It’s kind of ironic I sit here today writing about happiness when recently, I’ve felt so sad. I’m sad that my love has had to move out of the beautiful home we built together as a result of our ridiculous healthcare system not covering medications he needs in order to survive. I’m sad he has to struggle every single day with symptoms I wouldn’t wish on anybody and he’s the most positive, inspiring, intellectual and optimistic person I’ve ever met. I’m sad that every day I feel I’m running at a thousand miles per hour just to achieve the tasks assigned to me and feel myself slipping under the tide. I’m sad it’s all had such an effect on my wellbeing – I find myself doing, doing, doing, just to do what’s right and what’s needed – with the side effect of having lost all appetite for weeks, being unable to eat breakfast, not having time for lunch, and eating something quick and full of crap in the evenings if anything at all because I am obsessed with always needing to be doing. Since February, I now find myself at 107 lbs. And I feel it.
I know everyone says you need to take time to nurture yourself if you’re going to have any chance at functioning as an optimal human, but I can’t do it. I know I need to relax. I need nothing more than a good night’s sleep, a few hours and a glass of wine to do some reading or writing, an empty apartment so I can sing my heart out, or an evening free tasks and chores and fretting to just do something I love – something I love myself, or something I love to do with The Professor. It’s so hard with him no longer being in our home. Apparently I’ve also started grinding my teeth at night “with such intensity it’s a wonder the teeth didn’t fall out”. He recorded me one night — from across the room. (one round starts around 18 seconds, another around 56… no wonder I only have half a canine left!) I looked it up to see if it had anything to do with the jaw pain I’ve developed lately – it hurts to open my mouth wide, affecting chewing, singing, yawning – minds out of the gutter – but apparently this is something that happens with stress. And it’s affecting some of the things I really love to do. That video I posted last week? I was so excited to try out my new equipment. But it hurt like hell to just get the words out.
I know, attractive, right? I want my other vampire tooth back!
I’m going to stop whining and being such a bloody sad panda here because I said this was a post about happiness – though it’s more a philosophical one than one relating to my own. Despite this manic busy-ness that I’ve either stumbled into, taken upon myself or had thrown at me (I’m really not sure), I still have time to think. And there’s always so much going on inside my head.
Two happiness-related questions came up in conversation recently with The Professor. (When too sick or exhausted to do anything else, we philosophise. Or watch back seasons of The Bachelor. Don’t tell a soul.)
1. If a person lost their altruism, stopped caring/doing things for others above themselves, and became utterly selfish, would they be happier?
2. Is it better to live in ignorance of a certain knowledge or truth if it means being happier?
I think with both these hypotheticals, there’s a difference between day-to-day happiness and longer term, “ultimate” happiness. There’s also the defining factors of happiness that fit in as well, but I’ll get to that in a bit. If I remember.
The first question really stopped me in my tracks. I know my tendency to always put myself at the bottom of the priority list should be a good thing in a person, but lately it’s become harmful. I can’t take a bath without getting out after five minutes because there’s dishes or ironing to be done. I cancel social obligations and plans with friends if there’s an important deadline at work and I can take an extra few hours in the evening to work on it. But my problem is that I see everything else as a priority. Everything. In the moment, this is causing me harm – I’m becoming more anxious, losing weight, skipping meals, losing sleep, and feeling overwhelmed – because I insist on putting everything above my own wellbeing. But in the end, I’d hate myself if I did anything else. Taking an evening to do nothing but get a takeaway, read a good book, or go to the movies with The Professor is a foreign concept to me right now because there is so much that needs to be done. I’d feel like I was letting everyone around me down if I took that time to “self-nurture”. For the first few weeks at my job I’d feel guilty going to the lunch room to get a glass of water or some lunch because it might look like I have the time to do it. I’m fully aware this is crazy. Short term? It is. But long term… even if this is wrong (and you can tell that somewhere, I know it is)… I think it makes me happy. Knowing I did everything I possibly could for others gives me a sense of enormous wellbeing. But in the current moment, I’m burning out.
I think back to the question and think of examples of people I’ve encountered who were exactly the opposite. They put themselves first in every situation, took two-hour lunch breaks, charged every fancy meal to the company, and manipulated and bullied others to get them to do what they desired. And they were completely content with living this way. Yes, to many they came across as selfish and arrogant, but day to day, they seemed perfectly happy with their life, because they get what they want.
I spoke to a friend recently who makes an incredible impact on the world. A lot of you will know who this person is and will probably have spoken with this person numerous times. This person is an incredible soul whose life consists of doing enormous things to change people’s lives for the better in the biggest ways possible. This person’s entire life is comprised of efforts of continually making the world a better place. But speaking to this person, there’s a sadness. This person has no time to for self-nurturing, or spend time doing the things they love. But this person keeps doing it anyway, because (and I’m guessing here), of a similar personal value system. Leave the world a better place then when you found it, whether on the smallest scale of doing errands for somebody you love simply so they don’t have to, or by organising global fundraisers to help those in desperate need of help and making headline-breaking news in doing so.
From a study I was reading (a backwards take [does happiness result in selfishness, not vice versa], but still an interesting read:
Does temporary mood influence how fair or selfish we are in interpersonal situations? These three experiments predicted and found that when people have the power to allocate scarce resources between themselves and others in the dictator game, positive mood increased selfishness, and sad mood produced greater fairness. In a public setting (Experiment 1), happy persons kept more raffle tickets to themselves when making allocations, and Experiment 2 confirmed this effect in the laboratory. Experiment 3 showed that mood effects on selfishness were strongest when the external norms for fairness were relaxed. The results are discussed in terms recent affect-cognition theories, suggesting that positive mood recruits more assimilative, internally focused processing, while negative affect promotes more externally oriented, accommodative processing and thus greater concern with social norms. The implications of the findings for everyday interpersonal decisions are considered.
I will always advocate for altruism, maybe at the expense of immediate happiness, but with the hope that ultimately, it will make me happy. I’d feel like a terrible person if I did anything else – even if it does seem that selfish people are generally happier on a day to day basis. I just need to learn to figure out how to fit my own immediate happiness into the equation. (I kind of want to go off on an evolutionary tangent on why altruism is part of our programming in the first place, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
As a certain Ms. Keller once put it: “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light.”
2. So, onto the second thought – is it better to be happier in ignorance of truth, or be aware of your entire reality, even if it lessens happiness? The Professor and I had this debate last night, and I – now, at this point in my life – am firmly on the side of always being informed. I’ve lived life in the past believing things and keeping myself in the dark because I knew reality would hurt, and I liked believing something I didn’t quite question, but generally made me feel better. Coming to the conclusion that there is no cosmic, divine force or afterlife hurt, but ultimately, it’s made me happier. It’s made me value every minute of every day. Blissful ignorance goes against the value I place on knowledge and education. Again, there’s an element of short-term happiness and long-term in play here – and it comes down to a matter of how much weight you place on what you value. I imagine a scale of knowledge versus happiness existing in the present moment – there are so many things I’m certain I’d be happier not knowing – but if you don’t know about the things that could potentially upset you, then you can’t do anything about them. You can’t grow as a person unless you keep learning and experiencing, and I don’t believe hiding knowledge at the expense of happiness is a good thing.
This discussion came about as a result of informing people about his condition. He’s a very private person, and I think the main reason he didn’t want people to know was because knowing would equal them worrying and being less happy. But if it were you… if someone you loved and cared about hid what life was really like… wouldn’t you want to know, so you could do something – even if that did mean a temporary decrease in overall happiness (purely from the knowledge that someone you love is suffering)? I thought back to some past relationships, and some of the things I found out after they ended. Yes, they were tough things to learn – and at the time, I felt a fool, I felt stupid, and of course I was unhappy – something I thought was real for a period was most definitely not the whole picture, and it made me sad – but ultimately, the learning experience has led to personal growth, experience, and ultimately, strength… all resulting in my being a more informed, and thus happier, person. Maybe short term pain really does translate into long term gain. As long as your intent is never to actively hurt someone for the sake of hurting them, educating and informing is always worth more in the end. I think.
I’m going to wrap up this philosophical stuff and actually end on a few happy notes. The darkness, after all, defines where the light is, and there haven’t been days without some pretty awesome positives. Firstly of which, I suppose, would be my new car!
I couldn’t bear the thought (and experience) of The Professor being fresh out of hospital and now alone, and if our shared car was with him, I was unable to get to him. It was heartbreaking. That initiated my investigation into Actual Car Ownership. After talking with a good friend, who’s actually visited me at my new job, my work location also came into play. I’ve worked in dodgy areas before, and it’s not like I haven’t had hobo snotrockets fly into my actual mouth (welcome, new friends!) as a result – but I’m back out of the corporate world and into another area of downtown that isn’t exactly the most… comfortable, and it’s a ten minute walk from the bus stop. (Okay, there was a pile of poop and some vomit at the corner of the building for three days last week, and the streets are scattered with zombie-like street folk on substances half the time.) She affirmed my necessity of a vehicle – if not just to reach The Professor, but to decrease my likelihood of actually getting mugged (or thrown up at) on the way to work.
After one god-awful experience with my first ever dealership, I went to the place The Professor got the Focus – and it was amazing! No pressure, completely friendly and respectful – it was like going to visit old family friends more than salespeople. After much budgeting and deliberation, it was decided – I was getting the car I literally squealed at when I first drove into the lot. Oh, and it matches my lime green handbag exactly. Hello, Being a Grown Up!
I’ve also re-taken up (there’s a real word for that, I’m sure) an old hobby of mine I always enjoyed: photo shoots. I’ve developed a love for the more creative, conceptual shoots moreso than any other – pictures that go beyond the norm and tell an entire story. I’ve met some amazing people in the process, too, and already have some dates planned for things that evoke more of me… including a neo-goth type runway show sometime later in the year!
I’m also going to see my favourite band in the whole world next month. Around this time last year, The Professor and I took a road trip down to Minneapolis to see another excellent, excellent band, and it was the most fun ever. I’ve already seen Mumford and Sons, but it was in a tiny venue before they’d even released Sigh No More in North America. The electric feeling of absolute eagerness and anticipation was indescribable – those couple of hundred people, if that, all gathered in one place to experience something magical together. Passion is always best when shared with fellow enthusiasts, and this time there’s going to be thousands of them. On top, I discovered I had enough travel points accumulated through my Visa that I scored as three nights in an extra-fancy hotel, minutes from the stadium, for absolutely nothing. And this time, it’s domestic – meaning we can take his medication. Last year was a risk. This year – as with anything, really, may still be a risk, but that reassuring factor at least is there. It’s going to be one of those life-changing, soul-stirring, breathtaking experiences I’ll never forget, and after these last few weeks, knowing I’ll be sharing it with the love of my life makes me excited beyond words.
And lastly, I can’t go without addressing the generosity of friends, family, colleagues and complete strangers. I wanted to do something big for The Professor as a result of our recent situation – a fundraiser of some sort, but he was having none of it. “There are people who need help much more than I do, and if I can make it work on my own, then shouldn’t they be the ones to receive it?” Boys. I understand the pride component. I’m generally horribly awkward when it comes to even borrowing money from people, and I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be to have an entire group of people just giving it to you – I wouldn’t know how to thank them, and I’d feel, probably, a certain degree of embarrassment – so I understand where he’s coming from. But at the same time, I couldn’t do nothing. So I signed up for the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s Spring Sprint, with the intention of power-walking my way across 2.5k (really, can you imagine me running?) one day in June and maybe getting a little financial support along the way to go toward the charity. It’s kind of exploded – and I now have a team of fellow runners, and we’re sitting at almost $1,000 thanks to the incredible generosity of some of those we’re lucky to have in our lives – and from people who read the story and spread the word in their communities, retweeted, etc. and felt compelled to help. I do wish the fundraiser was going to have a direct impact on my love, to get him the medication and to allow him to come home – but knowing that in this way, I’m kind of honouring his wishes, and that in some way, maybe the funds raised will go toward the kind of research and programs that will help people like him – and those others affected by this monster of a disease.
To read the story of why I’m doing this, to join our team, or simply to make a small donation, please click here. Anyone who helps in any way at all is an absolute rock star.
So yeah. Sadness… happiness… philosophy… life. Forgive the stream of consciousness.
“There’s always going to be bad stuff out there. But here’s the amazing thing — light trumps darkness, every time. You stick a candle into the dark, but you can’t stick the dark into the light.” - Jodi Picoult