About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness


In modern America, happiness is something to be suspicious of, as if trying to be happy is somehow wrong, maybe even slightly sinful.  I was talking to my friend Patrick, and he made a comment that makes me sad every time I think about it.  He said, “Where I come from, if your job doesn’t make you miserable, it’s not a job, it’s a hobby.”  The underlying meaning of his statement was you need to find a job that makes you miserable.  He fled the South to escape this idea and find pleasure in life.

Another friend of my told me, “Work sucks, get over it.  It’s never going to be fun.”

This rejection of enjoyment in life I think is the foundation of all of the awful things going on in this country and in the world.  We as a race have lost our capacity to be happy.

I want to point out, I’m not talking about the “better dead than sad” mentality that Joe Juhasz details in his writings.  I’m not talking about sadness an evil that has to be medicated away; we will all feel sad at various points in our lives.  Medicated happiness is just a chemical mask.  Rather than actually change circumstances to be happier, people just take Prozac to cope and not go out and kill themselves.

What I am talking about is basic, genuine pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right, and yet, like so many other rights, it seems like it is being stripped from us, not by the government, but by social pressure.  There is no force on earth more potent that social sanctions and stigmas.  Social pressure will force us to do almost anything.  It is the Third Dimension of Power, and the most insidious of them all.

Churches are against happiness.  They may claim to want you to be happy, but only if your happiness falls within their boundaries.  If your happiness conflicts with their teachings, it’s a sin, and you’re going to hell.  Even love, the most powerful emotion of happiness, is evil if it is with the wrong person, the wrong race, the wrong gender.  (And yes, there are still churches that preach against mixed race marriage, let alone gay marriage)

Governments, for the most part are against happiness.  This is a far less direct connection, but if your happiness conflicts with the moneyed interests who run the governments of the world, your happiness loses.  The ability to be healthy, secure in your old age, be educated without debt, those are all happinesses that conflict with what the special interests want.   Their happiness of the pursuit of wealth trumps all other forms of happiness.

But the worst one is the people in your life who don’t want you to be happy.  They encourage you to stay in a crappy job, a loveless marriage, a place you hate, because in today’s world, somehow wanting to be happy is equated with being immature.  They have succumbed to the notion that happiness is somehow something you only get to have as a child. 

I’m not talking about self indulgent, spoiled happiness.  I’m not talking about buying a sports car and getting a tarty blonde on your arm.  I’m talking about fundamental enjoyment of life.  I’m talking about eliminating the things in your life that make you miserable.

If you hate your job, quit, find something to do that gives you pleasure, even if the money isn’t as good.  If you have a rotten marriage, and all the efforts of marriage counseling and trying to fix it have not changed the equation, leave.  If you hate the place you live, move.  Chase your bliss.  You may be poorer or a little lonelier, but you will be happier.  You can make your own joy.

You can give yourself permission.

Saint Mary's Glacier

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