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.

If I Could Just Have a Moment


I was sitting at an ice cream parlor having a moment with my Brother and his two boys. I remembered how my Brother and I sat at this very ice cream shop with our Dad when we were the boys’ age.  I remembered how special those moments were to me at the time. My Dad had just passed at that point, so my memory may have been a little romanticized, but I didn’t care at that moment. I just enjoyed the tranquil moment for what it was, and what it used to be for us. I wanted this to be a moment for me and my Brother, but I also wanted this to be a moment that the boys would look back on with the same fondness I had. I wanted this moment to be as beautiful as the moments I had in the past, so they could be moments we looked back on in the future.

If we were all in a science fiction movie, and I had the ability to transport in time, I may have shut down the system with all of the simultaneous time leaps I was working through. The rapid leaps through time may have combined with all of the memories to cause a foreign substance to congeal in my brain until an embolism set off warning signals in the programmers’ algorithm, and forced them take me off the grid for my well-being.

false memoryWe are always manufacturing memories for good and evil in the past, present and future. We recall a time when Missy McNasty said something awful to us.  We remember how that comment ruined a future moment we had with Patty Pleasantpants, and how that could’ve been a beautiful moment the two of us shared, frolicking through the aftermath of used cups and popcorn boxes of a minor league hockey match. Missy wouldn’t allow us to enjoy that moment with her previous comment. It just ruined the mood for us, and it ruined that moment. We wish we could go back in the past and tell Missy what an equally awful person she was, so the next time we frolic with Patty we can laugh, and be happy, and have a great and memorable moment. Plus, we think if we could start confronting Missy types more often, we could be happier people in general.

The idea that we consult our memory for mood is a construct that we devise for ourselves in the present. We normally love frolicking through used cups and popcorn boxes of a minor league hockey match, but for some reason we can’t enjoy that moment in time. We know that we shouldn’t let Missy’s comments get to us like we do, but we can’t help it. We can’t enjoy happy moments when we decide that we’re going to be miserable.

You read that correctly, we decide to be miserable and happy based upon the memories we decide to construct at the time.  If we decide were going to be happy today, we will construct good memories that allow us to be happy. If we decide that we’re going to be in a bad mood today, regardless how much fun we’re having, we’ll construct the bad memories that we need to create to support the bad mood we’ve decided to be in.  We select memories that we’re going to construct. It’s a tough concept to grasp, and we normally use the term “selective memory” as a pejorative to describe someone that puts everyone else in a bad light while casting themselves in a favorable light, but if recent findings in psychology are correct, we all have selective memory.

In the paragraph above, I originally used the word ‘consult’ more often than I should’ve when writing about how we select memories, for it’s an incorrect term to describe how we remember. When we remember we don’t consult a memory bank, so much as we construct one…on the fly…regardless of the moment we’re in. We’re in total control of what we think, regardless what we think.

The incorrect word ‘consult’ also gives the image of one going to a video vault to find a specific memory, or going to a file on a hard drive. Memory is selective in a sense, but it is a selective in the sense that we reconstruct memory rather than reproduce it.  At the hockey match, we see someone who is wearing a David Bowie T-shirt, this reminds us of Missy McNasty, the David Bowie fan.  We can’t help but think about the awful thing she said to us, and we’re in a bad mood.  You were not in control of that memory, because it was right there in front of us.  To this degree, you’re not in charge of what triggers memory, but you are in total control of the construction team of your brain that puts the memory together.

In the book, You are Not so Smart David McRaney gives the analogy that memories are equivalent to a bucket full of Legos. We select the individual pieces from the bucket to create the product that we want to create at any given moment. We decide to locate the individual Lego pieces we want to create a memory that provides us either satisfaction or sorrow, depending on the mood we want to be in at any given moment.

This isn’t to say that all memories are incorrect, but they can be influenced. If memories were files from a hard drive that we simply had to locate, we would never be incorrect once we located them. If memories were videos from a video vault, we couldn’t enhance a memory to be happy and undress a memory to be sad. When we construct the same memory two different ways, depending on our mood, it should be obvious to us that we’re constructing these memories on the fly, but we usually qualify our minor errors by saying, “Well, that’s just how I remember it.”

How many of us have heard a friend recount a moment we’ve shared with them, and those memories run contrary to how we remember them? How many of us have believed that that friend was lying? “He knows how it happened,” we tell a third party. “He just knows that how it really happened makes him look like a fool.” How many of us have confronted that friend, only to find that they were genuinely shocked at the manner in which we remember things? It happens all the time, and some of the times they’re not purposely lying. They’ve just constructed their memory to keep them happy in their world. It may be delusional, but it happens to us more often than we might think.

Talking heads often speak of a narrative that a politician creates for the voters. The narrative that the politician creates is the story of what happened as they see it, or as they want you to see it.  The narrative usually contains a grain of truth to it, for if it didn’t we would locate all the Lego pieces in our bucket that refutes everything the politician said. A smart politician, with a smart team of advisers and speech writers, will assemble a narrative, that has just enough truth to get us nodding our heads in agreement with what they’ve done in the past. They will then add a wrinkle to the narrative that enhances our memory and in doing so they add a memory to our Lego bucket when it comes time to vote. They will then repeat that enhanced narrative so often that it creates a construct in our brain that is almost impossible to defeat by those who remember things differently. With politicians, and their narratives, we all have selective memories. If it is a politician that we favor, we decide to remember the past in the light the politician provides, but if don’t favor them we may construct a memory that runs counter to everything the politician tries to tell us. As McRaney says throughout his book, we’re not as smart as we think we are when it comes to our memory.  Memories can be influenced, manipulated, refuted, and changed entirely.

I couldn’t get over what a pleasant day I was having at that ice cream parlor with my Brother and his boys. I had all my memory constructs lined up in a fashion that made me happy.  If I had died right then and there, it would’ve taken a coroner a week to pry the smile off my face. I remembered laughing with my Brother and my Dad, as I laughed with my Brother and his boys. I remembered a sense of being rewarded for being good when I was eating ice cream as a boy. I remembered how long it took my Brother to finish his ice cream cone and how that started a cavalcade of jokes about how long it took my Brother to complete anything. The day was shaping up to be a memorable one that I thought I could call upon if I was ever feeling down, when one of the kids started to act up.

He started screaming for no reason. He started rough housing with his younger brother, he started disobeying his Dad and talking back.  He started screaming for more ice cream, and he did anything and everything he could to be unruly. I would’ve never done such a thing. My Dad would’ve tanned my hide. Especially in public, I thought. I would’ve been more respectful to those around me, I thought. How dare he ruin this perfect moment was my first thought.  He’s ruined our moment, my moment, and I was angry at him for that.

Until, I started taking a more realistic look at my past. I started to remember that I was just as unruly as my nephew at his age, in this very same ice cream parlor. I remembered being bored, just sitting there, while the adults tried enjoy a moment of tranquility. My juvenile mind had been racing at a hundred miles an hour trying to create excitement for myself, and I wanted more ice cream, and I started rough housing with my younger brother just to make something happen. When I got in trouble for doing it, I started to mouth off, until a screaming match ensued, and my Dad marched us out of the place angrily. I ruined that moment, just like my nephew ruined this moment.

I was no different than him at his age. We both suffered from the oldest boy syndrome of seeking attention by selfishly trying to entertain ourselves by being naughty and unruly during the slow moments, with no respect for the others around us who are trying to enjoy a moment of tranquility at an ice cream parlor. Prior to my nephew’s outburst, I had been constructing a narrative of the pleasant moments of my life that were, in retrospect, not as pleasant as I wanted to remember them being.