Friday, April 10, 2015

A Path to Lifelong Happiness?

Olivier and Yorick
On Wednesday, I wrote about the fact that -- to cram things into a nutshell -- I seem to keep wanting to improve myself, musically, even though no one cares or is likely to reward me. Through a gradual series of thoughts since then, I realized that this kind of attitude might just be the secret to lifelong happiness.

Here's how the thoughts went. I saw a picture on Twitter of a French author who tried to kill herself (the tweet said) twice. I turned to my wife and said, as I have before -- which must be very comforting to her -- that I fully understand why people kill themselves. There have been days in especially long strings of mundane days, during which I thought: "This is it? This is my life?" I then imagine a person who feels trapped in these sorts of days; a person who sees no change coming; who has nothing to look forward to. I see, in short, Hamlet:

I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. 'What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

Suicide can often come from a total lack of interest in life -- from a feeling that there is nothing exciting of beautiful to look forward to. If not suicide, sadness, itself. (Of course, I'd be a fool to imply that suicide and sadness come only from hyper-boredom, but it is one sort of common source.) "When we feel we have nothing to look forward to, why go on?" some think. Again, suicide is the most extreme reaction. More common would be to live one's life in a constant state of sulking and disappointment, as I have seen many older people do; older people who feel life let them down...

Which got me thinking, on the way home from a guitar lesson last night, of the wisdom of Louis CK (whose ideas I sometimes disagree with and sometimes find brilliant) who said, about being in one's forties (read below or watch here, if you want, but not work or kiddie safe language):

"You're not old enough for anybody to give a $%^@ that you're old. Noboby's gonna say, "I helped a forty-year old guy today and it felt really good to do something for him. Nobody spends their holidays delivering hot meals to forty-year-olds. And you're not young enough for anyone to ever be proud of you or impressed...they're just like, "Yeah, do your job, @##hole. Nobody cares. That's what you're supposed to do."

See, in our younger days, there is a constant feeling of momentum -- a state of momentum that can be totally devoid of logic or action. There is a sense that we are becoming. That something will happen some day -- even if we are doing nothing to bring that thing about. We are young. People look at us with pride about what we do: good game; you're handsome or beautiful; great report card; you're such a polite young man or woman...

...after forty, who cares? Louis CK is right... We have "become" something... We're adults. 

This is why we need to keep, somewhere, a sense that we are not finished becoming who we are
going to be. But, without external approval and without a sense of the looming possibility of "success" many adults give up and they coast through to the end, either sad or in a constant state of justifying their existence. "I am the best salesman who ever lived" or "No one makes meatballs like me." 

I once thought my dad had it right. He used to proudly say, "Look at me -- I'm sixty and I still think I am going to be famous some day." He'd usually say this after playing new composition for me. He almost had it, though -- not quite. It was good that he still felt a propulsion, but it was bad that he still looked for success in the eyes of those around him. It never came. And when it became clear this was never going to happen, his enthusiasm (and, sadly, his happiness) waned. 

If our happiness and will to live are based on what we think the world owes us or on how other people see us or on how rewarded we have been for our efforts, we are bound to be disappointed. 

There are thousands out there with Elton John's talent or with Einstein's intelligence or with athletic ability to compete with the best who ever lived who will never be famous or rich. If these people learn to throw off the need for approval and to compose, think and play for the love of those things, alone, they will remain happy. If not, no matter how "fretted with golden fire" the "majestical roof" of the sky is, it will never be beautiful. The "foul and pestilent" vapors will congregate -- they will rise out of the disappointments over the Grammy that never came; the trophy that was never won; the billions that were never earned. 

Somehow, we need to crawl out of the cocoon of comfort we have been conditioned, as children and as young adults, to desire: the comfort of approval and reward. The advice of doing things for the love of them is not new, but the task of shrugging off the approval of our fellow humans seems not to be so easy for many. Easy or not, if we want to die happy -- those of us who don't reach the lofty heights of universal approval -- we must do it. 

Ever hear my music? It doesn't matter to me. Don't get me wrong: I want you to hear it. I also want you to like it. It is my greatest wish that it might move you emotionally...but I don't need it to. Your approval of my work would be a cool augmentation to the already rewarding act of composition, creating for the sake of creating, I have already been fulfilled. I will continue to write music until I die. 

When I am sixty, I will not write music as if I might still someday be famous, I will write it because, as Rachmaninoff said: "Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music." For you, it may not be about music, but you can plug the proper word, for your own interests, in. In the end, real rewards come from within the heart, not from the hands of another.

If one doesn't have interests in things that can be done without the approval and praise of others, one needs to find them. When it comes time that no one cares about what you do, you need to care.. it seems to me.

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