Monday, May 23, 2011

The Unified Theory of Happiness - Part One

After several days of mild pre-winter funk, I dream I am holed up in some Antarctic bunker, prepared for six months of blizzard and darkness, when I open the ceiling and find a bright and beautiful, icy blue day. Happiness floods in with the light. Ah yes! I now remember how days in Antarctica can last for weeks, months - eternal sunshine in my spotless dreaming mind... I wake up knowing the meaning as clearly as if my unconscious had casually chatted to me in English: the funk is over, happiness is back. It's no longer the scarce resource it was in days of yore, when I squandered my youth gnawing the bones of melancholy and doubt, following the well-trod footsteps of the best Gen-X role models for the creative soul: suicidal and addicted rock musicians (Cobain, Waters, Kilbey, Morrissey, on they go). Today I'm sitting in a cafe eating pan-fried sardines and chat potatoes and reading, of all the soulless things, a Microsoft paper on updates to the .NET framework (never mind), and there it is again: a radiant gratitude for the preposterous fact of my existence and a cheerful knowledge of being a Fine Person Overall. No conceit. I just like me. I look out the window at the mild street, people about their business and I want to:

  • do a little Charleston (more on this later)

  • kiss the waitress (not for being sexy or anything, just nice, human)

  • write a blog entry about happiness (and voila!)

It's not a manic high, not like the two happy weeks I had once back in my twenties while living in St Kilda, unemployed and writing some crazy theory about the reality of qualities in the world, a fortnight of delirium somehow dislodged from my interior by an LSD trip that had me wandering out on the beach off Beaconsfield Parade, exclaiming to a passer-by, 'Isn't it a beautiful morning!' only for him to stop and, regarding me skeptically, reply, 'Well forgive me if I hadn't noticed.' Only then did I notice that it was, in fact, a pretty crap day - flat, grey and insipidly mild, perfect weather for the worms that shat up their little sand-turds all over the dun, wet expanse where the tide had shallowly retreated. The man kept standing there uncertainly as if the morning might be about to significantly improve, and I realised I'd just successfully, if inadvertently, picked up on St Kilda foreshore. Alas I had to throw the fish back however - not my kinda sardine. But I digress...

There's a story my mother likes to tell about my saying, as a very young child, that I was going to be a God of Happiness. Some boys aim to spend their adult years sliding down poles in fire-stations over and over, no doubt driving around in the big red truck a fair bit too. Others dream of being astronauts, policemen, 'engine drivers', pilots... Normal children. My aspiration, on the other hand, was to nothing less than apotheosis, it seems. Later I became a psychotherapist, evidently having traded down 'God of Happiness' for the more alliterative but less refulgent 'Mitigator of Misery'.

Psychotherapy is not the art of joy. And when I started studying it, back at age twenty-five or so, becoming a Supreme Being was honestly no longer part of my ten-year plan. I just wanted to work out why I was always so miserable. The only truly 'clinically significant' depression I ever suffered ended when I was twenty-one and threw in science-law to go roam the subcontinent for six months in search of God (of whom I found few unambiguous traces, though I had plenty of fun looking for Him inside various pipes) - but long after the depression ended I was still gripped by regular bouts of subclinical gloom. Now I realise I was unhappy because I was, in some ways, a bit of a jerk. Well, perhaps that's harsh. I couldn't help it. One's jerk-like aspects and one's unhappiness are really all part of the same dizzily whirling unmerry-go-round. The unhappiness makes you a jerk, and the more you jerk, the more miserable you make others, who in turn feed their misery back into the whole vicious cycle.

Perhaps it takes a new form of melancholy to stop being a jerk to yourself and the people around you. The kind of melancholy that comes when the egotistical illusions of youth begin to turn yellow and brittle and fall from the tree, and you're no longer full of angst and Weltschmerz and rage against the dying of the light, or against the machine, or whatever flavour of designer unhappiness you prefer to wear along with your torn jeans, and instead you're just plain sad, just plain lost, just plain you. Your misery don't make you special, sunshine. It's not an effective form of protest, not a form of creativity, not the secret brand of destiny.

Or maybe it is - the secret brand of destiny I mean. Maybe it's the calling of the Self, the keening of the lost You, the song that guides you Home. Because without the suffering, how would you know you weren't happy yet, how would you know to seek? Ah, paradox!

I have, I believe, a few things/people to thank for the unexpected blessing of being happy these days. Firstly, ironically, the women who've broken my heart - who, by tearing so many gaping holes in the fabric of my neuroses, actually left them in so many tatters it was impossible to keep holding them together any more. Unconventional therapy - and fucking painful I might add - but highly effective. Also I can thank the Bolivian Altiplano, for curing me of the fear of loneliness. That wild, transcendantly harsh and beautiful desert, that wind-scoured, planetary, salt-crusted, fuming flamingo-world leaves no place for the personal. You can slough it off into the rarefied wind, leave it behind like a rattlesnake skin, like you know life will leave you behind one day, your skin and bones the discarded husks of the vein of life that once animated you. There is nothing to fear in solitude - it inhabits you always anyway, like the starry sky obscured by the blue one.

I'm not going to try to trace all the tributaries of happiness back to their respective springs. But I will mention one other contributor: swing dancing, a pastime that occupies me increasingly these days, in spite of my lack of grace, aptitude, or co-ordination. I'm crap, but I freaking well love doing it anyway, and this love does somehow translate into something that could be described as a weird kind of ability. In spite of myself I think I may one day not only love it, but also be good at it. It's kind of daggy, not at all a Cobain or Kilbey thing, but it just makes you, well, happy, goddamn it.

Anyway, enough. I'm running out of steam. I have more to say on all this, but for now I'm done. Perhaps tomorrow I will return to write more about it. I have a theory, you see, which I'd like to share...

1 comment:

mandala44 said...

Pierz, a thrumming introduction to the Theory.