Swing, Fall, Balance
The incipient rumble of autumn was there in in the city, as my friend DW and I went out to the park to meet for one of our weekly chats. Something about the shifting season and an article I had to write had us talking on the topic of happiness …
ME: It’s a state of mind.
DW: What is?
ME: Happiness, it’s a state of mind.
DW: Everything is a state of mind.
ME: Except the things that aren’t.
DW: Okay.… What’s your angle on it, anyway? What are you writing?
ME: Well, I think I’m trying to write about happiness, but it’s impossible.
DW: Nothing is impossible.
ME: Okay, not impossible, but it feels crazy.
DW: Crazy?! Crazy is two grown men sitting on the kids’ swings at the park, talking about happiness.
ME: Yeah, maybe, but I’m starting to think that happiness might be the craziest response to life.
DW: Do you think? I mean, what’s the alternative? What could be better than a happy reaction to it all?
ME: See, it’s that idea of happiness that I can’t get alongside. I don’t think it should be a reaction at all. I want to find a universal happiness.
DW: There isn’t one.
ME: But there must be … we’re all humans; there must be a way of thinking about happiness that allows for a common approach.
DW: Yet where I find joy is different from where you might find it.
ME: But we’re talking about two different things. What I’m talking about isn’t just simply being happy as a reaction to something. I’m trying to pin down something more stable and lasting.
DW: Well, if that’s what you mean by happiness, then I would say true happiness can’t be found in this world – the limited world of the physical. Maybe beyond that, but not within it.
ME: But we’re talking about the physical here, because that’s what we know. Let’s talk about what we know.
DW: Oh, you know about that, huh? So enlighten me: what do you know?
ME: I’m not sure, but I know that whatever it is, it’s more than you.
DW: Ha! I see you know a lot about the ego, anyway. Look, let me tell you what I know about happiness: we’re sad because things don’t work out how we’d wish. In fact, they often work out the opposite way, and we struggle, and it can feel like hell. Then time passes, and what we had thought was impossible happens: the pain eases off, good things come our way and we’re happy for a while.
ME: See, that’s my point –
DW: I think you’ll find that that was my point.
ME: No, the part about it being “for a while”. Why only a while?
DW: Because nothing lasts forever.
ME: I know it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean aim for the short term. Why not aim for something more substantial?
DW: How so?
ME: Think of it like this: if we’re simply reacting to everything in turns of overwhelming joy and sadness, then we’re always at the mercy of our senses and emotions.
DW: Because that’s what we are: senses and emotions!
ME: But we can determine to what extent those things control us, right?
ME: Not maybe, surely! Nothing is impossible …
DW: Touché. But how do you figure?
ME: Well, I figure, if we don’t simply react to all the things outside our control then we allow for a more balanced approach.
DW: What do you mean by not reacting?
ME: I mean not plunging into actions without reflection. As more balanced individuals we can be more understanding of others – by not having excessive expectations, for instance. Think about times when you expect something from someone – you invest all this emotion on the assumption that they’ll act as you wish, but you leave no room for empathy. It happens all the time in relationships, whether husband/ wife, brother/sister, friends. And that lack of balance in understanding leads to distress.
DW: I’m hoping that wasn’t a dig at me at the end there …
ME: Nah, you’re not really even a friend.
DW: Yeah, funny. But wait, you’re throwing me off the point … So you think you shouldn’t expect anything from anyone?
ME: Well, that’s an extreme proposition and kind of unlikely – although I like the sound of it. No, I’m not saying that; I’m talking about the extent to which we have expectations, and about not being at the mercy of someone else’s actions.
DW: So where do you find that balance? How do you stop yourself from swinging about all over the place, at the mercy of your emotional reactions to other people?
ME: What do you mean?
DW: I mean: don’t you need something solid to hold on to, to give you that kind of steadiness you’re talking about?
ME: Well, I suppose that would make sense.
DW: So what is that something solid? Is it something outside you, or something you find inside?
ME: I suppose it can be something different for each individual. For one person it could be faith, for another willpower, for someone else love …
DW: I guess. But, this thing about not being over-sad or over-happy: do you think we should all be void of emotion or something?
ME: You know I don’t mean that: you always take the extreme point.
DW: I like to watch you having to explain yourself.
ME: Well, I didn’t mean we should be emotionless. I was talking about being careful not to tip the balance in any given situation, so as not to completely lose control. It’s like: taking on all your important responsibilities, with all your heart, but remaining removed enough to remember that the outcome isn’t always in your hands. Being serious about life, but not being a serious person.
DW: Well, don’t worry: I don’t take you seriously.
ME: Nothing but compliments from this guy!
DW: I’m just kidding, man. But you make it sound like it’s so easy.
ME: I know it’s not easy – believe me, I’ve tried – but I guess that’s often the way with a worthwhile cause.
DW: I mean: it’s not like you can decide to be this happy and not that happy …
ME: Sure, it’s not a switch; it’s a way of life, something to work towards.
DW: Chipping away at it day-by-day, huh?
ME: That’s what I’m saying.
DW: It’s … it’s a daily vigil.
DW: And you know what?
DW: It’s like I was saying from the start: it’s a state of mind.