Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

A long time ago, a friend of mine once showed me how to have fun without spending money. At the time, I was still a kid, I was grounded, in debt to my Dad and for a few hours, I was allowed to leave the house and spend time with a friend. I called him up and asked him to come over to spend some time together. From there, we walked up Laurel Avenue on the way to the park and talked about my situation. That was the day that I can clearly remember first thinking of how to have fun without spending any money.

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed riding my bike all over town. There were hills everywhere, so it was easy to find a good time climbing hills and then speeding down the other side and coasting after hitting bottom, wind in my hair, familiar terrain around me and the sun shining. In the evenings, I would ride down to the pier to watch the sunset and ride back home.

I have enjoyed the sunset on the pier for many years as a moment of reflection of the day just passed. It was a simple pleasure. People I have known through my life have often remarked on my enthusiasm for simple pleasures. Sunset, sunrise, a walk in the park, riding bikes, and moments of solitude. For sustenance, I found red apples, bananas, turkey sandwiches from the Annex Deli, chips and a can of Squirt. These are simple pleasures. For much of my life, I've lived alone and it's only in the last decade that I have known life as a married man, and now, with a family.

As a married man, simple pleasures continue, but now, I share them. I share them with my wife, my daughter and more often now, members of my extended family now that they have moved here.

Having said all that, I have had the opportunity to see others in their pursuit of happiness and wonder if they're happy at all. I was invited to a party once at the Sutra Lounge in Costa Mesa. I looked on as everyone else got drunk in the dim light, and I kid you not, it looked like everyone else was experiencing pain in slow motion. I have wondered many times about the so-called pleasure of getting drunk or even a bit tipsy. I did the same thing myself many years ago and see no pleasure in it again, so I no longer have any desire to indulge.

The brain is a central nervous system. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, making it harder to sense things. At times I have seen people recounting how much of this or that drink they had last night and wondered, how did they know that they had fun? If you're drunk or even a bit tipsy, how do you know? Does a few beers make a roller coaster more fun? Does hard liquor make a party any more interesting? If the brain is not functioning at full capacity, I suspect that the brain cannot detect what fun is anymore.

When I was a young man, I tried drinking a 6-pack of beer in one night. The next day, I talked to a friend who was there. "I know of people who drink a 6-pack every night and I don't know how they can do it. I did that last night and today I can barely think!" His reply? "Exactly."

How about possessions? Does a more expensive TV make the experience of watching TV any better? Can the subjective senses - the eyes and ears - really tell the difference if the technology is relatively the same? Is driving a Mercedes that much better than driving anything else? How do you feel when that new car smell goes away? How much of a vacation in Tahiti do you need to be happy? How much money do you need to spend to know that you're having fun? Do you need to measure it?

When we're done with any of these activities, they are only a memory. Even then, memories are incomplete from the actual experience of being alive and in the moment. Memories are fuzzy and tend to change over time. Whatever we had then doesn't exist now. The experience we had then cannot be reproduced. We can approximate it, but it will never be the same again. Ever.

And who is to say that my happiness is better than your happiness? Why should I feel happier if I drive a more expensive car than you do? Why should I feel happier than you if I live on the beach and you live in San Fernando Valley? Why should I feel happier if something bad happens to you but not to me? How can a man feel happier by making something bad happen to someone else?

The pursuit of happiness is subjective. True happiness does not rely upon outcomes, rather, it relies on acceptance of the moment, what is here now. There can be no joy in fighting the present, trying to change it, applying force to the present is like trying to push water around with your hand. It is only through acceptance that we can find happiness because once we accept what we have now, we are free to enjoy it.
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