Giving up on Happiness

Recently, all of my life advice has included some variation of, “You’ll never be happy.” I increasingly think this is true, not just for me, but for everyone.

Happiness at its root is essentially a neuro-chemical reaction. Your brain shifts its chemical makeup slightly due to whatever reason and your mind interprets those feelings as happiness. Almost by definition, your brain will adapt to whatever that first stimuli was, and re-change the chemical processes to remove the additional dopamine.

What does this mean?

You basically can’t sustain happiness. You can live a meaningful life in many ways, but you can’t shift your life to ensure feelings of happiness are foremost in your mind. Being happy, by itself, almost causes a shift that will eventually reverse and be experienced as unhappiness.

Since realizing this (and most credit is due to my MBSR class), I care a lot less about my mood at any given moment. I still notice and acknowledge it, but now I try to accept it regardless of whatever it is. I don’t feel guilty for being upset or strive to channel happiness. Instead, I let myself accept what is actually present which, ironically, often leaves me happier because I’m not trying to force something onto my circumstances.

Morning Pages

Have you ever done morning pages? A few summers ago, I worked my way through The Artist’s Way (a terrific book, by the way). I honestly can’t remember that much of what I learned, but one thing really stuck with me: morning pages.

Morning pages are meant to be written first thing in the morning, before your brain has gotten overwhelmed by the world and is overly analytical. They are three pages, stream of consciousness. You are not allowed to edit and you are not allowed to read back.

The point is to push your mind into a space it might not enter naturally. For me, the first 300 words come very easily. I write about where I am, my mood at that moment. But then there is always a period of push…what else is on my mind? What’s really going on? That’s where the morning pages provide a lot of their value. By pushing to three pages, you start to understand patterns of your mind. Are there things that come up again and again as parts of your life that you are unhappy with? Are there dreams and desires you mention frequently?

I have done morning pages on and off now for a number of years, and I always find the periods when I do them are some of my best, because I feel very aware of my state, myself, my desires.

Building Community

I will never forget being at my parent’s house once and my Mom saying to me:

“You are very demanding of love.”

I can’t remember anything about the context — what we were talking about, what her tone was, but it was a moment of truth. Ask anyone who knows me and they would agree. It’s not that I am co-dependent or obsessive but I am very demanding of love from those that I love. I want the relationship to be taken care of and I want us both to be loving of each other.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about building community. I live in an apartment complex with 700+ apartments ranging from 1-3 bedrooms. My dream is that everyone I loves moves into a building in the complex and is thus within a 3-minute walk of my own apartment. We can have dinners, get together casually, be there for each other when we are in need, but not have to live together with the pressures of communal living.

I have twice been lucky enough to live in the perfect community universe. Once when I lived with my college roommate and best friend, we were both single but we were basically both also married (to each other). My sister bought us a poster that said, “No beer / just wine / in bed / by nine.” It was a very accurate poster. We would plan our weekends so we could go to all the same activities — I would go to dinner with her high school friends, we would both do 10 AM yoga, etc. The only divergence which was also lovely in the space it gave us, was that I woke up early and had the apartment to myself from 6-9 AM and she went to bed late and had the apartment to herself from 8-11 PM.

Eventually, we both coupled up (she introduced me to my partner!) and moved out.

During that time, and after, I also, coincidentally, lived in the same neighborhood as a high school friend (and my one blog reader! hey you:)) A mutual friend clued us into it and we met up for a dessert date around Valentine’s Day. We weren’t super close in high school, but we were very friendly and the date sparked a full-fledged best friendship, almost more of a sisterhood. She was dating a terrible guy and we navigated a few years of not dating/dating/early dating/bad dating together. We have a totally effortless relationship in that the activity we are doing never matters. We can go out for dinner, stay in for dinner, make dinner, do homework next to each other, run errands, lay in the park, meet up early, go to the steam room, etc. etc. etc. and it’s always fun and it’s always comforting because the relationship is there.

This post turned into more of a love letter than I intended, but I’m good with that. A Part II to follow re how and why to build deeper community.