Now Playing Tracks

On happiness…

As we ponder the meaning of life and our own place in the grand scheme of things, it is tempting to view life from the outside, as a sort of picture or movie. We tend to view it as a continuum which transcends single events, and to judge it from the perspective of the history book. This perspective, however, is an illusion with zero overlap between itself and the point of view of actual human beings.


Life is not an authorship or a career, or a job title, or a family, or the esteem in which we are held by others. Life is a series of split-second moments experienced by a single individual. Humanity may build cities and wage wars, but just as individual neurons have no intelligence outside the collective, so the role and function of the individual human is separate and entirely distinct from that of the collective to which it belongs. The building blocks of the human race and its civilizations is a multitude of single individuals, each of them cut off from all the others. No human sees “the big picture” - we see only through our own two eyes.

We may observe celebrities and imagine that these people lead lives fundamentally different from our own. This, however, is a fallacy springing from that transcendent view which fails to distinguish between the point of view of the biographer and that of the individual in question. People do not live on the outside looking in upon themselves. The lives of celebrities, like the lives of all people, are series of moments seen through single pairs of eyes, experienced by individuals alone, and no one else. Consider the implications.

It follows from this realization that many things otherwise thought to be of prime importance for a happy existence lose their value and become hollow and meaningless insofar that they do not contribute positively to the experience of the individual as an individual. If the experience of life is reduced to a sequence of sensory (or imaginative) packets of data, then the meaning of life must be transformed from an abstract involving such grand concepts as fame, fortune and an enduring legacy, to the concrete pursuit of maximized enjoyment of the individual moment at the expense of all else.

Theories of the meaning of life have traditionally been couched in metaphysical and religious language, and indeed to those of strong convictions of a religious nature, life may be meaningful in ways which atheist hearts can never grasp. To the irreligious, however, there is only one life, which ends at the moment of death when the neurons cease firing. This makes life holy in a most pressing manner, far more so than any scriptural account would allow. We are animals: Chance-spawned branches on the tree of evolution, each with a consciousness or personality which amounts to nothing more than the potentially calculable (i.e. predictable, given full understanding of the brain) product of the “swarm intelligence” of one particular group of neurons. There is no magic to our creation, nor any to our passing.


Far from making life meaningless, however, this should inspire each of us to make the most of our time here. We are blessed, by chance, to have an awareness of our existence unique in the animal kingdom. And we have only one life; our particular personality is a fleeting thing which exists only for a brief moment in time. It follows that every person one meets in one’s life is living their one life as well. It is easy to lose sight of this as we consider the accomplishments of mankind in the past, present and future. It is easy to forget that mankind is but one individual living one life, standing next to another individual living one life, standing next… etc., until all of the living are accounted for, one after the other.

Do we not, then, have a responsibility to make sure we affect all we meet positively, in ways which add to their enjoyment rather than detract from it? Perhaps, but responsibility to whom? There is no external force to which we are accountable. There is, however, the principle beautifully summarized in the old adage which begins, “Do unto others…” otherwise known as the ethic of reciprocity. This, too, is something which is spawned and sustained by forces in operation within the collective rather than forced upon the collective from without. The ethic of reciprocity is at the root of all kindness, and knowledge of the finite, fickle nature of one’s life only adds to this. The less “spiritual” we are, and the more aware of the permanency of death and the corporeal nature of consciousness, the more we will be inclined to lead lives of compassion, love, kindness and generosity.

“To thine own self be true,” said Polonius to his son. This is the most important piece of advice any person can receive. It is tempting to envision a potential future for ourselves in which we participate in events and activities generally recognized as being enjoyable. The important thing, however, is to keep our own preferences in mind and not lose sight of our true selves. Not everyone is happy doing the same things.


What is heaven to one may be hell to another.



I found this man on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. He was leaning heavily on his cane, looking down, wearing a grimaced face. I felt bad for him, so I smiled and waved when I walked past. His face changed completely. He lit up, smiled wide, and gave me a cheery greeting. There was nothing forced about it. He seemed like a man who went through life looking for the smallest excuses to be happy.

I walked 50 feet down the sidewalk, turned around, and walked back to him. “I want to take your photo,” I told him, “because of how big you smiled when I walked by.”

He said: “Well I saw someone smiling at me who I didn’t even know. So I thought: ‘By God! I Better do something!’”

Love everything about this

(Source: humansofnewyork)

We make Tumblr themes