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, February 14, 2012

Being Happy Requires Hard Work


We live in a world where the concept that sadness is the worst thing that can happen to us; it is worse than even death.  My mentor, Joe Juhasz has written extensively on this concept.  This has lead to the idea that we must always be happy, or something is wrong.  And further, if we are not happy, we need to do something about it, like getting Prozac, rather than reflect and understand why we are not happy.  Sadness has become a disease or a psychiatric disorder.

I blogged about the flip side of this a couple of months ago in the post "The Pursuit ofHappiness," where I addressed the fact that as a society, we do not welcome people finding actual happiness.  These two ideas are more intertwined, and far less contradictory, than they might appear.

The reason for this is happiness is hard work, and as a society, we no longer seem to value hard work where it relates to personal growth. 

I fear that part of the reason for this is personal growth takes work that distracts from your job, which is a 24/7 endeavor in today's society.  You are expected to leave your emotions at the door, even if you are coping with the death of a loved one, a disintegrating relationship, or an unfulfilled spiritual life.  We are expected to be robots on the job, never breaking down or complaining.  And God forbid that we need "personal time," to deal with issues in our lives.

Medication is much easier, and doesn't require time away from the e-mail inbox or completing TPS Reports.

But regardless of the reason, we find it easier to move on and dispose of things in our lives, rather to work on finding happiness.  Everything is disposable: friends, lovers, children, pets, jobs, or anything else that is problematic in our lives.

I do want to say here, that I am not advocating staying in a situation that is fundamentally bad.  I recently left a job because the entire situation was making me a fearful, bitter and angry person.  But I made that move after fully exploring what was making me unhappy, analyzing it, trying to make changes, and finally coming to the realization that there was no fixing the problems, they where systemic and unsolvable. 

This is an example of why finding happiness is hard work, it requires deep knowledge of the self.  You have to work at it.

But today, we dispose of everything in our lives; it is what we are trained to do.  I've addressed this before, as an outgrowth of the need to justify the vast industrial machine that drove the age of American Dominion.  We had to create the ideas of planned obsolescence  and unfashionability to drive consumerism.  Without them, people would still be buying one refrigerator per generation.  (And on that note, apparently, Chihuahuas are no longer in style.  They've moved from a must have to the overstock bargain bin, and socialites all over California are dumping their now unfashionable accessory dogs at shelters.  It is so bad that they are airlifting the surplus out of California.)

And I would like to insert, energy efficiency is the new planned obsolescence.  You go buy a new dryer, refrigerator or exterior windows because of the energy savings.  The bad news of this is, the embodied energy of replacing a dryer that is only a few years old cannot be made up by purchasing a more energy efficient model.  In trying to save electricity, you contribute to the larger problem of resource consumption.

But back to my point, this disposable ideology spills out into other areas; it's called "collateral damage."  Training does not stay contained in nice neat boxes, it ripples through all of our cognitive processes with potentially devastating effects. 

The first ripple is the idea that things can provide happiness.  Retail Therapy is no longer a joke; if you have a bad day, just hit the mall.  "Shopping is a feeling," to quote David Byrne.  We teach people that you can fill the hole in your soul with possessions.  And since things never are as messy to deal with as people (unless you are a hoarder, the new people who love too much) we prefer our stuff to people.

This is especially true with computers.  Our computers, via social media, substitute for real connections.  The computer mediates human interaction, detaches it from reality, and allows us to feel almost nothing for the people we "interact" with on line.  The stuff (an electronic device) simulates, and replaces, human contact.

And again, its easy, which satisfies our lack of desire to work on actual personal development.

The second ripple is the idea that we do not need to fix things that are broken, we just replace them.  Rather than fix your tired relationship, just go buy a new, more exciting one, preferably one fresh off the factory floor.  (And yes, feel free to read into this.  The trophy wife is 20 years younger for a reason, less repairs are needed, maybe just some cosmetic retrofitting.)

We no longer value working on a relationship, or anything else in our life.  If a career is no longer fulfilling, go back to school and try something new; never mind that you spent 20 years in the profession, rather than working to figure out what is not satisfying about the job, just go herd alpacas, start a winery. 

Conversely, there are many people who go into a profession just to earn money, even though it doesn't make them happy, just so they can retire and start the winery, which was always their dream.  Chase the dream from the start, don't dispose of years of your life just to get money.  Accumulation of money is not the purpose of life, no matter what they tell you.

This replaceablity and interchangeability further weakens our drive to actually understand ourselves, and actually figure out what makes us happy.  We have starter wives, starter careers, starter friends, starter lives, all of which are expected to be thrown away for something better in the future.

The final ripple of disposability is that things are easy.  This goes hand in hand with not bothering to fix things.  We value easy, we don't value investment.  We want weight loss drugs that allow us to drop fifty pounds without changing our diet or exercising.  We want love at first sight, with passion that never needs fanning.  We want the miracle cure, the fall into, the quick fix.

And when we can't get it, because it doesn't exist, we become devastated.  We fall into depression, the veil of dispair covers us, and then we don't want to work to fix it.  We pop a Prozac and a Xanex.  We wash it down with a Valium and a beer.  We run away from the unhappiness without actually addressing the causes and trying to actually fix it.  It is so much easier to medicate it away.

We want to dispose of sadness, just like we dispose of everything else.

Just like we have been taught.

But life isn't that easy.  Entire traditions, the Kabala, Alchemy, Masonry, Aesthetic Spirituality, Buddhisim, and many others dwell on the idea of perfecting yourself.  They create the crucible to burn away the impurities of life, in order to find happiness.

But it isn't happiness like we think of it; it is the satisfaction of knowing yourself.  It is the ability to know what you want in life.

And that knowledge gives you the courage to pursue it.

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