29 December 2006

I'm Going To Write My Own Goddamn Book On Happiness

Is this woman really happy, or is she just
being stabbed in the ass by a vengeful Turk?
You be the judge!


You know me well enough to know that there are two things in this world that I eat with abandon. One is cheese. The other is self-help books. I became intrigued by the whole self-help genre when I heard about how many billions and gazillions of dollars people spend on that stuff each year. Self-help is the top category by a country mile. They've got everything from books on smoking cessation to websites about dynamite sex for septuagenarians. (Warning: sex and high explosives do not mix, especially if you're old and you have that shaky-old-guy-thing going on. -Ed.) So I thought to myself, hey, what's up with this stuff and why do people buy so much of it? Well I found out after reading everything from the venerable Think And Grow Rich to Change Your Life With St. John's Wort that the single point of all these books is - wait for it - happiness. Period. That's all they're talking about. They're all advocating different ways to make yourself happier. (Or happy at all if you're talking about books on suicide prevention. -Ed.) You could make "How To Be Happy" the title of every single piece of media in the category, and make the current title the subtitle. Like this - "How To Be Happy by not drinking so goddamn much." "How To Be Happy by squirreling away a jillion dollars." "How To Be Happy by losing 38 pounds." "How To Be Happy by smoking an ounce of Jesus every day."

So I found a book simply titled "Happiness" by a fellow named Mathieu Ricard and put it on advance order. It came with endorsements from practically all of my favorite self-help authors, like Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence), Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness), and Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are). But in the meantime, I started doing that very simple happiness experiment that I told you about in a previous letter, the one where all you do is before you go to bed each night write down three things that made you happy that day. The effects have been amazing, but I'll tell you more about that in a minute.

Lo and behold, the book shows up seemingly out of nowhere (as I had forgotten that I advance ordered it). And I got about one and a half chapters into it when I suddenly hit my threshhold for self-help books. Something just clicked. I mean, I don't want to sound dismissive of self-help books certainly, as there's a lot of good in them. The thing that made me finally say (internally, thankfully), "OH for the LOVE of PETER DINKLAGE!" was that chapter 2 was all about the Buddhist idea of reality. Look, I'm already a Buddhist, and just thinking about that stuff makes me feel like my ears are screwed on too tight and I'm just about to start peaking on 'shrooms. I can't understand how a non-Buddhist would ever make it past the first three paragraphs.

I mean isn't there a single book out there that goes, "Here's how to be happy. You don't have to understand or adopt an Eastern philosophy. You don't have to be a PhD. You can smoke or not, we don't care. We're not going to beat around the bush. We're going to go straight to the fuse box and touch the freakin' wires. Ready? Here we go." There has to be a completely secular, non-philosophical sort of mechanic's guide to happiness. Call it "Happiness for Shmoes" or whatever. But c'mon, enough with all the method and dogma. Words are a precious resource. They should be rationed. So to all you guys in the self-help business, just shut up and get to the point already before you eat up all the words in existence. "To be happy, just do A) followed by B). The End." Good enough for me.

Why do I believe that it's that simple? The only way to show is you is to have you do it. So here you go. Get a journal - a wirebound notebook or whatever - and a pen and put them on your nightstand. Every night before you go to bed, write down three things that made you happy that day, and what it was about it that made you happy, even if you can't explain it well. No less than three. And they don't have to be complex. I note when I saw a really great sunset, or if I made a particularly bitchen cup of coffee that morning. Little things. Nothing is too small.

But no fucking around! You must do it every night, night after night, without fail. If you choke and fall asleep too quickly one night, do it first thing in the morning. But regularity is key.

I can tell you from experience that this will not make your problems go away. What you will notice, aside from the fact that you will start having a solid night's sleep every night, is that you start reframing your diffculties. You will not see them as less severe or bothersome, but instead will see them against a backdrop of expansive possibilities and options. This will go a long way to reduce your desire to choke the living shit out of the guy who drives the street cleaner past your window at 3:30AM every Saturday.

One of the forefathers of our country - I think it was the guy with the wig - wrote about happiness (or the pursuit thereof) as being a birthright of humanity. I mean look, when you get right down to it, what is our only pursuit in life? Happiness. Life is a means to experience happiness. Liberty is supposed to beget happiness. Either the job you have or the one you want is the thing that'll make you happy. Either the relationship you have or the one you want - your body, diet, wardrobe, car, hair, batting average, four-foot blown-glass multichambered bong - all routes we embark on hoping for that same end: happiness.

Look, we'll talk about this more. I know you're going to hit me with a ton of questions, like about what definition I'm giving for happiness. Or like what a grumpy old fucker like me could possibly know about happiness? Or if I'm so goddamn happy, why did I give a complimentary pressed ham to that guy who stole my parking spot? The answer to these questions and more will come in short order. In the meantime, just put down that tuba, grab a journal and a pen and hit the hay. You have some writing to do.



26 December 2006

Best. Christmas. EVER.

The nave of the chapel at Epiphany Parish, Seattle.
Beautiful church, charming pageant, saucy parishioners.
What's not to love?


Merry Boxing Day! If I were British - or Canadian (...that's "British Lite". -Ed.) - I'd be wrapping up some cock-a-leekie soup for the charwoman, or putting a shilling in my knickers for a blessing from St. Heiner. Or something like that. I'm sure my British constituency will correct me.

But speaking of holiday traditions, Teresa and I did the unthinkable on Christmas Eve morning. We went to church! I thought it might be a laff riot to go see a children's Christmas pageant, so I rummaged around on the InterWebs to see if there was one we might crash. And lo, the InterWebs didst reveal that a children's Christmas pageant shone 'round about Epiphany Episcopal Parish at 9:30AM, and even provided a map to show me the way there. (It is my confirmed opinion that online mapping services should be outlawed inasmuch as they enable people like me to crash children's Christmas pageants, and should be therefore likewise be regarded as a Tool of Satan.)

So we donned our gay apparel and made our way there with plenty of time to spare. Epiphany Parish, as it turns out, is a stunningly beautiful turn-of-the-century church with a parochial school attached and a very young and joyful congregation. The minister, Father Conklin I believe, greeted us warmly at the door, and asked us if we had children in the pageant. I said no, which prompted him to ask again, very politely, just exactly what the H we were doing there. Several smartass replies sprang to mind, such as "reviewing the show for The New Yorker" or "prowling". But instead I told the truth. I said that my father was an Episcopalian minister, that I was raised Episcopalian, and even though I had converted to Buddhism years ago, I still celebrated Christmas. It's one of those answers that makes the querist's brain lock up, as Father Conklin's did, freezing his smile just long enough for me to see his teeth go completely dry. He said Merry Christmas, I guess, and we took a seat.

The pageant was a scream. The Angel Gabriel had to read her lines from out of her sleeve, which meant that she didn't have an extra hand to keep her halo from falling down over her eyes repeatedly, which also made the whole thing a sort of Sysyphean proposition for the poor girl. The dozen or so toddler-aged heavenly hosts seemed befuddled at the birth of the Christ Child and needed to be prompted - LOUDLY - from the pulpit to rejoice, which they then expressed by frenzied bouncing. And at the curtain call, the Virgin Mary held her infant son high above her head and made him bow to all four corners of the sanctuary. Best. Christmas. Pageant. EVER. We wept with joy.

But the thing that made me really love this congregation was the Wassail party in the congregation hall afterward that featured two bowls of Wassail. One of them was completely inocuous but the other was fortified with The Blood Of Our Lord And Savior John H. Daniels to turpentine-like strength. A napkin was placed next to it with a simple caveat pencilled on it for potential meddlers: wArnIng - AlcOhol! I guess it's true what the holy scriptures said about Episcopalians: where there's four, there's a fifth. Even though I don't drink, I seem to enjoy people who do. And of those who do, I enjoy those most who do it most brazenly. Epiphany Parish seems to have beauty and brass in equal measure, and I may just adopt it as my Christian holiday venue of choice.

Afterward, Teresa and I donned our Seahawk apparel and went to the Blessed Sanctuary of The One True Religion to watch the Seahawks host the San Diego Chargers. It was a very exciting game, but heartbreaking nonetheless. Our beloved Seahawks came from behind in the third quarter only to be vanquished in the last 30 seconds of the game. The loss was made that much more poignant by the incredible effort that the Seahawks put forth to beat the team that is arguably the best in the NFL right now. The upside is that because our division rivals the San Francisco 49ers lost that day, we're still in the playoffs. Not exactly the way you want to get into the playoffs, mind you, but we'll take it anyway. We'll just have to wait and see what the future will bring. Go Hawks.

The rest of the holiday was spent gorging myself on candy until I was blue-in-the-lips from insulin shock (...he kids. But not much. -Ed.), so my memory is spotty. I'll have to piece the events together from the tears in my clothing, the angry voicemails on my telephone, and the numerous warrants stapled to my front door. I'll write again when I have a clearer picture.

Cheers and Merry Christmas,