One of the reasons I’m such a yuge fan of Dennis Prager is his weekly “Happiness Hour” – in which he talks not only about the practice and moral imperative of being happy (hint: it’s not just for you), but about the struggle to become happy.
One of his sayings, and his advice, on the subject comes close to an old Hungarian saying I’ve been fond of most of my adult life; “the best way to become wealthy is to appear as if you already are”. Prager notes that this basic philosophy applies to so very much in life – about getting in shape, about falling or staying in love with one’s partner, and of course happiness.
There’s some science to the premise as well. There’s a reason that disciplines from music to the military drill one endlessly on things they want to impress into the human brain – because almost nobody plays a piano scale or a guitar chord or clears a rifle jam automatically or intuitively. But if you drill on them often enough, they become what people call “second nature”, because your brain develops space – neural pathways – for them.
Happiness works a little like that. Not entirely – being happy isn’t quite as easy as playing a first-position “F” chord – but the idea of wiring the brain to be something isn’t all that conceptually different.
I believe you can push yourself toward happiness. There’s some science, not to mention thousands of years of human experience, to support the premise. It’s basic cognitive psychology.
And since one can wire one’s brain to be many good things via practice – a musician, a soldier, a happy person, whatever – it stands to reason you can do the same with unhappy, useless, miserable, depressing things.
Having raised, and working with roomful of, millennials, I’ve observed that the generation seems to collect psychological and psychiatric maladies in young adulthood the same way they used to collect Pokemon cards in childhood. “I’ve got mild self-diagosed bipolar, which beats your dysthymia and separation anxiety!”.
Modern academia and media preach some miserable stuff to the kids; a common refrain among the young ‘uns is what a miserable world the “boomers” “left” them, with the misery being expressed in terms of climate change, the changing economy and, er, Trump.
And the few times I engage on the subject I mention that I can kind of relate – when I was a kid, the worries were nuclear war and overpopulation. Of course, there actually were nuclear weapons all about the place, including 25 miles from my hometown, and there were still famines happening. The nukes are mostly gone, and the obesity is a bigger problem among the poor than famine for the first time in human history.
And our presidents – Nixon and Carter – actually were corrupt and incompetent (respecively). So compared with the world I grew up in, my kids have it pretty decent.
But I digress.
I thought about the way the world – academia, entertainment, the media – seem to be wiring the younger generation to be a bunch of dysfunctional, whiny mopes when I read this sad, pathetic story about a guy of color who dumped his perfectly good white girlfriend because, well, read the story.
Or don’t. Maybe you’ll be happier if your brain doesn’t rewire itself just a little bit wrong with that little bit of dysfunction.
Or make yourself a little happier by considering that if this is all the younger generation has to fret about, we’ve done a good job.