The Fantastic Trick of Being Alive

I am less interested in happiness these days than I once was.

Nutana Cafe

I suppose you could argue that I am lying, what with my praising the glory that is my SAD lamp, but you would be wrong. There is a difference between no longer wanting to off yourself and feeling happy. There are myriad emotions on the other side of suicidal ideation, and only a narrow spectrum of those are about happiness.

There is a lot of talk now about happiness and how to find it, but I'm less and less inclined to buy what they're selling. We each define our sense of happiness differently, so a seller can say HAPPINESS, and we will each come up with our own product description. Most often, they're only selling us our own assumptions about a transient emotion.


Positive affirmations, a mainstay of the happiness-seeking self-help complex, have always made me feel like absolute shite. It is what they appear to do to a large number of us, (and Danielle LaPorte has interesting things to say about that). [Edited to add: you can find a study that supports the sometimes negative effects of positive affirmations here with a paid membership.]

I think positive affirmations can sometimes wound rather than heal because they act like a question in our brains rather than a statement of belief. Our brains automatically fill in their kneejerk responses, which are often the very opposite of the positive affirmation's goal.

What the positive affirmation says:
You are beautiful, and the world wants your dreams to come true.

What our brain hears:
Am I beautiful? Does the world care about me?

What our brain says in response:
I am a sub-par shit-pile and the world is, at best, ambivalent about my existence.


What I need is practical takeaway. Rather than tell myself I am beautiful — especially when that is something I am not even particularly interested in believing as a grossly oversimplified statement about a complex and far-reaching attribute — it is much more effective to go out and do something beautiful, give to the world.

The universe is both within and without us, and your brain, a finite and rather touchy instrument, is not always the best interpreter of the state of things.

Act outwardly rather than retreat inwardly. If you find affirmations triggering, this'll get you further any day.

Carmen's sleeve

I quit drinking two years and three months ago, and my worst struggles have all happened while I was looking for happiness over interestingness, happiness over knowledge, happiness over diversity of thought and feeling.

I had lazily equated loving my life with being happy, when what's true about love is not happiness but love itself. What's true about love is that it exists quite aside from happiness. Love is indivisible.

I loved an ex even as he made me feel lonely, I loved my grandmother even as I grieved her death, and I love writing even when I growl audibly over fussy sentences.

We do not have to see beauty in the mirror to love ourselves. We don't have to believe the world wants anything in particular for us, good or bad. Love happens anyway.

Happiness? It'll fail you every time. It is transient.

Dan Mangan 3

I don't know how to describe the steps to love. I'm feeling for them with my feet as I speak. How to get there is the greatest ongoing question of human existence. I do know, though, that it is here, greater than happiness and much more interesting. Love knows more, feels more, and does more than happiness could dream of doing in a month of Sundays.

Happiness feels good when it comes, but Love? It'll tear you apart, build you up, and make you a whole being, even when you think there's nothing left, and that's the fantastic trick of being alive.


PS. I am not, of course, discounting the positive experiences people have had with positive affirmations. I know people for whom they have worked quite well. The fact is, though, that the opposite is also true for some, and I mentioned them in the above piece to validate those experiences and let people know that it is not some kind of innate failure of the spirit that this negative outcome happened for them.

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