Things don’t just happen

Screenshot Sims 4. Romance and family aspirations collide.

Babies don’t just happen. Well, for Don they do, but for Carola they are a life aspiration. Sometimes life happens to us, other times we happen to it. (Don’t worry, no babies happened at the Chaos Node! The picture is from Sims 4, where the imaginary people are more normal than me.)

The “Science of Happiness” course from Berkeley is not all theory: Each week they introduce an exercise that is known to increase happiness in most people. The first week we were told to write down, each day, three good things that happened to us, or that went well for us, that day.

I managed to get three such things the first day, with a little imagination, and for the next two days I was on the lookout for them through the day. But my conclusion was that this was counterproductive and meaningless to me. (It is probably a great idea for most people, and I don’t see any reason not to recommend it for my readers.)

In my case, however, I don’t often see the world as happening to me. Rather, I see myself as happening to the world. This is certainly not without exception, but it is usually what I focus on. There are of course a great many things that I have no influence on, but which have some degree of influence on me, such as weather or traffic. But they usually don’t influence my happiness. They don’t register as “good” or “bad”. If it rains, it is probably not direct sunshine at the same time, and I can read on my way to and from work. On the other hand, it means I get wet to some degree – my walk to get to work and back is half an hour each way, not counting the bus ride where I read (or not). Conversely if the sun shines, I am unlikely to get soaking wet, but also unlikely to get any reading done. So I do something else instead.

In other words: I simply alter my micro-behavior according to the circumstance. This is not really something that registers as “good” or “bad”, but as “action” on my part. It is part of my self-view that I am the subject rather than the object, I am the one that acts. I don’t usually assign responsibility to the world. I am responsible, where possible (although I may not always act like a responsible adult). The world is the canvas on which I paint my life.

It is only when the canvas is badly frayed that I assign it some part in the outcome. When something happens that threatens my ability to maneuver around it, like a potentially life-threatening or disabling illness, or if I ever experience serious crime or accident. These have not happened so far, by the unusual and extraordinary grace of the Light, despite my 55 years on this planet, which certainly is a good thing, but not usually something you write down every day. I mean, “Did not die today either, was not shot or stabbed today either, house did not burn down today either” are certainly a list of good things; but it does not really have the flavor that the exercise was aiming at.

When the road gets so bumpy that I can’t hold on, such as being rushed to hospital, I am unlikely to write it down the same day as a good thing. Years later, perhaps. But it takes about as much as that for me to notice the world happening to me, rather than I to it.

I explain this in the uncouth but memorable term that “shitting is part of eating”. When I choose to do something that has a range of likely outcomes, then any of those outcomes is a part of the original choice, even if their exact time and form is not known in advance. So you can’t eat and not expect a toilet visit at some future point. You can’t borrow and not expect to pay back with interest. You can’t go to bed late and not expect to be tired the next day. You can’t eat whatever you want and just sit still and expect to be in great shape for the foreseeable future.

Life has some randomness but it also has a lot of causality. There is little I can do about the randomness, so I leave that in the hands of Heaven for the most part (with the occasional request) and concentrate on the causal part, especially the part where I am the cause. When other people cause things, I tend to lump it with the “random” part, since everything I have learned implies that most humans have even less control of what they do than I have. And I certainly have my limitations, not just of the body but also of the mind. Make no mistake, the mind or personality (the psyche in psychology) is limited much as the body is. You can train them both and force them to some degree, but often you have to plan around their limitations or else accept them. Such is the life I live, it is focused on myself — yet not quite in the same way that most self-centered people are.

So how about you?

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