6.13.2012

EXPECT LESS? WHY I NO LONGER FIND HAPPINESS THROUGH RULES




A friend recently sent out this little gold plate of wisdom. I love gifts like this in my mail. Corny as they may seem (to the utterly jaded) they are always thought-provoking. And yet, there is always a part of me that is, indeed, jaded, and that part groans and says, oh no, more rules for happiness? when did happiness get to be so regulated? when did we have to cultivate such discipline to achieve it? (oh, says the other part, roughly about the time we turned 15...)

We all have resting states. Sort of like resting pulse rates. States of mind to which we revert when we aren't thinking, doing, trying....just sitting around. For some, the resting state is happy; for others, melancholic; for others, simply a neutral contentedness. And many of us simply try to avoid the resting state because of a fear of sinking too deeply into wherever the resting place takes us.

For those of us who need to discipline ourselves into happiness--rules of conduct are always welcome. Here, the other, un-jaded self kicks in. But how, exactly, to "free your heart from hatred"? Perhaps best not to fall into hatred to begin with. I don't harbor much hatred, mainly because after a while, I cannot even remember why I am angry at someone. I don't even hate Senator Inhofe, who is trying to kill the strong new mercury standards in what has to be one of the most dangerous (for our health) political moves of this season--and if you haven't signed to fight his job-killing campaign, please do so....I don't hate Inhofe, but I thoroughly dislike his cynical politics.

"Free your mind from worries." Not so fast. Not so easy. "Worried" might even describe my resting state--where would I be without my worries? If I didn't worry about it, would the airplane make a safe crossing? If I didn't worry about it, would my son find a job? If I didn't worry about it, would I try so hard to fight the all time biggest worry of the century, global warming?  But, I must say, those moments of slow love, when I can just melt into a sunset or help someone across the street, those moments are blissfully free of worry (to say nothing of Inhofe.)

"Live simply." That's all relative. And I'm hereby declaring myself free of that business. My life is complicated, because of children--and friends--scattered across the country; a start-up campaign for a job; real estate maneuverings, you name it. And simplify where and when I can, but I'll never get to simple, I'm afraid. Further, I love my stuff. I have decided: I am not a snail. I am not carrying all my possessions on my back. Nor do I want to live in spaces I can only back out of.  I am no longer stripping down for the future. I've gotten rid of enough--for the time being.

"Give more." Definitely there. Giving more has relieved me enormously--whether it is giving away more money, or giving more time, or giving more of my brain share, or giving more of my heart in my writing. Check. Hurray!

Then I get to "Expect less." Really? I've noticed that as the years speed by, I'm expecting more. My standards for everyone, myself included, are higher. My dreams and ambitions are larger. My desires more deeply rooted. Expect less?

I expect more. My life is more complex. I worry. The only thing I can score on, with the gold card of happiness, is giving more, and freedom from hate. I suppose 2 out of 5 puts my resting state partway to happiness--if this is the standard by which we judge. If the standard is how I feel, regardless of the countless--flooding--onslaught--out-of-control number of rules for how to find happiness, well, in my simple measurement, I've never been happier.

Perhaps there should be one rule for happiness: There are no rules. 

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