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What does it mean to be “happy”?

Do we “deserve” to be happy?

Can we “truly” ever be happy?

Can I type a sentence without using “quotes”?

These are questions I think about a lot lately. The assumption is that only I can make myself happy. That the key to true happiness is somehow a mystical journey of self-exploration that requires deep soul searching along with wisdom of the ages.

Of course, I think this is crap.

Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” I take this to mean that looking for happiness is futile. Happiness finds you, not the other way around.

Benjamin Disraeli said, “Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.”

From this, I gather that we aren’t owed happiness. There isn’t a government happiness program (although the medical marijuana program sounds pretty close). So if we’re not owed it and we can’t chase it, how do we get it? This is a paradox. If you chase it you won’t find it, but if you spend your life waiting for it it’ll never come to you.

Finally, Buddha says, “You may search all your life for a person more deserving of happiness than you, but you will never find one.” So while we’re not owed it, according to Buddha, we deserve it.

So, happiness is something that we aren’t owed but we deserve, something we can’t chase but must be found. Much like the Sage in the Tao, the happy man neither chases happiness nor waits for it, he just is happy. This flies in the face of the anxious and the worrisome. Maybe that’s why we are so unhappy so often. Because, the one thing we think we’re missing, the thing that could conceivably cure us, is rendered unattainable by the affliction.

Its a “simple” chicken or egg problem. The problem is figuring out if happiness has feathers or a shell…

MSNBC has an interesting article on stress and its place in our society. Interestingly, the article makes an important point about the social value of stress. Take this, for example:

“People are now determining their self-worth on how busy they are and how much they have to do,” she says.

Competitive stressing seems to blend two of our favorite pastimes: bragging and complaining.

[…]

When someone goes on about how he works 14 hours a day and doesn’t see his family and hasn’t had a vacation and doesn’t get any sleep and, by the way, has 2,000 unopened e-mails, what he’s really saying is: I’m a very important and valuable person.

[…]

Stress is also a handy ready-made excuse for all sorts of bad behaviors, from being grumpy to making a mistake. You are so frazzled you only got four hours of sleep, after all.

Surely we’ve all done this at some point. I know I have. Stress is a common complaint and, when used tactfully, complaining about stress is an easy way to garner support, sympathy, and even to avoid more work. But is this bad? Why would we complain so much about stress if we weren’t really stressed? The answer is likely more simple than it may appear: stress plays an important role as a social construct, a method of defining ourselves in ways that are considered positive by others.

People brag about whatever their culture values. So, in the ’70s, the boast was: ‘Oh, I was so messed up, I don’t even remember the ’60s.’ In the ’80s, it was more about materialism. You bragged about what you had.

Today, the average worker isn’t going to make many friends by bragging about how stoned he got or crowing about his new Porsche. But since society values being busy and having an important job, stress has become the new status symbol.

Chances are that if you’re really stressed, you wouldn’t say much about it. Most people with anxiety disorders won’t speak much about it to others, except in those cases where speaking about it may reduce the burden of having to carry it alone. When irrational fears are constantly playing out in our minds, we can certainly experience the effects of stress. Yet, at the same time, many people with anxiety disorders also use anxiety itself as a coping mechanism to avoid being placed in uncomfortable situations.

Have you ever used anxiety as an excuse? I’m guilty of it. I once used anxiety as an excuse to convince my wife that I couldn’t go to dinner with some “friends” of ours. In all honesty, I wasn’t really feeling anxious. I just didn’t want to go to dinner with people who I thought to be obnixous. Anxiety was the perfect scapegoat and I played it up.

While it might make a convenient excuse, using anxiety and stress to avoid situations or responsibilities is only going to negatively impact your mental well-being. Much research has been done to this end and the conclusion is clear: we create our own realities. If you’re constantly telling yourself and others that you’re anxious or stressed, the result is invariably anxiety and stress.

The solution? Stop it. Just take a break for a while. Here’s another snippet from the article:

Start by practicing not complaining for one week, she says. You may feel a bit lonely at first because you aren’t part of the conversation, but you’ll start to feel strengthened and empowered. “It’s like saying no to cheesecake, you feel better for having done it,” she says.

So, for instance, when someone at work says, “I’m so tense I didn’t get any sleep last night,” instead of trying to outdo them, say simply: “I sure hope things get better for you.”

And next time you are tempted to one-up an overworked, overwhelmed and overly tired co-worker, ask yourself: Is this a contest I really want to win?

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself turning to your anxiety — or stress — as a crutch. While both anxiety and stress are very real, and serious, health concerns, playing the “stress card” is ultimately more harmful than helpful. The moment you begin to tell yourself that things aren’t as bad as you think they are is the moment that you’ve begun to develop a positive attitude toward life. With practice, this positive attitude can bloom and may ultimately help to free you from anxiety.

“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”—Marcus Annaeus Seneca, 4 BC – 65 AD, Roman philosopher and moralist.

I saw this quote and thought it really applies to my desire to live a life without debilitating anxiety and panic. If I’m focused on the panic attack or the symptom then that is probably the “harbor” I’m headed for.

And then I wonder why I can’t get better, when I want, so badly, to get better!

But, if my aim is healthy, active living – the life that is out there for me to live – then that’s the “harbor” I’m headed for.

So, maybe I have a better chance of getting there!

Just thought I’d share 🙂

This really goes along with what Jonah recently wrote about “taking some time off” from anxiety!

I’m home from my trip. 11 days, 4 airplanes, 2 continents, untold numbers of security devices – I’m safe and sound and in my house again. And, I actually enjoyed myself.

I made a commitment before I left to be conscious of the possibility of anxiety and panic, and to do what I could to prepare for it. But, I was not going to let it drive me or run the show.

And it didn’t.

I’m so grateful for the process of working through this disorder of Panic and Anxiety. Because it is a process I’m not focused on one, single, final cure-all. I’m just relieved I am doing better, that I’m able to participate in the abundance of what life has to offer.

So that’s my tale of a deep-seated fear: the fear of flying. And how, at least this time, it didn’t keep me from doing something wonderful!

I took some time off from anxiety. It was good. I was able to relax and have fun. Now I’m back – not that I really wanted to come back to anxiety… But I’m definitely back. In fact I got back 2-3 days ago. I’ve had a “condition” for a couple of weeks. Nothing serious. Nothing to worry about. I still went to the doctor who checked me out, gave me a prescription and sent me out the door. I was fine. The doctors appointment had been a clear headed call by a normal person – me.

The drugs from the doctor didn’t work. The condition was still there. And I wasn’t getting any better. Finally – 2 or 3 days ago – I could no longer resist that greatest of all urges (when you have anxiety disorder). I googled.

This is the worst thing anyone with anxiety can do. Using Google for self-diagnosis is – at best – very very bad. If you search for any condition long enough you will always end up with cancer. Or something equally bad.

And, of course, that was the result of my self-diagnosis. Slowly, but surely, I somehow worked my way towards the worst possible decease that matched my condition and when I found it I started matching vague pains and feelings to other symptoms. Suddenly I was deadly sick and anxiety started to settle in again. It is truly like that terrible guest that appears and never leaves again.

So I spend 2-3 days in total fear for my life. I go back to the doctor and he takes another look. Conclusion. Of course my google self-diagnosis was just ridiculous and there is nothing wrong with me. Of course I’ve again spent a part of my life worrying about something that wasn’t real.

The lesson? If you have a condition, stay away from google. And, yeah. You can actually take a break from anxiety. And that’s the positive experience. So I think I’ll take another one right now…

“If I had my life to live over, I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.” — Don Herold

Well, I made it up to the Big Apple with nary a blip on the screen of anxiety. Planes flew smoothly and on time. People were busy with their own books, headphones and naps and didn’t freak the staff out causing any unnecessary stops. Pilots flew brilliantly and well.

And, I’m enjoying my stay in the bustling city. Been to an opera – very cool. A few movies – excellent. Have taken long walks along avenues and the East River.

The weather is mild and lovely. Today, traveling is a good idea and I’m so lucky to do it.

Saturday we have our flight to London. Till then, I’m going to enjoy the food, the sites and the ambience of NYC. I’ll let you know how the rest goes.

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." -- Mark Twain

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