Hello beautiful people!!!! Today’s book was actually an unexpected read for me, as I found it festering amongst neglected leaves of newspaper piling up around the computer at home. At first I was sceptical of how good it could be considering it was just a freebie. But would you give it credence, it did actually turn out to be rather useful and interesting… it is Tal Ben-Shahar’s ‘Happier: Can you learn to be happy?’
Happier is all about that: if and how we can learn to be happier people. It emerges pretty quickly in this self-help guide that happiness definitely isn’t a fixed inheritance or finite chemical resource that ebbs effortlessly from seemingly god-blessed beings of perfection, distant icons of inspiration who never worry or struggle to feel beauty or joy. Happiness is an innate prescient energy within us all, but like any muscle or lesson it has to become a consciously chosen habit to make a lasting difference to how you live your life. Ben-Shahar strongly advocates that everybody has a capacity for building up happiness, but that it isn’t as simple as just accomplishing your goals or doing what you’re told and expecting to be rewarded forever after with bliss. Nope, not at all. Happiness cannot be made into an object; is not money, the ‘perfect body’, or thousands of admirers- whatever ‘thing’ you believe would make you content. Those objects are symbols of status and safety in our capitalist world, but in themselves alone are meaningless without a jolly soul to enjoy, appreciate and give them value. Happiness, in this book, must be a sustained and cultivated perspective- of seeing and being- for it to be of any sincere use.
Happiness is defined by Ben-Shahar as synthesis and balance: harmonising present pleasure with long term self-concordant goals of personal significance. At the beginning, he diagnoses three types of people with different methods for survival, and he refers back to these archetypes throughout.
There’s the rat-racer: somebody who works hard for success with little time to enjoy themselves, and whose happiness is only ever ephemeral. Rat-racers mistake the relief they feel when a goal is reached for happiness, but because relief implicitly means there was discomfort before, happiness only ever comes after suffering. This yo-yo between constantly working like a frenzied bitch and then gasping for air evidently is not a nice way to live BUT THANKS CAPITALISM!!!
Next there’s the hedonist: somebody who has given up on the delayed pleasure and incessant slogging of the rat-racer, and instead chooses to only focus on present pleasure with no thought for the future, or what is really meaningful to strive for. They want to relax, but because they have nothing to temper the hours, eventually what once brought pleasure is just a bore. Ennui and despondency sink in, having nothing to make the pleasure meaningful, and so the hedonist becomes the final archetype. The nihilist: Somebody who has given up on finding meaningful work, and given up on the idea that pleasure brings happiness. The nihilist believes life has no purpose or pleasure and there’s nothing to do about it (can relate)…
BUT THAT’S WHERE TAL BEN-SHAHAR STEPS IN! In Happier, there’s different sections for different aspects of life- your work/career, love life, family and aspirations- where Ben-Shahar explains what could currently be wrong with the way we have become accustomed to think, and gives exercises to help us see ourselves better so we know what to do differently. He uses footnotes and real psychology research, so this is bona fide advice for any of the haters out there. And ultimately I think the lesson that the book showed me is perspective, and what you choose to prioritize in your life.
Like, you can’t always control what happens to you or how people you love (or not) treat you, but you can choose how to respond and conduct yourself. You can choose not to let it be a reflection of your worth, and not to let it grind you down or make you behave nasty. I think it is a call to a more authentic dialogue with the self, to really listen and be tough with yourself about whether the current things you think are important, or which get you down, really are important or deserve to have that power of emotions over you. If you listen to what you, ONLY YOU- not what TV or teachers or magazines or priests or singers or celebrities or friends or doctors or enemies or lovers have told you- then there can be no doubt as to what will really make you happy.
It made me think a lot about the commodification of emotion too, the sense that our western culture operates on the idea that obtaining certain things (wealth, beauty, popularity) imbues you with a corresponding emotion. IT IS ALL LIES, because if we are always changing and each one of us different, how can we possibly all need the same objects/goals to be happy?! The book is a reality check: None of us have been explicitly given a list of things that we have to do before we die. The sadness sets in when we feel we’ve lost power over this opportunity of freedom to make our own definitions, and choices of what happiness is and looks like to us. Do not let other people decide your life for you. To me, the good life is a zoot with my friends, a cup of tea and a book, writing poems and thinking of ideas about literature and society and THE UNIVERSE. To my brother it is art, star wars and frankfurters. To my dogs it is good smelling mud, a warm fire, cuddles and chews. We are all so wonderful and none of us live long enough, so don’t let other people think or decide things about you for you, it can never bring happiness, just more of the same: more people all aiming for a small plinth of fabricated grandiose, money and celebrity, and all climbing over and crushing each other to get there.
One of my favourite ideas that Ben-Shahar puts forward is that of the spreading of happiness being like a revolution, BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LIVE FOR REVOLTUION AM I RIGHT LADIES?!? It can’t fail like other revolutions, where people have been forced externally to submit to new habits, because happiness cannot be forced or indoctrinated. It can only come from depths of yourself, and if it really is happiness and not pride or ego, shouldn’t ever bring others down. To Ben-Shahar happiness isn’t a competition, but infinity- you never want the feeling to end, you want a party to make the whole world dance! Helping yourself makes you more able of helping others, and looking at the state of the world right now, we definitely need to be helping and looking out for each other more.
To finish (sorry for this long cheesy post, the book has a lot to say and I have no qualms with being cheesy) I will include a quote as per usual. The book really isn’t long, and is accessible in its language and exercises so I really would recommend it to everybody! Whether you are in serious need of some guidance through murky waters, or just want to strengthen an already jolly soul- Happier might be able to help!!!! XOXOXOXOX
“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. It is when we liberate ourselves from our fear of happiness that we can help others… ”