Finding the Better, Happier Person Through Change


Are you happy? I mean happy. You can tell me. I’m just an anonymous writer. Are you happy? Whisper it to me. You’re not? Well, what are you going to do about it? Are you just going to sit there like a chump while the rest of us are living in the land of sunshine with fortune smiling down upon us? Go out there and get you some happy sistas and brothas!

I used to believe I was on the cusp of being happy. I thought I was so close that if my Dad would just loosen the purse strings a little and purchase this one, solitary item of the moment for me, it would launch me through the entrance of the land of hope and sunshine. I wasn’t running a con game. I truly believed that if my Dad would just purchase this one pack of KISS cards for me, it would go a long way to helping me achieve my ideal state.

“No!” was what he said (cue the dark and foreboding music). He told me “No” on more than one occasion, and there were even times when he would follow that ‘No!’ up with a heaping pile of “Shut up!” (Cue the B roll, creepy B actor with bushy eyebrows that point inward, playing my dad in this reenactment.)

A part of me believed that the constant “No’s!” I received from him manifested into a personality disorder in which I wanted to buy things, but I was scared that I wasn’t worthy of them. Another part of me wondered what kind of man I would be today if he purchased everything I wanted. Would I be a spoiled brat? Would I have some sort of obnoxiousness about me that expected to be able to have everything I wanted (see deserved) regardless if I had to go into debt to get it? Would I be one of those “I deserve it” adult babies who permeate the culture? Another part of me knows that I would’ve had to work my through whatever psychosis my dad chose to inflict on me, and that I would probably end up in the exact same place I’m in right now.

The point is that most of us believe we are in some location on the emotional equator just south of happy, and some of us will live our whole lives down there blaming our parents for it. Most of us are not miserable or depressed in the sense that we need medical assistance. Most of us are just a little south of unhappy, and a little unsatisfied with the way our lives turned out. We had incompetent parents, we grew up in broken homes, we never had any money, we were bullied in school, and our grades weren’t what they could’ve and should’ve been, and if we were able to do it all over again … We wouldn’t want to go through it all over again.

We are who we are, based upon what we’ve been through? Are we happy? Could we be happier? What do you got?

Was I unhappy in that temporary sense that every teen is unhappy when their parent tells them no? I’m quite sure that if a talent agent spotted me in the dramatic aftermath of one of my dad’s denials, they would’ve had their guy call my guy, and said, “That kid’s got the goods.”

As evidence of the fact that my dad did buy me things, I was one of the first kids on my block who had all of the cards necessary to complete the puzzle on the card backs. Did any of the items my dad purchased for me make me happy? I’m sure they did, temporarily, but throughout my reflective examinations, I have found those moments conspicuously absent. I’m sure I received some sort of validation from those sparse moments in life, until the next time my dad and I went to the department store. The next time we went to a store, I had the same notion of being on the cusp of happiness again, and I believed his decision could affect whether or not I would end up in a land of sunshine once again. When he decided not to make those purchases, the cyclical drama would begin again. The question is, was I so unhappy that my definition of happiness was dependent on my dad’s decisions in department stores, or did I enjoy casting him as the bad guy role in the end credits of my psychodrama?

What I thought I was talking about, when I talked to my Dad about making these purchases, was definition. I wanted to be a somebody who had a certain something that someone else had. I wanted to be a have in a world where I felt like a have not, and I knew that those who have are happier. I was also talking about fulfillment, whether I knew it or not. I was talking about a patch, or a hotfix, to correct a bug in my operating system that I thought would help me live through the teenage, “all hope is lost” software program that I just downloaded to my hard drive. I thought was talking about helping him help me become a real player in a world of people that had such products.

How many otherwise unhappy people had parents purchase those KISS cards for them at that seminal checkout counter of their lives? How many of them walked away realizing that that was it. One simple pack of KISS cards was all it took. That moment may have occurred thirty-five years ago, but I’m happy now. I reached the point, after all those years, of fundamental happiness. I have no wants or desire any more. I am what you could call a fulfilled man.

“And Dad, it was those KISS cards that you purchased, when I was all but thirteen years of age, that accomplished that for me. I find it hard to believe too, but all I can say is I told you so.”

Are we happy people in a fundamental sense, or do we define fundamental happiness based on attaining things? If we experience fundamental unhappiness, we may not know what caused it, but we know we need things, and change, and things that change us. We need constant change. Change results in definition and redefinition, until we achieve the ideal state of being that we believe is forever beyond our reach, but one solitary purchase away.

We are oysters in search of a process through which we can change our interiority to protect us from our internal intruders. It’s silly to believe that one pack of KISS cards, of course, as we need layers upon layers of calcium carbonate to shield us from the forces of interiority, until we create that pearl. This process is similar, yet different, from the outer shell we create to protect us from possible external intruders.

The intruder inside us is unhappiness, and to defeat it we need to undergo changes equivalent to those the oyster uses. We’re all animals after all, and we’re required to change, adapt, and evolve throughout life for our survival and for survival of the species? It’s natural, it’s science, and we’re not that much different from the oyster?

Are the changes we require biological, sometimes, but sometimes we just need some sort of change to give us a lift out of the tedium of today, regardless what we did yesterday, to give us a brighter tomorrow. If we’re unhappy, in a manner we define, how do we achieve fundamental and constant happiness? To what do we resort? How do we define ourselves, and if we make sweeping changes, are we ever happy in the aftermath, or are we in need of more change?

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A friend of mine resorted to drastic change. She pursued it. She achieved it. She needed it. The drastic change was so elemental to her makeup that she believed it bisected her personal timeline into a B.C/A.D. demarcation. When she and I talked –after years of separation from the drastic change– she no longer wanted to discuss the B.C. (before change) life that I knew. That discussion seemed irrelevant to her compared to the A.D. (after decision) lifestyle that she was now enjoying. She was no longer the person I knew. She changed, and any observer could see that my attempts to relive our past bored her. Since it had been so long since we last spoke, however, the past was the only thing we had in common. It frustrated her. She found a way to make this conversation relevant, or enjoyable to her, by asking me how the characters of our shared past would’ve reacted to her drastic change … if they had lived long enough to see it.

The question that I would’ve loved to ask her –as if I didn’t already know the answer– is did any of these fundamental changes do anything to help her achieve greater fundamental happiness. An inevitable ‘yes’ would follow, for change is good, change is always good, but more change is better. Once she accomplished these drastic changes, was she able to wipe those memories of a rough upbringing off the slate? Yes she was. Did these changes accomplish everything she hoped they would? Yes they did. These questions would go to the very heart of why she decided she needed change, and very few would admit they were an utter waste of time, but the greater question would be was this change so complete that she would no longer need further, drastic changes in future? I’m quite sure that the next time I run into her, she will have undergone a number of other, drastic changes, now that she’s married a man that can afford them for her.

“Could you achieve the same amount of happiness without those drastic changes?” I would’ve loved to ask her.

“Yes,” I’m sure she would say, “And I did try them. Nothing happened. I needed change.” Fair enough, but how much effort did you put into taking inventory of everything you have that should make you happy, versus everything you could have that could make you happy, and how much have you lost in the pursuit of these total transformations?

If we run across the rare individual who admits that their transformational changes didn’t accomplish what they thought they should, they will have their remedy all ready for us. They will tell us that they need more changes, other changes, and a metamorphosis into something no one considered before. The point of all these changes is to save them from what they were, or to prevent them from becoming what they might become if they don’t change. At some point in this process, they invest so much in change that they cannot turn back.

Are we ever happy? I mean happy! Or, is happiness a state of mind that can achieve internal activation after a series of events occur in a very specific way that we define? We’ve suffered damages that leave us damaged, and we can’t fix them on our own. We have flaws, but there is hope. There is always hope. We can change, and changes can change us. We have the money. We have the technology. We can rebuild it. Better than we were before. Better…stronger…faster…happier. We can make more money, with a different job, a better job. We can have more love … more sex … better sex if we can find a way to change. We might consider having an affair on our spouse, as that could shake things up, cause some turmoil, and lead to couple’s therapy and renewal of sorts that could lead to makeup sex. An affair could also lead to a divorce, but what is divorce? Divorce can be messy and awful, but it can also lead to change, drastic change. We might need pharmaceuticals, and alcohol to help us through it, but it could lead us to refocus on our beauty and losing divorce weight, as we become more concerned with our appearance. We might buy better products and supplements that could lead to more gym time that will lead us to be thinner and happier, until it dawns on us that tummy tucks, collagen injections, and more colonics could change us quicker and better. We’ll need more boob, or better boobs, at some point that will lead us to feel younger, better, and thinner. We’ll have more definition, we’ll be more feminine, or less feminine, and more masculine, and who cares about gender specifics anyway? We could live the rock and roll lifestyle. We’ll have more “me” time, but that could lead to more alone time that could lead to more introspection and some depression. It always does. It will also lead us to focus on the fact that we need better appliances, more extravagant vacations, and more “me” time and greater self-indulgence, until we get what we deserve. Something different. Hey, I’ll try anything once. Changehappinesschange…repeat if necessary.

To B or not to B


Having a philosophy can provide one a sense of fulfillment, a discipline, a code, and a foundation for a way to live through the extensive knowledge of the various minds of philosophy. A student of the mind can delve so deeply in a philosopher’s thoughts, or philosophical thought in general, that they can eventually reach a point where they believe they have an answer for everything that plagues them in life. For most of us, however, philosophy simply provides a plan ‘B’ in life.

philosophy“Renowned philosophers have never helped me!” say those who don’t believe philosophers can ever provide a decent plan B. “They are not specific enough.”

But some of the times they get close. Some of the times they get so close it can be frustrating. It would be one thing if they said nothing, but some of the times they get so close to the heart of all that ails us that it almost feels like they’re tantalizing us with their brilliance. They write something that captures our attention, and then they further that original thought with another thought that brings us kicking and screaming to a point of identification. It’s almost as if they read our minds when they wrote that, we think. They’re pouring our heart out. We’re breathless with anticipation. We’re turning the pages of their book so quickly that we’re getting paper cuts.

“Yes!” we scream. “Ohmycreator yes! That’s it! Sing it to me sista!”  

Then, we arrive at the solution, if there ever was one, and we think we somehow got lost in the weeds, somewhere along the line. We retrace our steps, we turn back two of three pages, then twenty to thirty, and we can’t find where we lost the point. “What did he say?” we ask, and we hate ourselves for asking that. We hate it, because it reveals us as one of those who don’t understand. It lowers our ego just a tad, but we know that that philosopher was onto something —in some form of English that we barely understood— that left us hanging off the cliff, because we just didn’t understand their proposed solution. Somehow or another they didn’t do anything but correctly identify the problem without attempting a solution. We didn’t exactly drop off the cliff with disappointment, but the philosopher didn’t quite help us off it either. Not in the manner we thought they would when they swam so close to our Sun. What happened?

A scene from the television series Taxi captures this dilemma perfectly. In the scene, the character Latka is experiences a multiple personality disorder. Latka assumes a number of personalities in the episode, until he assumes another character’s persona. He assumes the Alex Reager characteristics, and he believes he’s Alex Reager in every way, shape, and form. Latka reaches a point, in this disorder, where he’s figured out a solution to all that ails Alex, and he says so in a counseling session. He does so by listing all the flaws with Alex’s character, flaws Alex confirms, until Latka states that he’s found a solution to all that ails this Alex persona. This captures Alex’s attention. “It was so simple!” Latka says with an anticipatory Alex goading him on. “It was staring me in the face the whole time!” To each progression, Alex nears the Latka character saying: “Yes, ohmycreator yes!” until the two are inches away from one another with Alex panting in anticipation. Much to Alex’s disappointment, Latka snaps out of the personality disorder just short of revealing the solution, and he turns back into Latka. At that point, Alex begins griping Latka by the face, screaming at him to go back to being Alex for one more minute when Latka says: “Alex you’re squeezing me!”

The answer to the frustrations most agnostic consumers experience with philosophy, say philosophy students, is that it would be impossible for a philosopher to provide specific solutions to all of your individual problems. The purpose of philosophy, they would say, is to lead their subject into asking questions that they may have never considered before, to give them another viewpoint on their problems, and to provide its adherents an all-encompassing blueprint for life that the reader can use to interpret and relate to their individual problems. The purpose is to get the consumer to thinking different.  The purpose is to get us thinking.

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we make choices and decisions in life? How do we make them? Who is affected by our decisions, and do we factor them into our decision making process? The purpose of philosophy is to get us to ask these questions and other questions of ourselves. Only by asking ourselves questions can we ever arrive at an answer that may suit our individual needs. Philosophy requires extensive participation. It requires active listening, and reading, and most of the solutions one finds in life will not be specifically lined up for the reader. Don’t take it out on philosophers, students of philosophy will say, if you are too lazy to interpret and relate such concepts and propositions to your life.

The problem for most of philosophy’s agnostics is that most philosophical concepts are espoused in such an academic sense. The philosophies of Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, and Freud and Jung might apply to the modern day, and they may be the greatest thoughts man has ever had, but getting to the nut of what they’re saying requires too much interpretation for most modern day consumers. Most of the philosophers listed here spoke, and wrote, in a more proper, less relatable form of English, if they spoke in English at all. They also spoke/wrote in a vague manner that would be, and could be, so open to interpretation that it seems they never said anything specific. Some regard this as brilliant in that a reader could interpret the words for their own needs. Others regard it as frustratingly vague for the same reason. If these others, these agnostic types, do attempt to subject a philosopher’s thoughts and ideas to their problems, they get slapped back by strict interpretations provided to them by a Philosophy professor. These strict interpretations may take the vagueness out of the material, but it also takes away the individual’s joy of forming a belief on the philosopher’s concepts that may differ from the professor’s. The professor gives a “correct” interpretation and pulls out a red pen on any student that goes off that trail. “I can see what you’re trying to say here,” the professor writes in red, “but it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

All of the philosophers listed here are much smarter than us, and they’ve developed some theories on the decisions and choices we make that could just blow our minds if we understood them properly. But those who teach and interpret their theories get a little too far into the weeds for most of us. They get too professorial, they talk over our heads, and they fail to relay their concepts to us. Philosophy is viewed by the eager, young minds thirsting for new knowledge, as overly complicated, or so narrow that it doesn’t apply to them, irrelevant in the modern era, and something to be studied for a test … Nothing more and nothing less. Philosophy and psychology doesn’t have to be this way.

Philosophy also doesn’t have to be that which is espoused by an egghead, hippie type that attempts to intimidate the listener with punctuation-less sentences that contain as many multi-syllabic words as the hippie can think up that are backed up by obscure quotes from a similar philosopher that was obscure 400 years ago. These people also get a lot of mileage out of telling a listener what philosophy is not, based on these obscure quotes and references, that exhaust you, until the reader is left with the empty feeling that it’s all too complicated for them to ever understand. We don’t want to admit such a thing though, so we just quietly walk away from philosophy with the idea that we’re just not smart enough to understand it. It shouldn’t be that way.

It should be the goal of all of those that love philosophy to carry the torch to the next generation. It should be their goal to drop the indulgence of proving their intelligence while proving their mastery of the subject matter at the same time. Combining these two appears to be too much for most philosophy lovers. They get so caught up trying to impress their peers that they forget to make the message appealing. They have a gift for draining the elemental gifts these philosophers have provided us right out of their lesson plans, but they don’t appear to care about the subject matter in this way. They appear to prefer the credo: “If no one knows what you’re talking about, no one can refute you.”

The question becomes how does one reach an audience of young computer-game, Google searchers with a limited attention span? Certain individuals in the entertainment milieus have done it in bite-sized morsels. They have used comedy to lubricate what is generally perceived to be the incomprehensible, rougher edges of philosophy, as witnessed in the episode of Taxi provided above. The clever minds of Taxi/Cheers fame, the writers of Seinfeld, and the Philosophy and… series of books have taken the relatively difficult concepts of Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, and Freud and Jung and put them out to the mass consumers in comedic form to open the door to greater understanding. It can be done, in other words, and it should be done. A look through the best seller list, and the television ratings, shows that modern consumers are just as hungry for knowledge as they are entertainment, and the richest rewards lie out there for those that are able to do both in a highly skilled juggling act.

When our friends detail the plot line of such a comedy, and we inform them that it’s based on a philosopher’s concept, they’re intrigued. They may not care that it came from a man named Rousseau, and they may never turn around and read a single word of that man’s writings, but the idea that this man’s concept reached them intrigues them to learn more about the concept and the way it might affect their life. They may not have reached that concept in the manner a philosophy professor, or an uppity beatnik, would care for, but they still learned it, and their lives may eventually be all the better for it, and it may provide a window that once opened might lead eager young minds to explore for more knowledge.

The alternative to grasping these concepts, and subsequently living without a philosophical sense of life, is nihilism —the belief in nothing. Some nihilists even condemn atheists for their beliefs. Atheists may share the metaphysical belief that God doesn’t exist with nihilists, but where they divert is in the meaning of life. Atheists believe that one doesn’t have to believe in God for life to have meaning. Nihilism maintains that life has absolutely no meaning, purpose, or value, and the godfather of nihilism even went so far to write that Christianity may actually have more in common with nihilism than they know, based on the fact that Christians place less value on this life than they do the afterlife.

This absolute belief in nothing, when used in conversation, can be a contrarian tool that a self-proclaimed nihilist can use as a shield against attack. It may allow them to sit back with a smug smile while atheists and Christians attack one another with the mindset being that they may not believe in anything, but at least they’re not foolish enough to believe in something.

Nihilists usually wage a philosophical war on believers, studying up on our beliefs, our philosophy, or our religion, until they reach a point where they can proudly claim to know our belief system better than we do, or at least those that believe the same as us. The latter is an important distinction to make, for most nihilists usually don’t single us out for their criticism. They may actually go so far as to single us out for support by saying that we’re not one of those they’re talking about, because we’re more open-minded, erudite, or one of the few that can speak about such a hot button issue rationally. Whatever guise they use to avoid further confrontation, they do so to complete their life’s mission of knocking everything everyone else believes in, by trying to keep it impersonal. To suggest that all nihilists operate in a nefarious manner with the sole goal of undermining belief, would be as incorrect as the comprehensive labels they attach to believers, but they do seek some sort of validation for their mindset from the believers.

One of the reasons they need validation, is that when everything goes wrong in their life they know that they will be left with total devastation. The nihilist’s world exists on a precarious plane that there are certain truths that keeps them afloat. Most of their truths can be found in the routines of life: work, marriage, kids, friends, weekend fun, and politics. There is, however, no underlying foundation to nihilism, no meaning of life, no purpose, and no substantial reality in their lives to help them overcome a shakeup of one of these routines. There’s an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, and that cliché is based on the idea that in times of total devastation the human mind needs a plan B, a sense of life, a philosophy, a religion, or something to fall back on. Some say the need to believe in something might be biological, or anatomical, but whatever the case is, it’s undeniable that we all need something to believe in, something greater than ourselves, and a plan B to fall back on when things don’t go as planned.