Happiness: on considering self

Some dates and annual events are particularly well suited to marking the passage of time and the accompanying growth or decay of the human spirit. There was a time when I was so anxious to believe in my self-worth that I would create holiday catalogues of personal achievement and tangible wealth with videos that exploited and miss-used my children’s images to showcase what a good and successful person I was (ps. It was not long ago, and I’ll probably slip back into this not-as-bad-as-it-sounds habit in the future).

My futile attempts to inject a 21st century version of Calvinism into my hollow existence do not bother or embarrass me today in the least, this part of my life merely “was” and probably still “is” to some degree, but now I am aware. Am I any more enlightened or empathetic or good today versus back then? Who knows, but far more importantly, who cares? No one: and that is the way it should be.

As I sat down at my desk at 2:15 am to write this, unable to sleep any longer after only two hours because of my painfully stiffening muscles, I experienced no resentment, sadness, or angst. Near-violent dyskinesia made it take 50 minutes to type this far – not “write,” but simply connect fingers to key board correctly – this morning’s thoughts could fill dozens of pages without pause (time to get “Dragon”?).

In my well-worn visualization of you, dear reader, working up an errant emotion that society would gleefully approve in response to my self-description, my only identifiable feeling is one of mild frustration at my inability to effectively communicate that I am – for what is very likely the first time in my life – truly happy.

True happiness: the stuff of legend, the utterly human yet desperately elusive state that money can‘t buy, found only after no longer pursued. Not to worry; I have no intention of launching into a self-help diatribe, but I would like to try and explain, if for no other reason than to shut up the misplaced bemoaning of the many people who I am so fortunate to consider friends (first rule of Peter’s happiness formula – insult readers boldly and often: last rule too).

I would like to pass on some simple observations and musings that might explain this apparently inexplicable condition. The recurring event that triggered this realization was the third annual white rafting trip of a group of friends who – for the most part – are not those closest to me, but from a different social universe from my normal low brow associates (fair warning was given…).

Looking back at GoPro river video from three years ago, it is readily apparent that I have changed considerably. Most people have difficulty looking beyond the physical, however. What is harder to see is that the change is – at the end of the day – overwhelmingly for the positive. Finally, I think (several meanings here) that I might actually understand the timeless truism of the Socratic paradox: “I know only one thing: that I know nothing.”

It is, in my opinion, not a quantifiably oriented sentence; the meaning does not lie in how much or how little one knows. The meaning steers to the neutral acceptance that not only are we humans wildly ignorant, but that that’s not only okay, but once embraced it can settle one’s world-view of life into a more simple and digestible form. Meaning does not reside on a distant plane, but is in front of us all, most obviously to me in the words of children and young adults, those less corrupted by “higher” thinking.

During the 2.5 hour trip home from rafting, my son, another young man, and I engaged in one of the most enjoyable conversations of my life. My son drove, as I was fairly seriously “off,” for the duration as I transited three of my personal Parkinson state’s: the jagged twist of an hour’s worth of a writhy, mumbling and soft-spoken dyskinesia of optimism interrupted by the gloomy descent to dystonia inaction and just as quickly (maybe 7, 8 minutes due to adroit pill popping) back to dyskinesia. Good times.

One of the difficult to see positives of the last three years is that I have extremely little concern for what other people think about my opinion or me. I do have great concern for trying to understand the truth even when the truth is ultimately unobtainable. Routinely having people stare at you in public with generally neutral to negative expressions is a wonderful way to get over skin-deep impressions. I have never been very good at suffering fools gladly, but now I can suffer them without frustration.

Shallow conversations hold no interest for me, which is why I often resort to irritatingly goofy jokes when I sense one coming, which unfortunately in our society seems to be most conversations. But it’s not all sunshine and roses: I’ve also developed a horrible tendency toward condescension (or more likely, I’ve always had it, but can now see it). At times, I am unbearable, even to me.

Here are the conclusions from the drive home. Please understand that for me, the happiness came first; I’m just trying to understand its source.

1. The most basic source of motivation for virtually everyone resides in a tribal need to belong which at its inner core is based on personal insecurities.

2. The ability to develop true ownership of one’s identity devoid of external influence is probably a person’s most empowering attribute.

3. It is all okay, even – especially – when it is not. Work hard to accept the unacceptably unchangeable.

4. Go further if you want, but there is no real need: Understand, grow, and accept that you know nothing, in fact, revel in it. Be happy.

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