Happiness is Freedom From Your Own Bullshit
Since the beginning of the self-development movement much has been written and disseminated about the nature and meaning of the term happiness.
Of course people define it in different ways, but there is some common ground around the concept that happiness is a sense of lightness and freedom to enjoy the moment.
But if much of the new-age or self-development ‘literature’ is to be believed it’s got more to do with being positive and having high self-esteem.
This approach suggests a constant effort on the part of the student though, and appeals to the path of least resistance style of pseudo-intellectualism.
Some of it asks us to simply reject out of hand any negativity that threatens our idealistic picture of what it means to be happy.
Perhaps it has more to do with how we appear to others?
Looking at your social reflection is like staring into one of those circus mirrors. Nothing is in proportion.
But let me ask this question.
What if happiness is our natural state of mind when the chains of delusion and illusion are removed?
What if unhappiness is the result of our resistance to reality?
If you adopt this point of view, all self-development is a process of stripping away false ideas and de-constructing tribally accepted dogma.
If your picture of the world and the way things work is sharply divorced from evidence and even your direct experience, this presents a perpetual mental challenge.
Any idea or experience that refutes it must be avoided or rejected.
Any that reinforces it requires our emphatic repetition.
Both burn a huge amount of mental energy in order to maintain a coherent, and consistent sense of self.
Build up enough of these things, and you can easily imagine how this could use up a lot of background processing as well. i.e. unconscious tension.
Much has been made of the connection between rationality and critical thinking and our mental health, but what of the calming effect on our emotions and our physical well-being?
They are a cybernetic loop.
One affects the other.
When the new-age pronounced the mind-body c0nnection it was as if they were telling us all something new. And yet everybody knows intuitively that there is a relationship without having to be told by some authority.
Imagine for a moment that you were told by a doctor that you had a terminal disease. If you really believed it you would see an instant effect on your physiology.
So what if happiness, or the experience of present moment awareness and enjoyment of the moment is nothing more than the absence of rigidly upheld ideas and illusions?
What if the new-age idea of positivity is just a convenient way to sell idealism in the form of books and self-help programs?
Every idea or meme that you hold to be true and real that does not reflect a dispassionate assessment of the current evidence, damages your ability to live with an open heart and a receptive mind.
And those where there is no evidence or information, one is obliged to simply say “I do not know” so as to not accumulate any unnecessary baggage.
From this point of view, admission of ignorance is a key part of a healthy psychology.
It not only relieves us of the obligation to create some false sense of certainty, it also opens us up to learning and makes our mind receptive to something new.
Perhaps a sense of curiosity is a crucial aspect to happiness as well? Learning can be a wonderfully liberating experience.
Not only that it’s contagious.
People love to tell their stories especially to a receptive audience. It interrupts the illusion of separateness that many of us feel in our daily lives.
Not only that the natural world supplies an unlimited supply of mysteries and insights waiting to be digested.
So once you have this insight, namely that true happiness is the freedom from your own delusions, this changes the nature of your relationship with yourself.
You come to hold concepts and ideas with less rigidity and ultimately it means a less aggressive approach towards your own mind.
You give up unquestioned certainty and the feelings of solidity and even self-righteousness in exchange for a lightness and fluidity of thinking.
You give up being ‘right’ in exchange for real knowledge.
The core knowing being that one can only ever know a very limited band of things in life, and we can’t afford to waste our life’s precious energy on the unknowable or the unprovable.
Most of all we must be prepared to question the most entrenched and unconsciously embedded ideas that cause conflict within ourselves and with others.
This is why the first question in Byron Katie’s program, The Work in response to a self-told story is, Is that really true?
Good intention is not enough. Our models of the world must be based on reality. Otherwise our actions can often do more harm than good.
This is why asking deep questions and courageously following their answers further and further can be such a cathartic experience.
It uncovers self-deceptions and misperceptions that have been allowed to persist in our lives.
As David Viscott says in his book “Emotional Resilience”
If you lived honestly, your life would heal itself.
And if you honestly assess the results of your delusions you will being to see the suffering and conflict that inevitably results.
This is the practical side of the mind-body connection.
What we perceive and believe, determines our emotions and drives our actions. And those emotions and actions have direct and measurable consequences in the real world.
There really is no separation between the mind and the body and the world we experience. It’s only us that persist in believing this idea.
And once this core delusion is broken, and we being to give ourselves permission to ask deep questions, the door to real lasting happiness can be opened.
We begin to experience our own emotions more honestly, free from blame.
Over time that freedom from our own delusions becomes a habit. The benefits become more apparent to us, and to those that we come into contact with.
And that habit begins to increase the times that we have the experience of being in the moment.
And that is true happiness.
This blog is for my thoughts on life, psychology and science, but you can discover my musical world by visiting http://www.herrin.com.au