Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happiness, Contentment and Purpose

Before I get to the meat of this post, I thought I would explain my writing process. I say this because I have been working on this post for a long time. I tend to spend a lot of time writing. It is something I have done for the last 10 years or so. The hard drive of my laptop is filled with many stories, commentaries, reflections, ravings, etc. I just like to write. Ninety percent of what I write no one ever sees but me. Often I will get an idea to write about something and I will start a Word Document and ad a sentence or two to my writing every couple of days. I will write when I have a chance – a snippet here, a sentence there, a paragraph whenever I can. In the case of what I am posting today, I have been writing and thinking about it for weeks if not months. It has been a constant theme in my life for a very long time. I decided to finally post this today because of two separate events that have occurred in the last 24 hours. The first is a conversation that I had with the woman who frequently cuts my hair at the Cost Cutters that I go to. She is originally from Cambodia and speaks with a heavy accent. A lot of times I have a hard time understanding what she is saying. But over the years (she has worked at the same Cost Cutters for what seems to be forever) we have talked about many things while she has cut my hair. Yesterday’s conversation as she cut my hair was profound and caused me a lot of thought. The second event was an e-mail that I received overnight. Every night I go to bed and I leave my iPhone on the night stand beside me. I have it plugged in charging overnight because I am usually on it so much during the day that I need to re-charge it at least 2 times per day. This way I can at least start the day fully charged! Anyway – I use my iPhone as a secondary alarm clock as I would never get up on time if I only used one. As soon as I turn off the alarm, I typically check to see what e-mails I have gotten overnight. This morning when I looked, I had received a totally and completely unexpected e-mail from an old friend. After reading the e-mail, it just made me think more and more about this subject. So what is this post about? It is about happiness and being content with life. Have you ever stepped back and thought about what makes you happy? What about being content? Are you content with you life? As Zack and I have journeyed through the last several years, I have thought about the questions of happiness and contentment quite a lot. Is happiness something that we “find” by the way that life unfolds for us, or is it a something that we choose to make happen for ourselves? Even when life is throwing us many difficult situations can we still be content or must everything be “perfect” for us to be content? These are interesting questions to think about and to try and answer for yourself. Some of my thinking on this subject has been flavored by the rhetoric and words of a conservative talk show radio host. (Wow – for a dyed in the wool liberal, I sure have been referring to conservative talk radio a lot in my recent posts!) Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated talk radio host who is on the Denver station KNUS daily. Each Friday he dedicates one hour of his show to talking about the concept of happiness. His basic premise is that we have the ability to choose to be happy. He goes on to say that we actually have a moral imperative to be happy. He also makes that point that if you are a parent to a child the moral imperative to be happy is even greater. Though I never quite thought of it in the terms that Dennis Prager puts, I have always had what I would call an “optimistic” viewpoint on life. There could always be a lot to be unhappy or sad about. There is the disappointment that a friend let you down. There is the general dissatisfaction with our jobs and careers. There is the feeling of “every day is the same – there’s no excitement in life”. We have tons of things that we could be down in the dumps about. But the point is why? Why should we be unhappy or dissatisfied with life? Why not try and see the good points in our lives? For every bad thing that we experience there is always something that could be worse – always. During the difficult time of Patty’s illness and death, there were times I had to work very hard to remind myself to be positive and happy. When Patty was first diagnosed and during the horrible period in January of 2008 I really struggled to maintain my sanity and to be happy. For several weeks I failed horribly. I was a wreck, I was a mess. The toughest period for me was in January of 2008 – I feel that was when Patty really died. That was when the person who she had been was forever lost to mental confusion and depression. For several days after the whole situation of January 18, I remember lying on my dogs’ bed in front of the fireplace doing nothing. It took all of my mental and emotional strength to put the agony in its place and regain “happiness”. Despite everything that was going on – I did. I was determined to be happy. I was determined not to let anything get in my way of being happy for myself, for Zack and for Patty. The key thing is that I chose to be happy at that time. I chose to make the decision that I had to live life and do the best job at it that I was capable of doing. My choice to be happy benefited me and every member of my family. I was able to put the hell behind me and move on. It allowed me to be there for Patty. It allowed me to be happy for Zack. Had I dwelled on the agony and hell, nothing good would have come of it. Much the same thing can be said about being content with life. We can choose to be content with life. I know many people go through life searching for a purpose. They need that purpose to be content. People search for the contentment and purpose in all kinds of different places. Lots of people turn to religion. Others turn to their careers. Many people find their contentment and purpose in their families. Still other’s seek their contentment in alcohol or drugs. But problems arise if these “foundations’ of contentment are taken away. What happens if you lose or job? What happens if you lose your spouse or you get divorced? What happens when you become disillusioned with your religion? You lose that sense of purpose and you lose your contentment with life. Maybe the answer to being content with life is really simple. Just be content to be alive. You don’t need a purpose for life as the really purpose of life is just life itself. Living is a purpose and every second we are alive is a victory. I tend to think about contentment from the stand point of animals. If an animal like a snake where able to speak what do you think it would say if asked whether or not it was content? What would it say its purpose in life is? The snake knows its purpose – to hunt, to eat and to live. As long as it fulfills that purpose it is content. It doesn’t need any other motivation in life other than just living. Sometimes we need to step back and realize that we are just animals – just like the snake. We do have a higher brain function, but organically that is all that separates us from the rest of the animals that inhabit the earth. So maybe we ought to look more simply at our sources of contentment and just be content to be alive! This kind of argument extends into so many areas of life. Besides the choices of being happy and content we make choices about doing the right thing, we make choices about whether we want to be in love, we make choices about whether we want to succeed or fail in many of our endeavors, we make choices about whether we want to be victimized by life or take life by the horns and do the things we want. There is a lot to ponder when you step back and realize that you have free choice to make so many decisions about your own life. It is all in your control. I know many of my words on this subject may be viewed as controversial, but having experienced all that I have experienced in the last several years I have come to realize these things to be the true. It’s the only way I know how to live. There is no point in being a sad depressed mess. So be happy. Be content. Life is good! Thanks and peace to all!


Pamela said...

I enjoyed your post---and have thought a lot about the choice to be happy, despite the circumstances that we find ourselves. We've had our ups and our downs in life and sometimes it's not an easy choice to make.

You're a wonderful example to your son.

Jan said...


Keep doing what you are doing. What a fine example you are for your son!! I so enjoy reading about your adventures. Keep up the great work.



Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.