To avoid writers block I always like to pick up “writing prompt” books when I see them on sale at Barnes & Noble. One such book is known as The Philosophers Notebook. Inside you can find brief biographies explaining the philosophies of 20 bright minds found throughout history. Along with the biographies you’re typically given two or three prompts to help you learn to think the way these philosophers did during their heyday. From time to time I’ll be stealing these prompts and writing about them here.
Inspired by the past few letters shared with my sister, I found myself drawn to the Happiness prompt found in Epicurus’ section of the book. Epicurus was known for putting the pursuit of happiness and avoidance of pain above all else. Some argue that this was just an excuse for overindulgence and a life of hedonism, but Epicurus would be quick to remind you that many of life’s pleasures come with painful repercussions. For example, in the moment it might give you great happiness to eat a dozen hot wings with ghost pepper sauce but you shouldn’t neglect to take into account the spicy aftermath that is sure to follow some 4-12 hours later. And that example is taken directly from his teachings. Seriously, Epi was a huge fan of Buffalo Wild Wings, the location where most of his teachings took place. Just check it out on Wikipedia.
Anyway, the prompt we’re asked to complete is to make a list of the things that make us happy (I’m not going to do that) and then ask ourselves if we do these things because they make us happy, or if are we are happy because we do those things (I’ll kind of do that). And naturally, an intelligent person such as yourself probably just read that and said “WTF does that even mean?” I know that’s what I did. But after staring at the question for 15 minutes I think I finally wrapped my head around the question (just kidding I’ve changed my mind on the meaning 3 times and counting). Do we go to happiness or does happiness come to us through the things we do? And if I interpreted that wrong, feel free to correct me but that’s what we’re going with for now.
I’m going to use writing as an example of something that gives me happiness. To answer the first part of the prompt, yes I absolutely write because it makes me happy. My dopamine level is undoubtedly higher at the end of a writing session compared to the beginning. Achieving that little bit of happiness plays a major deciding factor in why I choose to sit down to write in the first place. I selfishly and naturally like to feel happiness, writing makes me happy, so I sit down to write. I guess you can say I write because it makes me happy. Pretty straightforward.
But am I happy because I write? I don’t know. If you asked me to write about tall fescue grass seed I don’t know how much happiness I’d derive from that process. Sure, Tall Fescue is way cooler than Kentucky Bluegrass but is there joy to be found writing about its grassy superiority? Probably not and that’s coming from a former lawn and garden sales associate revered up and down the Atlantic Coast. With that said, the mere act of writing typically makes me happy even when writing isn’t as fruitful as I might wish. I know that writing makes me happy so when I’m done writing and riding the wave of a good session I’m even more content with myself because I know I’m doing something that seems very beneficial for me and my brain.
So where does that leave us? Confused, right? Now that I’ve gone through this process, I think I have a little clearer understanding of the question at hand. Is happiness a selfish pursuit or does it come to us despite ourselves? I think the answer is obviously both. Happiness is there to be taken and simultaneously gives itself to us. It’s a mutual relationship where both parties play an active role. But I think happiness is kind of like the shy girl you had a crush on a long time ago. She might be there waiting to give you everything you’ve been looking for, but you’ll never know what it’s all about if you don’t take the initiative and introduce yourself.
God damn am I deep. Someone find me a bistro table, a pack of cigarettes, and a sunset. I got stuff to think about.