Practicing happiness 17

Because of my unique experiences, temperament, and response to my environment, I ended up with a preference for strategies that internalise conflicts.

I didn’t feel that I had much control in my early life. But by turning within, I found I could control myself, or at least how much of myself I expressed to others.

This strategy is called emotional inhibition. When I discovered mysticism I saw an immediate parallel: it seemed that the mystics found within themselves a transcendent power. They too looked within and thereby overcame both internal and external limitations.

So instead of seeking control over my external world, I sought greater control over my internal world, convinced that I could thereby master both. But how?

Inhibiting negative emotions was relatively straightforward, at least in the short term, but the mystics also somehow mastered positive emotions, finding a mysterious “something” via meditation, absorption, prayer, knowledge, or sheer focus.

If that sounds suspiciously vague for a “how to”, well therein lies the endless search for answers.

On a day-to-day basis I’ve been perpetually trying to find positive emotional states that permanently overcome negative ones.

While I pursued it under the guise of mysticism, it hasn’t really changed from the early strategy of emotional inhibition – the belief that I could overcome or avoid conflict by internalising it.

That’s a tremendous expectation for self-control, but imagine if it worked! Imagine being able to completely transcend and free yourself from the suffering and struggle around you. Imagine being able to feel pure joy and love and appreciation within you at all times. And imagine knowing that this feeling is the very presence of the divine metaphysical being within you.

That’s the complete fulfilment of all spiritual and worldly desires, consummated in your own daily experience. Isn’t that something worth striving for?

So I believed. So all the books told me. But I made a mistake.

I thought that in order to overcome very strong negative emotions I had to find very strong positive ones. And to find strong positive emotions I had to make an effort.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that I could start by appreciating weak positive emotions. I didn’t think that focusing on weak positives would get me anywhere.

Besides, mystics are so all-or-nothing. God is all and everything else is worthless! No wonder I kept searching for the ultimate answer.

Well now I’m learning that it’s enough to appreciate the very small, ordinary things I take for granted. It’s a nice day. I have good internet. The air is fresh. I had a nice walk. My baby girl is cute. I don’t have much work to do.

None of these things is earth-shattering but that’s the point. As a starting point they’re perfect because they already happen. They’re already reliable, so whatever else is going on I know that these things are working for me. Appreciating what works and these weak better feelings is a really good direction to take.

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