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Happy Now?

by on September 14, 2014

                                                                       Happy Now?

                                                                 by Marco M. Pardi


Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The COMMENTS section for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments.

“The happiness that is genuinely satisfying is accompanied by the fullest exercise of our faculties, and the fullest realization of the world in which we live.” Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970).  The Conquest of Happiness, 7, 1930.

As I was preparing my last post I stopped and circulated among my e-mail friends a request for topics and ideas.  Several responded and the topics were quite thought provoking.  One of them, from a Canadian friend, Ray, who is a covert polymath and a person for whom I have great respect, suggested happiness – or at least a subject we can do something about.  In our contemporary flurry of problems du jour, this sat me up straight.  Happiness?  Happy?

At first glance writing about this seemed tantamount to asking a fish, “How’s the water?” Everyone’s swimming in it but has to have it brought to their attention by an outsider.  A trip to the bookstore supports that, with shelf after shelf of How to be Happy books written by everyone from Charles Manson to the Dalai Lama.  Why so many?

Throughout my childhood the most common thing people said to me was, “Cheer up. Don’t look so sad.”  After hours of mirror gazing to try to discover what they saw that I didn’t I finally settled on the stock response, “That’s the way my face hangs. Live with it.”  And here’s a clue: Porpoises ARE NOT SMILING!  Their mouths are shaped in ways humans interpret as smiles.  And I doubt they are happy to see you, so get your oily ass out of their water and leave them alone.

But around the same time I discovered that I had a facility with wry humor, apparently in unusual and unexpected ways.  Where was this coming from?  Was there indeed a deep sadness that could morph reality in ways that others found spontaneously amusing, if disturbing?  One of my favorite characters on the Mork & Mindy show was the guy who lived upstairs and stayed totally drunk in order to do his job writing those sappy greeting cards we buy in the stores.

In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ suicide we again see the self styled experts intoning on the dark side behind every happy face, the sense of the tragic underlying what we outsiders see only as humor.   But is that true?  Is humor, or another manifestation of happiness a compensation for some deep, inner pain?  When young I bought into the suffering artist meme, that no great works emerge except from pain.  But as I got to know actual artists, visual and literary, I found that not to be true.  The woman who shared her life with me for several years had long put sadness behind her.  Sure, like me she could get irritated at the sometimes idiocy of daily life.  But her greatest distress, when there was any, was during times when that daily life impinged on her desire to paint.  So, she painted.  Was she running from reality? Was she just blissfully unaware?  Absolutely not.  She could, without a wasted word, perform micro-surgery on the prattle of small minds and the pomposity of big ones.  But therein lay the secret; because she could did not mean she would.  Avoiding nothing, she took in everything – and put it in its proper place. With an unerring sense of what, for her, was actionable and what was not, she disarmed and resolved problems appropriately, letting other dust settle elsewhere.  Newly minted martial arts enthusiasts often walk about tensed and ready for action, exhausting themselves on nothing by the end of the day.  She, by contrast, was open and relaxed, rightfully confident in her ability to act as needed, where needed, and when needed.  She did not tense herself into exhaustion over imaginary or inappropriate problems.  Being with her was pure happiness.  Not constant giggling.  Not forgetting the ways of the world.  But rather the indescribable experience of true mindfulness in every moment, true knowing – but without the burden so many seem to think knowing to be.  We could discuss any topic, and often did, all through the night.  She knew she had a cardio-vascular condition which would cut her life expectancy in half.  And every time I cautioned against the Creamora in her morning coffee she kindly laughed and said, “I won’t be here long.”  She was right.  She knew that killing time was killing yourself.  Oh, and by the way, she was an expert shot.

I get almost the same experience when I am with my dear friend Jamie Butler –  .  In fact, when we have lunch or dinner together I feel selfish.  Certainly I’m getting more from being with her than she is from me.  Yet, she is kind enough to humor me.  After every college class of mine at which she spoke students unanimously commented on how she seemed genuinely happy and comfortable, all the while helping people who were often in end-of-the-road distress.  It’s no act.  Nor has anyone ever implied it was an act.  This is a person who radiates happiness yet is very deeply aware.

So how did/do they do that?  Reading books?  Were they born that way, and us poor sods can only try to imitate them?  How do they perceive what they perceive and not just fold over in pain, tune out, or develop some humor which really, when you think about it, isn’t funny?  I don’t know, except that books weren’t part of it.

I do know there are times when you have to save yourself.  One of my colleagues in counter-terrorism had previously had a thriving practice as a Master of Social Work (MSW) therapist in a major South Western American city.  I asked him what drew him away from this and into our hands.   Was it the lure of working with terrorism first response teams, which I deployed with? 

He quietly and privately explained that he was not drawn as much as he was pushed.  His office had a major contract with the city animal control division.  Unseen by the uncaring  outside world, his days, and nights, were spent providing psychotherapy to the employees whose duty it was to “euthanize” (read: Kill) the multitude of abandoned, lost, handed over because they didn’t match the new furniture, or just temporarily loose and picked up dogs and cats, including their litters of newborns.  To say there were alcohol and other drug problems would be an understatement.  Day after day these employees went to Death Row and opened the cages for squirming, licking, tail wagging dogs and cats, kittens and puppies overjoyed at human contact and freedom, licking the employees’ faces even as their forelegs were shaved for the placement of the needle, and slumping helplessly to their final sleep of death.  And these were the ones that got the “humane” treatment as opposed to clawing, scratching, crying out in the gas chamber.  Their bodies were dumped in a pile for pick-up at the end of the shift.

The toll on the employees was crushing.  The toll on my colleague, just allowing these employees to vent and to decry the miserable lack of employment options elsewhere was crushing him.  He feared he would begin to drink just to face his own employment.  It took a toll on me, at two steps removed.   All this largely because people are too lazy, too stupid, too macho to spay/neuter their pets or at least control them.

Even hearing this, as you are reading it now, is this reality a source of happiness?  Should we break out in song that All Dogs Go To Heaven?  How many people read an article in the newspaper about the local animal “shelters”, the numbers they kill yearly, and do anything beyond cluck and move on to a “happier” topic?  And, the purveyors of Happy Books will continue to churn out their soporific pap, with a ready market, a market which often says, “Well, this may work for other people” and goes on to the next offering.  It seems happiness ain’t easy.  But in this case we can do something about it.  We can engage the community, including venues such as PetSmart, to sponsor Spay/Neuter events at no cost or reduced cost.  What could be greater happiness than a bucket of balls at the end of a long day?  Remember, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man” — Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

If you think this is a turn to the Dark Side, it is.  All my life I’ve been light sensitive, to say nothing of information sensitive.  Night is my friend.  First hearing of the Prince of Darkness I hoped to apply for the position.  Night allows me to structure what I see – not to deny anything, for my mind runs 24/7.  It allows me to get into that snowglobe and choose the flakes to follow, aware of the others but free from their demands, able to let them take their places as they will without being dragged after them.

This morning my eye doctor told me I have somewhat unusual cataracts developing; on a scale of 1 – 4 they are a 3, but they are brown in color and perfectly clear.  No surgery needed.  I happily said, “Oh, I’m wearing internal sunglasses!”  We laughed at the imagery of that, but I left wondering whether the color has anything to do with the fact that I see the world as basically …. well, you know.

So, cheer up. Why the sad face?

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  1. This is the most open I have ever known you to be about your personal life; publicly, at least. I am pleased to finally understand that you found the yin for your yang, the light for your darkness. I am saddened to know that it lasted for so short a time; but, true happiness and contentment, even for a short while, is better than to have never have known it at all. Once again, you have my sincere condolences for the loss of your dearest one.

    My Autumn was born with the gift of joy. From birth, despite her various handicaps, she lent that joy to any who knew her, even for a moment. Every morning, she wakes up with a big smile and a happy greeting for everyone. It is impossible to be around her and not have some of that happiness rub off on you. I’d love it if you could meet her someday to experience what I’m trying to say.

    By the way, welcome to the dark side, Marco. We have cookies! Rose


    • Dana permalink

      Marco and Rose, I am often at a loss for words when in company such as yours. What you have done for me today is once again “humanize” human beings. I don’t ever want to forget about the goodness in our species, and it is absolutely there.


    • Rose, I would be honored by the opportunity to meet Autumn. I have no doubt I would find happiness there, and a lot of meaning as well. Marco


  2. Thank you, Rose. I admit I do, indeed, have a context. Sometimes it’s hard to agree that having the experience was better than not having it. And as we get older the losses just seem to mount up. But I agree with you.

    I love your closing line. I’m not a food oriented person so I can’t give a name to the cookie I like. I just know it when I see it. Sounds like a lot of life.

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. Marco


  3. Dana permalink

    Thanks very much to Ray for provoking my own thoughts about happiness today.

    Marco, I wonder if those who have had mystical experiences might describe those moments as happiness. There might be another blog in there.

    Jamie Butler indeed radiates happiness, and I can attest it is no act. She, along with the others I have had the privilege of knowing through you, Marco, is a source of inspiration. You know and have known some truly gifted, admirable human beings, and I thank you and the rest for your place in my life.

    There are definitely those human beings and non-human animals that bring me happiness, whether or not they have tried!


    • Thank you, Dana. Knowing you, and to the extent possible knowing the very tough circumstances you have so successfully navigated is a daily reminder that happiness is not just some silly mood. It is a deep wellspring of understanding, courage and resilience – and you certainly are an inexhaustible source of those.

      Yes, mystical experiences are, at least as I experience them, happy experiences. Of course, they also call upon us to have the strength to return to the mundane, even as the experience itself grows more distant in time. You and Billie are Boddhisatvas each in your own special ways. Marco


      • Dana permalink

        Thank you Marco. Your words are very meaningful.

        I’m reminded of a wonderfully happy mystical experience I had on the GPC Dunwoody campus after leaving one of your classes. Jerry was there, too, and I was glad he had a part in my experience (even though I realize he was completely unaware of this at the time!).


  4. Mark Dohle permalink

    First of all I love the way you educate people like me on the plight of animals. Also on how they are much more that we realize, that they do have levels of awareness different than ours, but real just the same.

    I think humor has many levels. My humor can have a cutting edge to it, it makes people laugh but I believe it comes from a place that needs humor in order to be kept in balance whatever energy feeds it. When I read the “funnies” I often find it a deeply moving experience, for in these funny stories there comes out a compassion for the human plight. Some strips do disturb, like ‘Kevin and Kell”. A world where animals live together and also feed off of each other and yet presented in a humorous vein.

    I believe we find happiness when we are not looking for it. Self absorption may lead to a great deal of pleasure, but pleasure for its own sake is empty. I once read an article where the author stated that married couples without children where ‘happier’ than those with them. Then he said this, in paraphrase of course: “Couples with children may not be as happy, but their lives have more meaning”. After I read that I wondered what he was talking about. Is happiness just having a good time? No, it is something deeper, and meaning has something to do with it I believe.

    I would like to bring up this point. It is good that we are starting to look into the ways we treat animals, and some even speak of animal rights. Also, how a culture treats animals does say something about it. I think the same can be said for the rights of the un-born. Though nothing will change, I feel that this is something that eats away at the heart of our culture leading to a hardening of our ability, again as a culture, to care for those who need protection. For instance our nursing homes, many are places where the care is sub-level and the understaffed. The people there are considered a source of income; their care is put in second place. I have known C N A’s who have told me that they had to take care of as many as 15 patients during their shift I have no answer, but the mind numbing mantra “a women right to choose” takes away from the sacredness of human life as well as that of our brothers and sisters who are non-human.

    There is no easy answer to what you are saying about the treatment of animals, just as there are no easy answers for abortion or the care of our elderly, but I think this is also something that needs to be discussed in the larger culture.

    Women do suffer after abortion. I have talked to quite a few, and most say they were never told of the aftermath that they would have to carry. I feel only compassion for them and healing is slow.


  5. Thank you so much, Mark. There is so much in what you say it is hard to know where to start. Obviously, I favor open access to contraception, for non-humans and humans alike. And I agree that meaning is different from “happiness.” This raises the question of meaningful life versus being kept alive against one’s wishes. I recall, while placing my thanatology students in nursing homes, listening to a litany of “I wanna die, I wanna die” coming from patients strapped into beds, awaiting their dose of tranquilizing drugs from the “nurse”. We have a long way to go as humans before we can call ourselves humane.

    I hope you find something of mine worth commenting on in your daily blogs. I so appreciate reading them. Perhaps, as the two of us continue to write, we can move forward together. Marco


  6. Mark, I guess what I was trying to say is that, for me, there is no happiness greater than meaning. I found great happiness in the realization that my interaction with college students was meaningful to many of them. Marco


  7. Wow, what a read and what a ride ! You touch on so many `big` subjects it is difficult to give an appropriate answer to all. My mind seems to be restless after reading this.
    I also enjoyed all the incredibly profound comments that everyone else shared here, and I` m touched and honored to know that now, thanks to you Marco, they are also my friends.

    I won`t comment on your own loss and the tragedy of animals` `euthanasia` because they are too sensitive topics for my poor heart. Just reading about it makes me bleed inside.
    But as far as happiness is concerned, I want to say that I find my greatest happiness in the tiny things in life, in the every day familiar moments spent with people I love, animals I adore, and in the bliss of some special dreams 🙂 ..

    I gave up a few years ago chasing the `big` happiness, whatever that is, and the greatest paradox is that I have been at my happiest ever since.
    I believe myself to be a happy person, but thinking deeply about it, I realize how my happiness is merely a mirror, a kind of reflection of my loved ones` happiness and wellbeing.
    I simply feel so happy when I can make somebody I love happy. Maybe for me that is the truest happiness.
    And YET…what would happen to my happiness if they were taken away from me …?
    I dont know. It is a terrible question. And by this terror I realize how ephimereal my happiness is.

    Thank you for sharing your life Marco, it certainly enhances ours.


    • Thank you, FOAL. Aldous Huxley said, “Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities.” I agree. And, happiness is how we define it, not how others see us. So glad you are happy, and know it. Marco


  8. oops, sorry for a typo `ephemeral` … 😉


  9. Mark Dohle permalink

    Not every problem in society can be covered by everyone Marco. I do believe if as a society we became aware of the plight of our pets and how cruel we can often be towards them, the compassionate generated would spread to other areas of our society as well.

    Animals are innocent. While they do kill and eat and fight, it is for survival and not just for sport. As far as I know we are the only species that kills and causes pain for the ‘fun’ of it. Being self aware and highly intelligent brings with it responsibility, something we still need to learn I believe.

    I am reading Dean Koontz’s book “the darkest evening of the year”, which deals with the evil that people do and the struggle against this, it also deals with the plight of animals, dogs mostly. Dean has a special love for dogs it seems.



  10. Gary permalink

    Happiness for me is something I describe as being “comfortable in my own skin and enjoying my own company”. I do not depend on the opinion of others to verify my worth or lack thereof. I don’t wake in the morning anxious that I have some unfulfilled goal or mission to achieve, or stand in front of the bathroom mirror doing positive affirmations: “I will be a better person today, I will, I will!” It took me 21 years of a first marriage to realize that you cannot make other people happy. I thought if only I do this or if only I do that she will be happy, because, well, that was what she constantly told me. But she remained unmoved and eventually we both moved out and on. Every person must achieve happiness for themselves. How they do that I cannot say.

    I was pleased that you opened your post with a quote from Bertrand Russell. I read his book, “Why I am not a Christian”. Essentially, the message was that one of the important objectives in life is to seek and achieve happiness. He believed Christianity did everything in its power to thwart that objective.


    • Thank you, Gary. I’m betting most of us have in one way or another come to realize the foolishness of “making” anybody anything. As I used to tell students, when I’m walking across campus and someone yells out “Hey, stupid!” I don’t turn around. I know who I am and I don’t need to pick things out of the air to add to or adjust the self image. This also means refusal to take the blame or the credit for someone else’s self image.

      Bertrand Russell was quite the realist. Glad you appreciated that. Marco


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