Sunday, February 21, 2016

I'd like to thank old dead guys for doing my thinking for me

I know I haven't been good about writing in here lately, as I am now an adult with an adult job and I  require an insane amount of energy just to stay awake and function day to day. This, in addition to what I consider an "easily excitable mind," has resulted in a behemoth writers block that I haven't been able to shake for a while. I found myself reminiscing the good old days of high school and college english class, being given a prompt and being forced to sit and write in a journal. Some of my best work came from being forced to just write the first thing that came into my head. Luckily, I was given an awesome book for my birthday that includes 365 writing prompts, so it's basically like having my own nagging english teacher!

Today's writing prompt was the following: What does 'happiness' mean to you? Would you describe yourself as a naturally happy or an unhappy & worried person? Tell me about a time when you felt really happy and about a tie when you made someone else feel happy.

Happiness is a strange concept to me. Looking for some inspiration, I read the quotes in the back of the book on happiness and found one by Aristotle that kind of jumped out at me: "Happiness depends upon ourselves." This, of course, led to a google search (where the magic begins) on the quote, which led to a mad frenzy to find my copy of Nicomachean Ethics that I SWORE up and down that I kept, since I keep pretty much all of my textbooks from college (I believe you can learn a lot about a person by what's on their bookshelf), only to find that I had, in fact, gotten rid of that book. So until I receive my ordered copy of the book, the internet has to suffice.

Aristotle has kind of a strange perspective on happiness that does not in any way support anything our society does nowadays. Lately we have "rediscovered" the concept of mindfulness (which is basically the new "kale"--aka a trend that everyone pretty much disregarded for years and now all of a sudden its the hottest "thing" in health. This isn't shocking given that our society has basically been built upon giving history the giant middle finger and doing what we want anyway. Modern day society is basically a giant teenager full of angst and bad decisions); we have learned that living in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future can be beneficial, which makes sense, but Aristotle believed that we should always act with the future in mind. How will our actions now make the future a better place? 

Aristotle believed in happiness as a human goal (which it is) and the central purpose of life itself (which I suppose it kind of is. We haven't figured out the purpose of life quite yet, so I guess this one wins out as a default). He believed that happiness is an end result, that it's not something we can feel and then not feel again in the course of a few minutes. It's not the result of something good happening, and when something bad happens, its not a feeling that can just go away. It's a culmination of living a fulfilling, virtuous life. If you have friends and are just, courageous, and a good citizen all in a way that is neither excessive or lacking, happiness is the end result. Like when you're playing the Sims, and you've achieved their life goal and their Sim thing turns gold for the rest of their lives.

Now obviously I do not regard Aristotle, as insightful as he was (basically the Jesus of ancient philosophers) to be an all-knowing authority on such a complicated, intangible concept, but he has certainly put more thought than a lot of people have and his ideas have helped me in answering the question of what happiness is. I, too, believe that happiness is not a temporary feeling. I believe that one can be happy and also feel bad for a bit. I believe that a person can be content with his or her life but get angry over somebody cutting them off in traffic. Despite having an asshole boss, one can still be overall happy with everything else and grateful to have a job. I think that each positive action that one performs during life is a brick and happiness is the building that results from many good actions. Everyone is in charge of their own happiness and they decide how strong the building will eventually be. The stronger the building, the more able to weather any storms that life decides to conjure up. 

Personally, there are lots of things that make me feel good that I should probably implement in my day-to-day life and I think it's important to figure out the difference between things that make me feel good and things that will make me feel happy in the long run. I feel that this whole Aristotle business was a good way to start and was also kind of like knowledge porn for my brain.