Am I Happy? Delving into a Meaningless Question

 

First written for Linkedin, I shall use it here as a test for my new blog abilities.

It has been awhile since I wrote anything for here, and I have been debating on my next topic. I was saved by recently being asked to write about if I am happy. I struggled with the question, not because I am not happy, but because I see no other way to be. I cannot promise that my thoughts will be enlightening, but at least I hope they help someone to understand a little bit more about who I am.

I have always known I was hard to understand. People have a hard time comprehending how I interact with the world, the things I say, the way I joke, my personality is just… different. I have always known this, felt it, crashed against the boundaries of others without even knowing I was doing it. I do not know if this if from my upbringing or part of my genetic code. Coming from a Native Alaskan family, growing up blonde haired blued eyed on an Idaho Reservation there is not really a large enough sample size of similar backgrounds to know what caused me to be me. There is nobody else I can point to and say, look that is how we are. I see my mom and grandparents and I feel the connection, but even from them I am different in my own way. Knowing that I often have to re-explain myself if I want to be understood though is worth it. It is worth it because I am happy, and I perceive my world in a happy way. Unlike others I do not see it as a choice, I just always know that “this too shall pass.” So I enjoy what I can, and do not worry about the problems. I suppose I do not dwell on how happy I am because it is just a part of who I am, to be thankful and joyful is just a part of life. Laughter and enjoyment are just facts. The idea of assessing something so central to my core is like assessing how blue my eyes are, and how I might change that.

As a young man I read Camus “Myth of Sisyphus.” Camus, if you have not read it, stated that the truth about our world creates an existential dilemma in all of us where once we realize there is no meaning to our existence, we all have to make a choice to come to terms with it. He labeled three courses of action most people take: 1. they commit suicide, 2. they live their lives day to day just struggling, and 3. they attempt what I call the Don Quixote Solution. He honestly believed that the most honest reaction is suicide, or as he calls it, lay down and die. It is the most honest to him because the world is a sad struggle that has really no meaning and no purpose (his belief). He thought the worst solution was 2. Where you know you should die, but you really just do not. You roll through life in a daze of unpleasant whining and depression. But he was a big proponent to 3. He, himself embraced his Don Quixote Solution because in it you realize life has no meaning so you make the conscious choice to give yourself one. Basically this solution means once you realize there is no meaning you set down and consider what you want that meaning to be. What is the purpose you want to dedicate life to and you embrace it as your reality. He himself choose Truth, Beauty, and Justice. He makes no judgment what we should choose, but realizes that each of us will need to find our own way. I love this idea, but I do not understand it. I was not raised to need a purpose in my life, as life itself is purpose enough. Still I loved reading Camus, and have a great respect for him and other existentialists, I am just not one to struggle with the basic fact that my life has only the meaning I give it. I was raised to see the world that way, and to know that I make my own purpose.

Another big read for me in regards to happiness was Chen Buddhism mixed with a guy named Osho. Both followed the philosophy of the early Buddhist traditions where craving leads to suffering, and so to remove suffering one must remove craving and grasping. The idea that my suffering comes from trying to hold onto things is a beautiful and scary idea. It resonated with what my grandmother had taught me about growing up in the strict and barren wastes of Alaska. To crave something lead to three outcomes. I do not get it, and I suffer. I get it and it is just not what I want so I suffer. Or, I get it, I love it, but eventually I lose it so I suffer. This spoke to that part of me that spent so much time with my grandmother, helping her, listening to her stories about the old days. That is not to say my grandmother did not teach me to set goals and obtain them, she did. But there is a difference between setting goals, and daydreaming about them, or about the ones you won’t fulfill. One is productive and one is wasteful, and for my grandmother wasteful was unacceptable.

According to my grandmother our own people where masters at not looking back. You lose something or someone and it is in the past. You can remember it fondly and even bring it up, but spending too much time setting around crying about your loss means you die on the ice. There is just no time on the frozen desert to worry about what could have been or what use to be. Your life is about surviving now. They found joy in that moment, because often that moment was all they had. My most common phrase is, “nobody promised you tomorrow.” Often people say it with sadness, but my grandmother taught me to say it with joy. I do not know if I will wake up in the morning, so I must find beauty and peace with the now.

My grandmother is a person I have always sought to mimic. She was born and raised in a tent following the reindeer north of Kotzebue and Notek Alaska. She did not leave the ice until her 13th year when she moved to Kotzebue when her dad went to Nome for work. She saw her first permanent structure there, as well as her first tree (Christmas tree). At 15-6 she tried for the first time an orange. She sometimes talked about it, having grown up with only plant foods being salmon berries, cranberries, lichen, and shipped in raisins, rice and flour she had not really had much in the way of plants for diet. She said that orange was old and had been on a boat probably for months to get to Alaska, an orange that she would complain about if a store here carried it because it was so old. But to her as a young girl, trying it for the first time it was the most amazing thing she had ever tried. Her memory and its description still make me smile.

My grandfather fought in WWII in the Pacific and again in Korea before being stationed in Nome. He transfixed his wife with stories of farmland Washington, a place where trees grew tall and plants and animals were just sitting everywhere in the world. She had been raised hearing stories of paradise where the threat of ice taking you was not constant, and food was in abundance, a heaven he promised where green things grow. In the cold north of Nome he regaled his young bride with tales of what he had seen, and when she became pregnant with their first child she told him they were moving there to raise their family. And so they came to Washington and lived with his family. He worked odd jobs for farmers, ranchers, and the railroad until one day my grandmother, visiting him in Latah, walked past an empty house with an apple tree in the yard. The apples lay scattered on the ground rotting. My grandmother sat down at the sight of it and just cried, when my grandfather found her setting there she told him, “this cannot be allowed.” And so they bought the house and land to ensure that such waste would no longer continue. They became farmers, with a constant need to buy more land. Eventually they started dairy farming, and eventually retired to do upholstery work. For someone raised with few plants, and none of which were domesticated, she made many mistakes, but by the time I came around she was a master of the green thumb, with big fields, orchards, and constantly cared for gardens. They created their own heaven and lived within it. They taught me this need to push the boundary of what I could be while respecting the fact that I was raised in paradise. The mass changes and chances she took in her life are profound to me, and the things she saw in her lifetime are staggering.

I assess myself and my happiness based on how I think they would view me and my life. They are the bar to which I strive. And I am happy, there is really no other way to be. I do not struggle to feed myself or stay warm. I have life, and that is an amazing thing I can only give thanks for. I strive to remind myself that every day with a giving of thanks each morning when I wake up and thanks for the day I had before I go to bed. I do not fear dying in my sleep, but I also know it is possible, so each day I assess what I have and give thanks. Each morning I wake up in the sun of a new life and I am happy to have another chance to experience the wonders of our world. Dwelling on the negative will get me nowhere, and I just do not have time for such things. Forward is the direction I am going, and everything behind me is just memory and lessons. In a sense I live my life because I have nothing better to do, but what a blessing it is to enjoy that freedom. So few people realize the blessings they have, and that is my one sadness.

I was asked recently how I can increase my happiness in the next 12 months. This is a difficult question. I am already happy and thankful, I do not strive for it, it is just there. I cannot say that I will seek to make fewer mistakes (though I make plenty) because the mistakes of my past are why I am where I am, and how can I rob my future self of growth and lessons he would never otherwise learn. I suppose my goals right now include continuing to build personal cash flow so that I can enjoy more freedoms for personal pursuits, but I do not know if that will make me happier. More content, probably, as I can fill my days with nobler pursuits within my self-interests, but contentment is not happiness. I suppose I may find a new job, that might be nice, but happiness is found where ever I work and whatever I do. There are struggles for sure in my life, but those struggles help define me, and few of them are so overarching that I cannot overcome them with simple persistence. I suppose for me, who finds joy in every moment, the idea of working for happiness is foreign and inconsequential, it is like asking me to work to breath, or strive for walking. I know that people have to do this, but I just have yet to experience it. I lived in a tent for over a year once, and was supper happy with life. Working as an executive, doing what I love, surrounded by people I like, and finding pleasure where I turn, how could I not be happy?

I am my grandparent’s child, and I will continue to find joy in my life. I am sure there will be bumps in my future, and maybe some really low points that test my resolve, but my laughter will fill even those days, and my joy will stretch through those nights. I do not find books about how we have to work for the joy that is just setting there for us to take resonate with me, but I am glad for them, because they help others. But that is not my experience, and I feel sorrow for those that perceive their world in such a sad way. Joy is within us, the idea of working for it is just depressing.

 

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