important thing in all of the universe.

Humor is more important than Truth.

As I have gained increasing wisdom, I realize this is more and more true each day. Simply being able to laugh is a medicine beyond measure (well, metaphorically but there are some studies about it that do measure it’s impact). It’s empowering in it’s ability to open the body and relieve stress and tension, if only for temporary moments. However, if you make it a practice to be amused and laugh often, those temporary moments become increasing durations of time. What I’ve noticed as a result of practicing finding amusement in everything is that in general, I have a lot more happiness in my life.

Which brings me to the point of this post. In the last decade, especially since the 2016 US presidential election cycle, it seems to me there’s been a lot of focus on attempting to push our consciousness and awareness forward with the PC movement. Well, at least that’s the positive view of the identity politics we seem to be inundated with each day.  The less generous views of it have it occur as a repressive, intolerant movement rich with judgement even as it attempts to reduce bias and prejudice, which also isn’t inaccurate in my view, despite it’s rich irony! Now the challenge with this attitude is summed up nicely in this bit of humor by BBC Comedy clip I saw on Facebook recently. And, this video represents an attitude I see prevalently in the Bay Area as well as in the flow community. There is this focus on being “so woke” that one loses sight of the other things in life, like, say, happiness.

Don’t get me wrong, conceptually, I appreciate that people want to look out for other people and decrease the incidents of people being dicks to each other. I mean, that’s a good intention in my book. Of course, the challenge is, life isn’t that clean and simple and we don’t just wish away all situations simply because we want to. That doesn’t mean don’t take any action. Equally so, that doesn’t mean we can possibly take every action and remain sane.

For example, declaring that something President Trump does is “unacceptable” and that you “demand” more of him is an interesting stance, if for no other reason than there isn’t really a way to actually make that demand of him. Now if the term is meant as a sort of catch all way to describe it as “beyond your own threshold of comfort”, sure, the word makes sense. But, in a very real and likely visceral sense, declaring something “unacceptable” is likely creating a space within your being where you do not accept that it is happening. Your words structure your reality and as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”

I recently had a discussion of this sort with a friend where my friend seemed to think my lack of agitation and declaration of it being “unacceptable” was tantamount to apathy. The reality is, I almost always opt for humor. If I seem unphased or uncaring, it’s likely simply my effort to laugh at the terrible things in the world. Why? Because what’s better to make me happy than actually laughing about the world around me, especially as it relates to things I can’t change? I have been depressed and I have been inconsolable. I do not bring my best to the world when I am in that state. Thus, for me to be a productive member of society and contribute to the world rather than being a beacon for despair, it is imperative for me to manage my state of happiness. 

E7C53516-725B-4426-B6B4-03F9538D4AA7And this is one reason why I think there’s been a (perceived?) rise in depression and why people think things are “getting worse” in the world rather than the reality of them getting better by a number of very real statistics. If you haven’t seen this TED talk that Steven Pinker did May, 2018, I recommend it. It has many data points that belie the media and social media doomsaying.

For my own part, I’ve been noticing the more frequently I simply let things go, focus on the list above of things I can change and control, smile and remember that line from Point of No Return: I never did mind about the little things — the happier I am. This meme sort of sums it up except you can substitute any number of words for “offensive”: triggering, inappropriate, disgusting, reprehensible, sophmoric, insane, snowflakey, deplorable, racist, bigoted, misogynistic, sexist, transphobic, intolerable, and on and on — I don’t care which one it is. If you’re not finding it funny and I am and you’re doing that on a regular basis while I’m laughing, maybe “that’s why I’m happier than you.”