The last ‘how to be happy’ post that you should ever read
The morning after Cameron van der Burgh won the gold medal for the 100m breast-stroke at the 2012 Olympic Games, his coach was interviewed on radio:
I said to him,before the race, just remember: left, right,left, right.
Because, as you know, it is often in those final Chariots of Fire kinds of moments that a professional swimmer - after dedicating their life to that exact few seconds - might forget that humans are propelled through water thanks to the alternate stroke of the limbs.
For a few months now, I have subscribed to The Listserve - a lottery where each day, one of its almost 23'000 subscribers wins the opportunity to send an email to all the other members.
Sending one email to 23'000 people seems like a huge responsibility for most people. It is without question the biggest soapbox they would ever get to stand on. It is indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity - so what do most Listserve winners choose to write about?
Every now and again, a winner chooses to immortalize a loved one. Recently we met a deceased hero of a dad who apparently used to tell the best stories. Sometimes, we get a mysterious and alluring snapshot of a life on the other side of the planet. Fairly often, a few tidbits of self-promotion are snuck in (obvious link-promotion is strictly forbidden by the editors): “Google kcooperwriting and you’ll find me a few links down under my Twitter account.”
The majority of the time, the winners finds it upon themselves to dispense advice on how to be happy. And the majority of the time, that advice can be grouped under a few major themes:
* Live in the moment
* Don’t work so hard
* Make more time for family
* Forgive and forget
You know, just your everyday garden variety teachings that appear in just about every major religion that is being practiced on the planet today.
What is it about advice that makes it so inane? Why does every slice of wisdom appear so familiar? And why do they keep swirling up, century after century, without making every single one of us eternally and blissfully happy?
In 2005 David Foster Wallace delivered a commencement speech at Kenyon College called This is Water. It is nine minutes of the most prosaic and beautiful and simple advice that seems so easy to grasp that one could base an entire religion on its truth.
Three years later Wallace killed himself.
If he couldn’t live his own advice, what hope do mere mortals like you and I have of being happy?
Recently I have started practicing transcendental meditation, after watching an 8-minute clip on Youtube in which film-maker extraordinaire David Lynch addresses an audience of young film school students about the positive effect TM can have on your mind and body. “After a few weeks (of practicing TM),” he says, “all my depression and anxiety lifted. I was like a new person.”
I have shown this clip several times to advertising students. The kinds of people who tend to suffer from depression and anxiety - thanks to their creative personality types. The majority of them stare out the window as Lynch continues: “TM allows you to reach into a deeper level of consciousness where you become more creative.”
Advertising students need creative ideas to survive. In fact, his advice is akin to giving a farmer a controller for the weather.
Yet, the majority of them will never try TM even once.
You can bring the thirsty creative horse to the River Lynch - but alas.
Perhaps nobody can tell us how to be happy. It seems we can only find the source of bliss within. And as in the case of the talented Mr. Wallace - not even. Our best chance of happiness is to find it on our own terms, with our own inner voice charting the course.
More importantly, perhaps we should actively ignore advice from others on how to be happy. Maybe the mere act of posting or reading platitudes on Facebook, or watching inspirational videos on Youtube divert us from the most obvious blocks of personal truth that are lodged within. Taking them in are temporary shots in the arm that provide momentary relief from the pain of existence. But once they have been expelled by the mind, we slip back to the hardcore reality of everyday.
Only you can make you happy.
But I suspect you don’t believe me.