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A Note on Happiness

2017 February 8
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by Ian Welsh

I live in a single room, in a downscale neighbourhoood. I sleep on some pads on the floor. I am in debt, and I have a couple serious health problems.

I am also happy most of the time.

I’ll be sitting in my garret and thinking, “God, life is amazing. This is wonderful.”

And I’ll laugh and mock myself, “What’s good about this? You’re poor, sick, overweight, and broke.”

All that is true, but I’m happy (and my health is improving, no worries, I don’t expect to die soon, though who knows).

So I’m going to give some unsolicited advice on how to be happy even though your life sucks, because, well, I’m pretty good at it.

The first step is to not be unhappy.

(Insert head smacking motion from readers.)

Seriously, though, start there. Or, as I like to say: “The whole of the path is not giving a fuck.”

Run out of fucks. Do not restock. Life will seem a lot better.

Start with not giving a fuck about how other people you don’t know are doing. Just stop. You’ve been happy many times in your life, and while you were happy, nasty people in the Congo were gang raping men and women, people were dying of starvation, people were being tortured. It was fucking horrible.

There are always people who are suffering; suffering unbelievably. Agony one can hopefully only imagine; shame, terror that rises to the level of insanity. There are people in the burn wards of the hospitals where you live begging for death, praying for it earnestly. (I’ve been there, though not with burns, thank God.)

You’ve been happy, really happy, while all these horrid things were going on. You didn’t give a fuck then, don’t give a fuck now. When you start thinking about how horrible things are for people you don’t know, STOP. Think to yourself “I’m not helping them or me,” and focus on something good.

I recommend imagining a young child you love, and seeing them running into your arms. Failing that a puppy. Stand up, open your arms wide, and imagine what it feels like. If you’re imagining a puppy, imagine yourself kneeling and it licking your face.

Or find something else, but do it. Every time you feel miserable for people you don’t know, redirect.

Next, do this for your future self. There’s a future you fear: Perhaps you’re afraid of losing your job or of Trump becoming Hitler and cackling wildly as the ovens roar, perhaps you’re afraid of something else.

STOP. Whatever it is hasn’t happened yet, and it may not happen at all. As Twain quipped, he was an old man who had known many bad times, but most of them never happened.

Even if they are sure to happen, they aren’t happening now. Why are you wrecking today over something which isn’t happening now?

Redirect. Or learn not to care. A couple summers ago I was very poor and I thought there was a good chance I’d wind up on the street. Given my health, that would be a death sentence, and not a pretty one. I looked it square in the face, just sat with it, and asked myself, “Is there anything I could do to stop this which I am not doing which I am willing to do?” The answer was no.

I sat with it, I decided I didn’t care, and from that day to today I haven’t worried about it. That doesn’t mean I haven’t done anything about it, I have. But I haven’t sat there torturing myself with visions of it; nor have I tormented myself with all the things I might do which, frankly, I’m not going to do.

People spend vast amounts of time wishing they would do what they won’t do and feeling guilty that they aren’t paragons of hard work and virtue and blah, blah, blah. You are who you are, and while you can change that, it will change slowly. So stop beating yourself up over who you are, because mostly you don’t control it.

And that’s the next step: Just stop caring that you aren’t everything you think you should be, that you aren’t who you wanted to be when you were 20, and so on. A little introspection is useful here. Watch your thoughts, experiment with controlling them, experiment with controlling your actions. Or just remember the last time you tried to change yourself and failed. And the time before that. And the time before that.

Right. If you were really in charge, if you could easily change yourself, you would have already done so. You haven’t, and you aren’t. So stop beating yourself up, you (mostly) aren’t to blame for who you are, and you sure as hell can’t change what you’ve done in the past. Don’t do regret.

Now, let’s say you’re suffering now. Right now. Sit down, lie down, stand, go for a walk, and just look at whatever it is. Dive right into the pain, observe it, feel it, watch it. Just let it be. After a while (and a while may be weeks of doing this), you’ll find that you just don’t much care. The pain doesn’t go away, but most of the suffering does. And, one day, if it’s the sort of pain which is self-inflicted through thoughts, well, that may go away, because you aren’t reinforcing it.

As you do all of this, you will suffer less and less, and you will be happy more and more. Your energy will recover, and you will then be able to make changes. I will suggest that making changes mainly means changing habits, and that changing habits (which includes what you habitually think about) is mostly about doing what comes easily. Make it easier for yourself. If you want to exercise, start by doing one minute. One minute. Increase it as you feel like. Do most things this way: Start easy and ramp up.

On the positive side, do what you enjoy and look particularly for those things which feel good not just when you do them, but afterwards.

Stop making heroic efforts and using willpower. Instead, relax, and do what you like doing.

There will be a time for pushing out of your comfort zone, yes, but first, make your life basically decent. If you don’t want to do something, don’t do it unless you must, and make must a small list: Do you need the money? Is someone going to hurt you if you don’t do it?

If your life includes doing things you hate which you can’t avoid because you need to eat or someone will hurt you, or a dependent needs to eat, that is what you need to spend any energy you have on changing.

Get it out of your life, or learn not to give a shit. Is your coworker or boss an asshole, but not an asshole who is actually physically harming you or threatening you? Mentally tune out their bullshit.

The whole of the path may be not giving a fuck, but sometimes there are things you don’t have the detachment to wave away, at least right now. Those are the things which should be removed from your life.

As you stop the bad thoughts, as you stop worrying about the future and regretting the past, as you stop self-harming by doing what you hate or by locking yourself in situations you despise, you will find something very surprising: Humans are naturally happy.

You almost certainly don’t believe that, but it’s true. Get rid of the shit, relax, and you will find that you are happy most of the time, that it takes very little to make you happy. A simple meal makes me happy. I listen to music and I smile. I hear a bus’s brakes squeal and I am happy because I don’t have to walk. It’s insane, really, how little it takes.

Humans are made to be happy most of the time. They have to learn how to be unhappy. Stop being unhappy, and the upside will probably take care of itself.

Unhappiness isn’t a choice: You didn’t really make it. It’s not your fault. You fell into it due to the circumstances of  your life and your history. Nor can you choose, by an act of will, to stop being unhappy. But you can, over time, learn not to be unhappy, to not dwell on the bad, and to let your natural happy nature take the fore.

Imagine that puppy licking your face, and when bad shit happens redirect. If you can’t redirect, simply sit with the badness, not judging it, till it loses its power. And refuse to let other people’s unhappiness make you unhappy, except as required by immediate circumstances. If your friend is sick, commiserate and feel bad for a bit, but don’t take that with you, and never let the suffering of complete strangers or imagined futures wreck you.

The whole of the path is not giving a fuck. Run out of fucks and don’t restock, and the sun will rise again and light your world up in a way it may not have been lit since you were a child.

Human nature is happy. Clear the detritus out, and it will bloom.


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53 Responses
  1. V. Arnold permalink
    February 8, 2017

    I’d agree with that as a starting point.
    But I do not care about being happy; but rather being content.
    Some bit of wisdom I got from reading Krishnamurti or Guerdjief (I don’t remember); was that anxiety was only possible, when one is not in the present.

  2. February 8, 2017

    Dear IanWelshAnanda: Regarding being broke: you might want to look into setting up a Patreon page. I have no personal experience of same, but a (mostly) political commentator on youtube, Styxhexenhammer666, is up to $1982/month, from 366 patrons (out of a youtube subscriber base of 87K). I would think it’d be worth the effort to read out your blog posts, so as to produce audible youtube videos, because of the enhanced penetration that you would get via youtube. For blog posts that result in interesting comments, you could do a follow up on these specific comments. You might even enlist such commentators as interviewees.

  3. Ohioprole permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Very Buddhist.

    If I remember correctly, Joseph Campbell explained (for us ignorant westerners) that nirvana was the psychological stance of living beyond desire and fear.

    Not an easy thing to do, but good advice.

  4. Spring Texan permalink
    February 8, 2017

    To V. Arnold: Being content is fine. Being happy, when possible, is better. I care about both! and am currently happy most of the time 🙂 though yes there have been periods that wasn’t true and may be in future, but hey . . . enjoy the good and beautiful as it occurs.

  5. Arthur permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Everyday I’m trying to not give a fuck less and less. Some days it works; some days it doesn’t. But it’s good advice in any case. And it must work more often then not because as bad as Trump is I’m not as worked up about it as I should be. Maybe it’s because I’m sixty-one. If I were younger and had children it might be a different story. Of course I do have young nieces and nephews and I wonder what kind of lives they will have, but there’s very little I can do about it except to help out now when I can.

    I’m pretty sure that one day there will be blood in the streets, but when that day will be I have no idea. The far right seems to want a true blue Civil War; the left seems to think that carrying picket signs and letters to the editor (yes, I heard a man on progressive radio yesterday say letters were a way to resist) will save us. It seems to me that if one side is arming common sense dictates that the other side should too. But will be will be. Just don’t know when. So I worry less about it than I once did.

    I worry about the natural world. What we are doing is obviously insane. It will backfire to hurt us in serious ways. But I take some comfort in that the earth will heal. It always has. We will be gone to. . .whatever.

    Anyway, my two cents. Mr. Welsh your site is an oasis in a desert of online nonsense. Take care.

  6. Dan Lynch permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Ian’s attitude reminds me of this: What Cats Can Teach Us About How To Live

  7. Willy permalink
    February 8, 2017

    It’s harder when you’re tied to people who are compulsively unhappy. There’s a lot to be said for living autonomous, yet with loose associations with others who are reasonably cool (in the sense of moral, decent, can ‘feel’ others without it ruining their day…). I never regretted letting the not-cool slip past and out of my life.

  8. brian permalink
    February 8, 2017

    best post ever!!

  9. Private permalink
    February 8, 2017

    It took me a bit to realize you were f’n serious. Wow. What horrible advice you offer here. The recipes for a world that “doesn’t give a fuck about anything”. Gee, how similar your advice is to the condition of the world today.

    If this is the best you can do, then you’ve learned almost nothing. I’m happy and very glad I do not have your attitude and indifference about life, people, planet, suffering, et al.

    You are undoubtedly a product of your generation as we all are. But that does not necessarily mean that our generation should be followed. I could make a strong argument that this is a huge mistake.

    I have suffered terribly, in my body, severe and lasting injuries, sickness, disease (cancer), multiple surgeries, financially I’ve been ruined three times to being completely destitute, have had suffered huge losses again and again, I’ve even been persecuted by three-letter agencies, hunted for years and years (never caught, eventually exonerated on my terms) and several people tried to kill me and my family – but through all of it, I was not unhappy. I outlasted all these bastards and kept my happiness – by CARING. Just the opposite of what you’re advising.

    So perhaps this has worked for you. I caution your readers that there are other paths to happiness. Perhaps this worked for you, but perhaps you have simply deceived yourself into thinking that your happiness comes first. It doesn’t.

  10. Herman permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Very good advice. I would also add that another key to being happy is to not compare yourself to others. I used to be really bad about this and to a certain degree I still am but I have made some changes that have helped me. The first thing I did was I deleted my Facebook account. Social media is not conducive to happiness, or at least not for many people. People mostly use social media to brag and to create an image of their life as amazing and wonderful even if it is not really the case. This makes others feel unhappy because they ask themselves why their life is not as great as the manufactured lives they see on social media. There have been many studies showing that social media use is tied to anxiety, depression, narcissism, envy and other bad things.

    Another thing to remember is that you really cannot compare yourself to others because everyone has a different background and life story. You cannot do anything about your genes or your early-childhood upbringing and those are probably the biggest factors in deciding what your life will be like. Even things like the state of the economy and politics are largely out of your control so even though it is understandable to be angry about politicians and big business it is not worth making yourself miserable.

    This is not to say that people should not try to change themselves or the world for the better but you have to be grounded a bit otherwise you will drive yourself insane and be unhappy as well.

  11. Ian Welsh permalink*
    February 8, 2017

    Private,

    one of the odd things is that as you stop caring, you begin to feel a weird, detached, but unconditional love. It’s one of the “freebies” of your first awakening/enlightenment experience and it doesn’t last forever, but even after it stops being “always on”, it tends to come and go.

    But it is possible because you stop clinging.

    It’s a strange thing, and hard to explain.

  12. atcooper permalink
    February 8, 2017

    He’s right that much of the suffering out there is self-inflicted. It may be there’s an issue with word choice, but god help this stuff is not easy to talk about in the west, where me, me, me is the default.

    There’s not much free will being exercised. Almost all day to day decisions are often automatic. It’s what social norms are, an agreed formula of interaction that cannot be misinterpreted because it was agreed upon long ago that social interactions should look like so, and it removes the work needed to exercise will, or choice. Then will can be used elsewhere, like seeing a dangerous situation for what it is, and acting correctly, rather than some distorted perception shaped by ill-fit expectations, and missing the danger all together. One cannot make skillful, aware-of-them-choices if one cannot see clearly.

    I don’t know how well I’m expressing this here. These concepts are better learned through direct experience. Maybe a better quipy response is this: it’s ok to care, but be careful what you care for. It’s the choosing of what to care about that’s the important part. Because once you care, your decision is already made.

  13. atcooper permalink
    February 8, 2017

    This stuff is pure ‘submission’ stuff. Even the word, submit, it does not go well to many westerners.

    There’s a reason AA needs new members to hit rock bottom if there will be any success at sobriety. I suspect ‘to submit’ is a similar sort of thing.

  14. Billikin permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Ian:

    “one of the odd things is that as you stop caring, you begin to feel a weird, detached, but unconditional love.”

    AKA loving indifference.

    Not to be confused with indifferent loving. 😉

  15. Ian Welsh permalink*
    February 8, 2017

    If you want something from someone, if your love can end because you have expectations of their behaviour, it’s not unconditional.

    (Mystics get really scathing about this. They often feel that what most seculars consider love is profoundly selfish and transactional, a sickness.)

  16. Herman permalink
    February 8, 2017

    @Ian,

    That is a very interesting point ab0out love. A friend of mine just got dumped by his girlfriend and he was very depressed about it. He mentioned that she said that he did not “improve her” which I thought was very odd. It was like he was some sort of device or wonder pill that was supposed to fix all of the problems in her life. I told my friend that he was better off without her since it is clear that she did not really love him and just saw him as a means to an end.

    Sadly, I think many (perhaps most) people in modern society see others like this, and I am not just talking about romantic relationships but also friendships and family relationships. Many people have a “what can you do for me” attitude which I find to be the opposite of love. Or as G.K. Chesterton said, you have to love the unlovable or it is no virtue at all.

  17. mudduck permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Herman,

    I recognized that my wife-to-be had fallen in love with a projection — her fantasy of me. She was a good person, very sociable, so I let her. After several years of marriage, she blamed me for not being or becoming the person she’d thought I was. Well, I had led her on, maybe I had some responsibility to change. But we finally gave up the relationship as a bad job. Under counseling, we recognized that we were both decent, functioning people — just incompatible.

    Interesting that Merriam-Webster today included a word in their dictionary that precisely describes her response to any disappointment in a relationship: “Ghosting”– the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. As I have said, she’s left a trail of burnt bridge behind her. Fortunately, she’s a great mother and I’m sure the kids are safe in her regard.

  18. Charlie permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Thanks for this. I’ve always found the best things happen to me when I stop giving a shit about it.

  19. RudyM permalink
    February 9, 2017

    All of this quasi-Buddhist advice is ultimately anti-human. Just don’t have desires, or at least don’t be attached to them. Sure. If you transform yourself into something that isn’t human then I guess you can avoid human suffering.

    Who is Ian Welsh anyway? I’ve been reading you for a few months, I think, but I have no real idea.

  20. Robin permalink
    February 9, 2017

    Exquisite post. Thank you Mr. Welsh.

  21. realitychecker permalink
    February 9, 2017

    Good faith query: Just where do we fit in the concept of placing importance in a cause bigger than oneself? How much passion and commitment, IF ANY, should we allocate to such a greater cause?

  22. Ian Welsh permalink*
    February 9, 2017

    Have as many desires as you want, but don’t be stuck on them.

    Causes: why not? Just don’t make your happiness hostage to their success or failure. This is especially so because you have almost no control over it. We have little control over ourselves, how much less control we have over mass movements.

    One of my best friends is enlightened by most reasonable definitions and has also dedicated their life to helping some of the most desperate people in the world. In part he is effective, to the extent that he is, because while he loves them and wants the best for them, he is not wrecked when bad things happen to them. In fact his advice for helping people is “if you can’t watch them die and walk away ok, don’t”.

    Some people will hate that advice, but it doesn’t mean don’t care, it means don’t cling.

  23. February 9, 2017

    Count your blessings; belittle your traumas (what used to be called a sense of humour). I find that it is my most recent experiences that have the greatest effect on my happiness and confidence. So the worst thing you can do after a bad experience is freeze on it. Get flying again and a better experience will begin to cover up the bad one. I guess also that is how forgiveness works.

  24. Ian Welsh permalink*
    February 9, 2017

    Another thing is that we do a vast amount of things because we think we ought to, and we don’t do things we want because we think we ought not to.

    Detachment can lead to great clarity on what you actually care about, what you actually want and so on; clarity which is removed from what society says you should want.

    For example, some of my happiest memories of the past 15 years are playing World of Warcraft (I don’t play any more, because I don’t like how it has evolved.) That’s not how it /should/ be, but it happens to be true. I’m supposed to blather on about family, but in fact most of my memories of family are bad; and despite all the work I put into blogging and the netroots, I have far less really good memories of it than of playing games: I did much of it out of a sense of duty.

    I also love reading novels and a bunch of other stuff that society mostly considers frivolous or useless.

    Cutting past the crap and seeing what you really like or hate, and getting rid of all the freight is really helpful for being happy.

  25. Willy permalink
    February 9, 2017

    Some were saying that all the divisive political vitrol between “both sides” was a result of a lack of civics classes, and Fox News. It was only by detaching that I gained enough objectivity to observe that the vitrol was actually coming from being too emotionally attached to one’s own feeling of helplessness. People were unconsciously acting out their helplessness by blaming the only possibility available to them: the other side. Then I realized there’s a third side manipulating the other two. Still working on detaching from that one.

  26. realitychecker permalink
    February 9, 2017

    @ Ian

    Hard for me to reconcile your advice, i.e., care but don’t cling (fair paraphrase?), with so much of what has been promoted throughout history as the higher virtue of devoting or even sacrificing one’s very life to a great cause, or even as in JFK’s famous, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country?”

    I think of our warriors who put their lives on the line for what they perceive to be the greater good–are they dupes, or heroes? What about revolutionaries who believe they are fighting for freedom and against oppression?

    To be clear, I don’t have any clear answers to this dilemma, I am continually searching for a good path that honors both obligations to self and obligations to community, and perhaps even an obligation to virtue.

    I don’t feel too good about the idea that one’s selfish interest should totally predominate over the others, even while I can clearly see that that is the modern trend.

  27. zot23 permalink
    February 9, 2017

    Sounds a lot like Viktor Frankl.

  28. Ian Welsh permalink*
    February 9, 2017

    Not being attached to hard too staying alive is very good for sacrificing, actually.

    Think of it as there being two forces: push and resistance. Push is “I should” or “I want”, resistance is “I shouldn’t” or “I don’t want to”.

    It’s quite easy to do one’s duty when one has very few attachments, so long as one has a bit more attachment to duty. Confucianism is an enlightenment system of sorts, for example. Don’t do anything but the “right thing”, and don’t worry about the results of the right thing, including the results for you, like promotion or death.

  29. Toronto63 permalink
    February 9, 2017

    To all, all I can say is:

    Your mind is your prison.

    If/when you realise that then you can expand or contract those prison walls. I can’t do it all the time because although I try to stay in the present, exigencies intrude.

    Whatever else try to stay bright and shiny and positive.

    Regards.

  30. Tomonthebeach permalink
    February 9, 2017

    Because happiness is subjective, there are likely as many definitions of “happiness” as there are people. V. Arnold preferred the term “contentment” to the term happiness. Contentment always calls to mind the emotional state of Carnation dairy cows; but, it too is apropos. Ian seems to define happiness in terms of “detachment;” not getting one’s tail in a knot over things beyond personal control.

    I think of happiness at including, over even relying upon, a continued state of gratefulness. Gratefulness is the true opposite of regret rarely mentioned in a Thesaurus. I base this assertion on knowing a lot of people over 80 because my folks lived almost a century. Unhappy friends frequently spoke of their lives in terms of regret. They regretted that they did not invest, that they passed up that job opportunity, that they did not travel, that they quit the military, that they dropped out of college, that they smoked, that they abused drugs, did not remarry after their spouse died, and on and on. There simply is no room for gratefulness in a life dominated by regret.

    So how does one fend off regret? Ian recommends NOT getting upset over things you cannot change as the path to happiness. However, that path can also lead to inaction and regret. My insight is that gratefulness is taking risks in life by seizing opportunities to make a difference. Note: in line with Ian, I did not fall into the trap of evaluating outcomes. Success only comes from taking risks, regardless of success. If one avoids risk, success is impossible. However, regret remains possible.

    It sounds as if Ian took risks in life. They did not make him rich materially-speaking, but it sure as heck made him rich in many other ways. For that, he is probably grateful. I am.

  31. V. Arnold permalink
    February 9, 2017

    As somebody above mentioned Victor Fankl: His book;
    From Death-Camp to Existentialism, is a must read if one truly wants to understand “happiness”.

  32. February 10, 2017

    Happy is the moron
    He doesn’t give a damn
    I wish I was a moron
    My God! Perhaps I am

  33. MojaveWolf permalink
    February 10, 2017

    Totally agree that learning to be happy in the moment and being happy with what you have (when possible, and finding things to be happy about in the midst of misery when not) are keys, and that if you can find something to be happy about more than upset in any or practically any situation, you’ve got it made on the happiness scale.

    That . . . is way easier said than done. =)

    On to the more controversial bits:

    The whole “non-attachment is different than detachment” principle is something I have never quite grasped, and still don’t, and my general aversion to non-attachment as a goal is one of the two primary reasons I am not any sort of Buddhist (the other being that Nirvana sounds way too much like non-existence to me, or the sort of existence that comes from your atoms all floating out and continuing to exist somewhere not–in-you, and that just isn’t a goal I feel like working towards except during my very most despairing moments). (on the plus side, yay for meditation, mandalas and yoga, and if only I had the time/energy to restart a regular practice of these things I would be a much happier person).

    I will say, having lived near and known a whole bunch of Buddhists (there are a few retreats and a monastery near here) who are very into non-attachment, I will say the ones I have known best are very good people and much more likely than average to help others out (and by that I mean spontaneously offering help to people) than most, and that the people here who are mistaking non-attachment for not caring have got it a little wrong. I can see how they made that mistake, I just have no clue how to explain the difference, when I have asked multiple people this question and all I can figure is our language is missing the right words to convey some very important nuance, the difference between “everyone is dying let me go help some people even tho I don’t care la la la I’m happy here have my jacket and all my food while I take you to the hospital” and “everyone is dying but I’m not so fuck those losers let’s party!’ Clearly, very different types of not-caring. I do think the nicer type does imply a concern for outcomes, but whatever. In practice, most of the people I’ve known WELL who talk like Ian seem to care very much for the welfare of others, and as someone who has been helped by some of those people when it was very much needed back in the prior decade, their particular version of not giving a fuck is much appreciated.*

    *Side note–this is not to say ALL people who talk about enlightenment and non-attachment and mindfulness fit this description. Some of the most annoying, full of themselves waste-of-space jerk-offs I have ever encountered have come through some of these retreats. I don’t think they understand the difference between non-attachment and detachment any better than I do, but they like to invent spacey names for themselves and feel superior to everyone else because by damn, they’ve got that appreciation of mindfulness and/or the universal hum and/or whatever they are meditating on DOWN. They may never have done and likely never will do much of any account to anyone else, but they are fucking enlightened. (I am not mocking people who actually work at real versions of whatever these jerks think they are doing–just a couple of very particular types of poseur)

    With that lengthy preface, this isn’t my goal at all. I want to feel as much as I fucking can. I *HAVE* to detach, and I do mean detach, not non-attach, a great deal just to get through the day, but my eventual goal is to be able to feel the amount of possible empathy with as many different living creatures as possible, and groove on the high points and dwell on the fascinating or just pleasant ones and share in the pain of all the bad stuff but still somehow survive it (this, is not at present a remotely achievable goal, but it would be something I aspire to; as it is I cut myself way way way off from thinking about all sorts of things simply to avoid going catatonic or flying into rages; seriously start REALLY thinking about animal research labs or species going extinct or a life spent on factory farms or the myriad human lives that go horribly wrong and never correct and see how many seconds before you start feeling massive waves of some particular negative emotion that would sort of render you unable to function in this world if you really let it blossom, so it’s sort of a question of how much to let yourself appreciate and how much to let through).

    And sometimes there’s simply no way to love others without feeling pain when bad things happen to them, and feeling loss when they are gone if you are used to their company; having been there for some of these passings away where the passer would rather have stayed, I don’t buy that this is entirely selfish on my part; it IS much easier when they are ready to go; when they want to stay and have to leave anyway it is an entirely different experience. (also, I totally cop to some degree of selfishness–I love myself too and am quite attached to my self, however illusory some people think said self is; does not mean I don’t care about others) I’d rather feel both the love and the pain than neither (and no, I cannot define love, nor do I really care what the definition might be, I know what I’m talking about and probably so do you; if you think you have to be able to define things to talk intelligently about them, I strongly recommend you seek out the linguistic/analytical school of Western philosophy, which is kind of interesting and frequently useful if you have the patience for it, and if you’ve got a ton of time on your hands well worth studying if don’t mind it’s limitations or share its view of reality).

    Everything is a balancing act, and everyone’s got to find their own way. Buddhists and people like Ian (whether he’s a Buddhist or not) are usually very non-pushy about theirs, which I appreciate immensely.

  34. February 10, 2017

    @Ian.

    Great post. Through the years I’ve also learned to give less fucks.
    I’m still learning how to handle the bullshit from people that they don’t like it, that I don’t give a fuck about something.

    P.S.: I see you accept bitcoin now. So I sent some mBits to you. Good bloggers deserve a reward for their work.

  35. realitychecker permalink
    February 10, 2017

    @ MojaveWolf

    I like that comment very much, it says many good things about you. Very encouraging. 🙂

  36. Steeleweed permalink
    February 10, 2017

    To me, happiness is a rather vague term, perhaps a cross between joy and contentment. Most people I know tend to rate it on the ‘joy end’ of the scale and looked at that way, I’ve never considered it a major goal any more than getting rich is a major goal. (Nice, but not essential. My job here is to give and serve, not to sit back enjoying things). Contentment, on the other hand, is a serious goal and to me is closely tied to satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment. I also associate joy with others – things of great beauty; delight in watching my great-grandchildren explore the world; what a great relationship they have with their parents. Contentment mostly concerns me: satisfaction of something well done, or – most important – feeling I have found, accepted and fulfilled my role and place in the world.

    Wise Old Indian says there are three things a man must learn:
    Who he is.
    Where he comes from.
    Why he is here.

  37. Jen permalink
    February 10, 2017

    Ian,

    I’ve been reading your blog since…before 2007? Maybe shortly afterwards? I don’t remember, but I have never commented because I don’t have the vocabulary, nor the brain power to get into a comment war with anyone (high school graduate, no college, self-made retired comedian/actress, not much in the way of book smarts, but loaded with street smarts thanks to growing up in a large, poor family).

    That said, thank you for this. I’ve been in a three year depression coupled with health issues (specifically idiopathic small fiber neuropathy, POTS and other bullshit autonomic crap – literally, lol). It has been a very difficult time – for me, my husband and my two children. Mom went from doing everything to being unable to do anything at all – fucks everyone up, trust me. The thoughts that go through my head on a daily, if not hourly, basis:

    You are the worst mom and no matter what you do that will never change.

    You’re acting career is over because you’re 50, way past your prime and invisible to the world.

    You’re comedy career is over (see ‘acting career’).

    Your boobs are so saggy and flat you might as well cut them off.

    You are a first class loser.

    Remember when you were in your 20’s and had an excellent body because you had a 6 floor walk-up, waited table 4/5 nights a week, partied every night, wrote songs, played your guitar, had a regular gig, was featured in a magazine as an up and coming comedian, booked commercials, new all the casting directors by first name, were completely and totally independent? Yeah, remember that? You are the completely opposite now, a total loser. Now, go to sleep.

    Writing out makes it quite funny, but those are my thought demons. I thought this shit would go away by the time I was 50, but like acne, no one is safe…joke.

    Anyway, I’m going to try your version of looking at life – it can’t make it any worse, amirite?

  38. Private permalink
    February 10, 2017

    Amazing commentary from the fan club. I don’t agree with 90% of you or Ian. What your advocating is to take little thought, care or concern in the world around you. I’m also a product of the 60’s so I understand the message – but don’t agree. And the follow-up advice – “one of the odd things is that as you stop caring, you begin to feel a weird, detached, but unconditional love. “ is unfathomable gobbledygook.

    Apparently, to even grasp this, I’m supposed to stop caring about everything presumably and then by following this formula, I’ll develop an unconditional love.

    Hogwash. What your projecting Ian is your own disconnected acceptance of reality onto everyone else (your fans) who aren’t smart enough to realize that your psycho-babble is just another cop-out, drop-out, do your own thing, etc., etc.

    I’ll go further and bet your unhappy as hell, lacking in meaningful relationships and value in life itself. This isn’t meant as an ad-hominen attack either, more of a observation of what is missing from your own life. Your covering up your unhappiness with babble that provides a covering to shield your own disconnectedness, ie., you delude yourself here, knowingly and definitely on purpose. Why you are doing this is probably related to your situation in life.

    I showed this post to a few people and we’re all appalled at your advice and your follow up reply. It’s not how we experience happiness and find this selfish denial of the experiences of life empty and meaningless.

    I agree with others – “life has no real meaning”, but I go further, “except that which we create”. Relationships and connections are what give my life meaning, without which I would be adrift, which is what I expect you are. Not an attack, just an observation.

    Even further – life does not need to have meaning, but it is rather nice to have. Definitely more pleasant, “happy” then a life without meaning. Others may find that relationships and connections aren’t necessary to have happiness and meaning, but that never worked too well for me.

    I realize that it’s all centric to the human condition, whatever meaning we “have” is ours alone in an indifferent and uncaring Universe, but it’s also ours to create and enjoy (the benefits of being human). You may find happiness by being uncaring as you advocate, but with all the life around us, why you would advocate uncaring as “happiness” is bizarre beyond belief. I actually do not believe you – I think you are deceiving yourself and your fans here for reasons known only to you.

    By the way, I used to go by the moniker lifeofliberty by the way (the original). I had to give it up when things got too weird. Living a life in liberty does not abdicate me of responsibility or accountability (a prerequisite of being human). I found that compassion and concern, “caring” for the life around me is what gave me true liberty. Your actually advocating the exact opposite.

    I was once asked what I thought the true meaning of freedom was and my reply was very simple “without coercion”. You’ve advocated that in your message here, but lacking the self-creation of meaning, it’s an empty, hollow shell of existence without substance, without connections, without compassion, without concern. It doesn’t work for me. I honestly cannot see how this has worked for you either.

  39. will andermann permalink
    February 10, 2017

    It might be possible to identify a key element in the prescriptions suggested by this post that may, if thought of differently, avoid the broad “don’t give a fuck” approach that several commenters, including myself, object to.

    “Dive right into the pain, observe it, feel it, watch it. Just let it be. After a while (and a while may be weeks of doing this), you’ll find that you just don’t much care. The pain doesn’t go away, but most of the suffering does. And, one day, if it’s the sort of pain which is self-inflicted through thoughts, well, that may go away, because you aren’t reinforcing it.”

    From a psychoanalytic standpoint this move can be thought of as an extension of ego mastery that comes about because defensive avoidance of pain has been transcended. It reveals the concept of “pain” to be more complex than something that is simply aversive: pain = aversive stimulus + being overwhelmed. In turn, being overwhelmed carries with it a fear of being infantalized, which can be thought of as portending a broader vulnerability. If you wanted to think of this in object relational terms, it would be “I am confronting something I cannot manage, and this will reduce me to helpless dependence and incapacity.” Arriving at “I don’t much care” entails an escape from this. It is not so much that you have achieved detachment, but rather reestablished a degree of security vis-a-vis the threat of infantalization.

    Kant’s discussion of awe, wherein something that at first overwhelming is made comprehensible and thus unintimidating, is relevant here.

    In this view the insistence on “not giving a fuck” assumes that “giving a fuck” has become something that is incapable of moderation and therefore threatens both pain and infantalization. Instead of flight, we could think along the lines of what many people involved in social movements concluded: we will fight to bring about change and, if we don’t succeed now, we will have made some contribution, whether material or by example. Infantalization, with its emphasis on individual helplessness, is replaced by identification with others, both past, present, and future.

  40. February 10, 2017

    “lacking the self-creation of meaning,”-Private

    Is the “self creation of meaning” the same as “wyrd” (aka personal destiny)?
    I am not familiar with the phrase you used.

  41. atcooper permalink
    February 10, 2017

    He seems to be talking existentialist thought. It’s the closest I know of of a reinvention of Buddhist thought, but please understand I’m an armchair historian, and not at all versed in enough detail to claim any authority here. Existentialist thought was my favorite as a young adult, and I still admire it now.

    So much US Buddhist practice today is being co-opted by positivist logic. McMindfulness is my favorite term for this. I don’t believe there are any elements of that to Ian’s practice. A teacher who believes the world is hell would be my prime bit of evidence that that stuff is not what is being advocated for here.

    I do admit to being a fan, but not a blind one. In particular, I find the faith in technology stuff to be deeply misguided. But that point is almost trivial in comparison to the critique of US policy at large. For instance, pointing out the recently released numbers on bombs dropped in 2016 confuses my IRL peers. For whatever reason, if the president has the D next to their name, he cannot possiblely be as blood thirsty as one with the R next to it.

    Plus, I saw in realtime his calling out current events. Good seers are hard come by.

  42. Tom permalink
    February 10, 2017

    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-tarullo-federal-reserve-20170210-story.html

    He saw the writing on the wall and is bowing out gracefully. Hope the door slams his ass on the way out.

  43. Ian Welsh permalink*
    February 10, 2017

    Private,

    that’s certainly a common critique, but it’s also deeply assholish, in that you are claiming my reports of my experience are either a lie or delusional. That means that constructive dialogue with you directly is impossible, so what I’m writing is mostly for others reading.

    Whether you like it or not, what I’m suggesting has worked for millions and millions of people. This is the essence of a large chunk of the spiritual paths, common to both Buddhists and certain branches of Hinduism (and not entirely foreign to Christian or Muslim practice.)

    “I have not tried it, but I am certain it does not work, despite it having worked for many people and being valued enough to have stayed in existence for thousands of years. Because you are not doing what I think works, you must be a sad and unhappy delusional person.”

    There are a number of routes to happiness and rather a number of different types of happiness. In addition to joy and contentment, there is the happiness from loving-kindness and metta, for example, a soft love of everyone (which Tibetan Buddhist monks say is the best ever). There is “glee”, a form of excitement (which I actually have on demand, though I don’t use it often). There is also a very clear form of detachment, which everyone who has access to it says is lovely, and which is generally considered the second most pleasant state after the state of general love for all. (That state is what a Chan Buddhist master spends most of their time in, as best I can tell.)

    There are various other states as well: happiness can be a lot of different things. But a lot of it is your reaction to events, and especially your thoughts. If your mind is busy telling you how much you suck, or your life sucks, or the world sucks, and you aren’t detached from those thoughts, you are almost certainly going to be miserable as hell.

  44. Ian Welsh permalink*
    February 10, 2017

    Jen,

    I am sorry to hear it. That sounds like a great deal of suffering. In addition to detaching from the thoughts, something I have found useful (but hard, and not always possible) is to put my attention on the pain directly. I know this sounds crazy, and non-intuitive, but if I just sit with it, not avoiding, it often bothers me much less. If you have trouble with it, don’t worry, just come back every once in a while. Once you can, over time, make your attention smaller and smaller in space, and eventually try to feel the changes in the pain. Pain, when you drill down far enough, usually pulses and moves a bit and once you start perceiving it this way it loses quite a lot of its power.

    Many years ago, I talked to someone who was probably enlightened and asked them about pain and suffering.

    “What’s the big deal about pain if you don’t suffer.”

    “There’s no suffering, but you still want less pain.”

    Still, less suffering does make the pain a lot more bearable.

  45. Ché Pasa permalink
    February 10, 2017

    Bodhisattva, bodhisattva…

    A writer I know asked me, “What does ‘bodhisattva’ mean?” I didn’t know whether he was asking because he didn’t know himself or if he was testing my highly imperfect knowledge.

    I said, “Well, as far as I know, a bodhisattva is someone on the way to Buddhahood, Enlightenment.”

    “You mean I could be a Buddha?”

    “Well, sure. If you let go and let yourself become…”

    He said a long time friend who he called ‘Ananda’ had said he was a bodhisattva, and he didn’t know what it meant, but now he had some idea and he thought it was pretty neat.

    Bodhisattva.

    Of course there’s more to it than just being on your way. A bodhisattva as I understand it is someone who consciously stops along the way to Buddhahood to offer compassion to those who suffer. Freely. Without strings or attachment. But sincerely.

    And that’s a pretty good description of Jimmy, though I don’t think he ever thought of himself that way at all. It was just him being himself. He didn’t desire Buddhahood, but he thought it would be interesting if he ever got there.

    In the meantime, he knew too many who suffered (as he had when he was young) and he couldn’t not reach out to them and offer them compassion — because it was the right thing to do, not because he expected anything in return. He couldn’t turn his back on suffering the way so many people do.

    On the other hand, I don’t think he took that suffering into himself. He’d been there (years in solitary in prison, for example). Had no intention of going back. It gave him a serenity and an empathy for others that seemed almost otherworldly.

  46. MojaveWolf permalink
    February 10, 2017

    I don’t have the vocabulary, nor the brain power to get into a comment war with anyone (high school graduate, no college

    @Jen — Please don’t sell yourself short. Your comment certainly sounds like you have plenty of brain power to me. =)

    (and genuine apologies if this comes off as some kind of pointless condescending lecture; I don’t mean it to be, but I have seen lots of people who do seem to think having credentials of some sort or another has some intrinsic value and lacking them means you lack something other than the credential, & I just don’t think that’s true)

    Having the perspective of working on everything from precedent setting legal cases to doing unskilled construction work and basic landscaping, please believe me that degrees are evidence of intelligence, not proof of it, and lack of degrees are evidence of nothing except that you didn’t graduate from college, which, basically, doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Credentials are not qualifications. I’ve known people who somehow got into law school, graduated, passed the bar and found gainful employment who are at best average intelligence, and I’ve known people who probably never even applied to college and who make their livelihood for $10-12 hr who are way smarter than a lot of attorneys.

    Not a huge fan of stand-up for the most part (some exceptions) but I would think you have to be fairly bright and quick on your feet to survive doing that at all, much less prosper, even temporarily prosper. And in most of life, the difference between prospering and not-prospering can be tiny slivers of luck. In the entertainment industry, the role of luck (and some other qualities I can fake but don’t really have, or can have but don’t like using) is amplified a cajillion times because there are SO MANY people competing for so few slots (I used to work in the same industry during part of the 90’s; I actually had a somewhat similar lifestyle to you at possibly the same time and am now wondering if we ever crossed paths–I wasn’t a comedian or a musician but overlapping territory; if you want to look me up on my old livejournal account mojave_wolf.livejournal.com and direct message me–it’s easy to create an lj account–I would be interesting in comparing notes), and at least back when I was there networking/schmoozing skills were ESSENTIAL unless you were either amazingly talented AND lucky, or amazingly lucky (stories, I can tell you, about people’s judgement of someone else’s talent, omg). And yah, more than in most industries, especially if you’re in front of the camera and not behind the scenes, it gets exponentially tougher as you get older for women relative to men.

    (guessing you also saw Swimming With Sharks and The Player back in the day? I’m suddenly remembering those . . . )

    Anyway, one of the smartest people I ever met dropped out of college and when last we were in touch had never gone back, and some of the best people I’ve known have had horrible lives; this has nothing to do with your personal worth and please don’t let circumstances get you down (believe me, I’ve had my own ups and downs and know how they can)(also, depression can seriously warp perspective and make things look way worse than they are, or take temporary bad circumstances and make them seem more deterministic of the future than they are, please hang in there; if it’s relatively mild centering yourself can help, sort of like your consciousness is in a little bubble and everything else is outside, also aside from meds if you don’t want to use those/they don’t work/you hate all the shrinks you’ve encountered, yoga and aerobic exercise can both REALLY help–sometimes, for some people, anyway).

    Best wishes to you.

  47. wendy davis permalink
    February 10, 2017

    @ ché pasa: what a lovely tribute to jimmy, the Accidental Bodhisattva.. the best ones exhibit hippie credo, imo, totally w/o any sort of hubris.

  48. February 10, 2017

    @Jen,

    Dr. Terry Wahls has greatly reversed her MS via her protocol. I recently confirmed, via google, that her regime has helped with another neuro degenerative disease – Parkinson’s. Not sure if it’s indicated for neuropathy, but it might be worth a try.

    As for POTS, just in case it’s accompanied by fatigue, check out the protocol for chronic fatigue syndrome at life extension foundation.

    Finally, please don’t cut off your boobs. 🙂

  49. Ché Pasa permalink
    February 11, 2017

    @wd

    Bodhisattvas all around us, accidental and otherwise 😉 Even some here. I don’t think we could get by without them.

    https://youtu.be/SpaYdWQSKos

    “I am not a Buddhist. Thanks for asking.” — Michael Stipe

  50. SpringTexan permalink
    February 11, 2017

    Agree so much about “For example, some of my happiest memories of the past 15 years are playing World of Warcraft … That’s not how it /should/ be, but it happens to be true. I’m supposed to blather on about family, but in fact most of my memories of family are bad; and despite all the work I put into blogging and the netroots, I have far less really good memories of it than of playing games: I did much of it out of a sense of duty. I also love reading novels and a bunch of other stuff that society mostly considers frivolous or useless. Cutting past the crap and seeing what you really like or hate, and getting rid of all the freight is really helpful for being happy.”

    Really liked this. I used to be a nursing home ombudsman and got to know some of the residents quite well, including one elderly lady with no family. Some of the staff considered it very sad that she had no family to visit, but in reality Marie had a cheerful and appreciative disposition and a great sense of humor and not too many physical ailments and was far happier than most of the other residents, family or not. [I also saw how often family was a source of pain not pleasure for people: kids in trouble, out of work, etc.] I thought those who pitied Marie were way off base. Marie had had a tough life by many people’s estimation (early poverty, father died in a work accident when she was 6 and mother when she was 11, no choice on whom to marry in a small town with 2 unmarried women and 2 unmarried men and her husband was a jealous, sometimes abusive, adulterer, one severely disabled child who ended up in an institution, divorced by her husband in her 50s with severe fall in standard of living), but not by her own, she carried on and enjoyed life. I learned a lot from Marie.

    I’ve read that despite worse jobs, millenials survey as just as happy as older folk and suspect one reason is video games.

    Those who attack this post don’t see that clearly Welsh does care about others and does his bit, but has some great insights on being happy just the same – which help me!

  51. Jen permalink
    February 12, 2017

    MojaveWolf and Metamars,

    Thank you so much for your kind, insightful and uplifting thoughts and advice. I don’t have social media (because it made me obsess like I did over my answering machine messages) and feel very cut off from the world but your comments helped me to remember that there are many in my shoes, have been in my shoes or will be in them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Ian – I emailed you.

    And Mojave – I will look you up today, I’m sure we know a lot of the same people – maybe we hooked up, hahahahaha, those were the days.

  52. MojaveWolf permalink
    February 13, 2017

    @Jen — no worries about the social media (glad I didn’t give you my twitter now!; there’s actually very little about my LA days there and it’s all f-locked anyway; I barely ever use it anymore (1 post in last year and a half) and the most recent of that was political “grrr aargh!” that is nothing new if you read & follow comments here. And I made my profile sort of off-putting on purpose; I wanted to yell at various people but didn’t want to hurt their feelings so worked my rage into a rant there.
    I was just thinking LJ as a way to communicate back and forth (would rather not put TOO much personally identifiable info in widely read public forums and all that). Now that I’ve gone back and looked at it + last few entries and am thinking will never hear from you again. 😛

    Re: maybe we hooked up, hahahahaha

    I doubt I was so lucky. I remember everyone’s name but one and I remember everything else about her and I’m near certain that wasn’t you (unless we met by a pool in our apt complex, went out to Acapulco for dinner, and you were making a living as a telephone psychic and errrr, I’m going to leave the rest of this out).

    I did having a working relationship w/two comics that never quite got as established as you sound like you were (a couple of guest roles on In Living Color were the biggest thing I can recall, was super stoked about that), but the friend of mine you are most likely to have met was because you at some point might’ve eaten where she worked as a server at Chin Chin’s; when she first got to LA she got a lot of call backs for some good parts and was among the last cuts not to get some roles that went to Wynona Ryder and Lara Flynn Boyle (if she’d gotten the part in Twin Peaks I prolly woulda fallen to the ground and started kissing her feet, then again if she’d gotten that part I might never have met her–I *think* that audition was before we knew each other, and some sort of party w/the cast she told me about was after, but my memory is kinda foggy other than “omg I so wanted to have been at that party and met these people” (relevant fact: I have four favorite TV shows of all time that may never change–this is one of them and OMG it’s coming back in May it’s coming back in May it’s coming back in May!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

    Anyway, she (Chin’s Chin’s friend) and I and her roommate and one of her other friends were a little pack that went everywhere together at least a few times a week. I suspect LA is home to more such similar packs than anywhere else in the world. (if I wasn’t too lazy I would look up a youtube of the Go Go’s singing “This Town” because soo appropriate)

    Oh, since this is in a thread about happiness, another reason we were unlikely to have hooked up that amounts to “good advice for single guys on how to be happier by not being like I was back then”:

    Unless I just happened to be in the right mood or have really good chemistry with someone so that I relaxed, I was a completely different-appearing person when I was approaching someone more friendly-ish as opposed to when approaching someone for a date (or actually on a first date, in some cases)

    Girls always found me more attractive when I was dating someone else, esp. if I was dating someone else I really liked so I didn’t care what anyone else thought of me. I quit being all nervous and shy and became comfortable and relaxed and more myself and less worried about what they were thinking, and relaxed being my weird eccentric self me was more attractive than “hi you are hot and I love the way you dress but I’m afraid to talk to you and I swear I’m not weird look how normal and boring and not-weird I am would you go out with me?” me, which version of my self was a colossal failure on the social front.

    If that thinking sounds strange, keep in mind that from around age 11 onwards or so, while I always had plenty of friends, I also had plenty of people tell me I was weird or strange. Using those words. To my face. One of my best friends in high school told me his parents had actually asked him if I was on drugs; I also had other kids at different colleges at these “you aced your SATs” recruiting weekends automatically assume I was a fan of acid, mushrooms, or coke upon talking to me for about 5 minutes; this even tho I never touched anything till after I started college and never anything beyond pot till my mid-20’s; I think I qualify as “approachable, seems nice, but a little off”. I eventually learned to embrace it and people can deal or not as they choose, and then I met my wife and that worked out. Anyway, to anyone single reading this and worried about happiness in your dating life–be yourself and don’t care about the consequences (see, Ian is right!). If you get dates being someone else, they probably will bore you and the other person to death (I know, I tried that, it worked, and that’s what happened). If you worry too much about what the other person thinks, you will assure rejection by acting like a terrified idiot. And if you’re actually a more normal person than me, you won’t even have to pretend to be not-weird! ;-P

    Ummmm, anyway, Jen, try MojaveXWolf@gmail.com for an email if wanna swap stories. That email is erratic but I will check the spam folders. Or not. Is cool either way. Thanks for showing up tho–I’ve already had fun reminiscing even if you never read this.

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