Monday, December 19, 2011

Cathy Whimsically Chooses to be Unhappy

I was driving with a very young friend named Cathy. We hit a red light, and she groaned with exasperation. "I hate red lights!" she grumbled, being at the stage where kids begin to define themselves by their turn-ons and turn-offs.

I proposed an experiment: just for laughs, let's pretend we love red lights. Red lights make us happy. Red lights are like candy. See if we can make ourselves really believe it!

And so we had riotous fun for the rest of the ride, cheering wildly for each red light we hit. Red lights became like old friends. The way a baseball fan feels when his team wins a big game, that's how we'd feel each time a light turned red. We slowed ahead of green lights, madly hoping to see red. And when we did, we'd coo with delight.

"Cathy," I said, "the only reason you hated red lights before is because at some point you just decided to. Or else you imitated someone else who decided to. But you can re-decide anything you want to! So...would you like to know the secret to a happy life?"

"Uh-huh," she nodded.

"Take everything you dislike and make it something you love. That way nothing can ever bug you or make you unhappy."

Cathy thought about it for a moment, and then narrowed her eyes and grinned slyly. "I hate lots of things!" she proclaimed brightly, completely understanding that she was being ridiculous and arbitrary. End of conversation!

And there it is, the precise hinge of human unhappiness, right there. An early ballasting choice. It's nothing more than locking into whimsical, defiant preferences as we swiftly forget how childishly arbitrary they were to begin with. We split the world into what we want more of and what we want less of, and it's all a never-ending, pointless, painful game of whack-a-mole from there on out.

Watch this:

Also see: An Adult View on Preference

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