Thursday, January 05, 2006

PEACEFUL, EASY FEELING

How do you feel? Are you feeling okay? Do you feel great? Like shit? Tired? Hungry? Disappointed? Sick? Pissed? Bitter? Depressed? Ecstatic? Relieved?

How you are feeling is one of those things you probably don’t consciously think about very often, yet how you feel influences your every waking moment. That’s because how you feel dictates how you behave. If you’re feeling cold, you’ll put on a sweater or brew up a cup of hot tea. If you feel lonely, maybe you’ll make a phone call or turn on the television. If you feel tired, you’ll suck down a Starbucks or squeeze in a nap. If you feel happy, you’ll smile. Feeling is like a real-time performance analysis on living.

So how do you feel right now?

******

I just want to feel good.

So much of our lives is spent trying to feel good. And that’s okay because our forefathers guaranteed us, in writing no less, the right to pursue happiness. Swell guys, those forefathers. Some governments don’t care if you’re miserable from the cradle to the grave so long as you’re contributing to GDP. And in countries like North Korea, feeling good is expressly forbidden and punishable by imprisonment. Speaking of forefathers, incidentally, I've been working on a television pilot for a sitcom called ‘Our Four Fathers.’ It's going to be a show about four kids who all had the same mom but different dads. When the mom dies suddenly in a mysterious cheese grater accident, the four dads decide to bunk up so they can raise the kids together and, as you might imagine, many hijinks ensue. I guess it's sort of like that show “My Two Dads,” but “Our Four Fathers” has, not surprisingly, four dads – so the show is going to be TWICE as funny, which, now that I think about it, isn’t really saying a whole lot. But now I’ve meandered grossly off point.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all feel good all the time? Unfortunately, as I’m sure you know, life is full of pain, disappointment, and frustration. Some of these ills stem from natural causes, such as sickness, disease, and the weather. Other ill feelings are derived from the fact that we are social creatures living in a service society – and interacting with other people, while necessary, isn’t always a pleasurable experience. Ask anyone who works in customer service. The decidedly negative byproducts of human interaction are many: traffic, crime, legal disputes, domestic conflicts, power struggles, physical altercations, manipulation, coercion, competition over resources, and so on.

But in addition to the many identified natural and social sources of pain, disappointment, and frustration, there’s a third source that merits mention: Your mind.

The next time you’re in a bad mood, stop and ask yourself WHY you’re in a bad mood. Chances are it has little to do with the freezing rain, the high school kid who screwed up your order in the drive-thru, or the flake of a friend who cancelled dinner plans AGAIN. No - bad moods are more often products of our minds. We LET things get to us. We LET the weather – something over which we have no control – sour our mood. We LET the behavior of other people, something over which we have dubiously little control, ruin our day. We LET unmet expectations spoil our appetite. Our permission is subconscious, but if we can elevate it to a conscious level, it becomes clear that feelings of ill-content are enabled, and often created, by the mind.

Like most people, I’m quick to blame pain, disappointment, and frustration on external forces – bad luck, bad karma, bad people, bad genes, bad weather, bad vibes – all things over which I have no control. When the truth is that the way I feel is largely a function of my mind. To change my mood, I need to change my mind.

Whenever I feel flustered, upset, or out of control, there’s a phrase I look to for instant solace. It’s simple, but helps me put everything in perspective:

“As long as I’m still breathing, life is good.”

I’ll say it, take a deep breath and – wouldn’t you know it? – life IS good. Of course, I’ll still be stuck in traffic, waiting in line, coughing up a lung, or lamenting the loss of my beloved Illini, but I recognize these disappointments and inconveniences for what they are….or rather, for what they aren’t: life-threatening. It doesn’t work all the time, but it definitely moves me one step away from misery. Try it some time. See if it gets you off the ledge and back inside the building.

******

There is a popular saying that, “Misery loves company.” I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. Miserable people just happen to be stuck with other miserable people because happy, well-adjusted folks don’t want anything to do with crabby whiners, bitter complainers, and steamed pouters. Do you know anyone who’s actually PLEASANT to be around when they’re in a bad mood? Besides me, of course. I didn't think so.

Geri told me the other day that one of the million things she loves about her 5-year-old is that he always wakes up in a good mood. Always. That kid wakes up and he’s ready for the world. Singing. Dancing. Laughing. Playing. How many of you approach each new day with that kind of enthusiasm? I know I don’t. I wake up more irritated than Andy Rooney. I’ve got to ease into my day…which requires a long hot shower, a mighty grail of strong coffee, and a trip to the Super Bowl with the Cleveland Browns. Then I can at least tolerate the hypnotic monotony of everyday life.

It seems to me, the older we get, the more misery we collect. Kids are wide-eyed and excited for every day – and why shouldn’t they be? They haven’t lived long enough to experience life’s most daunting ills. By the time we retire, though, we’ll have been through some serious shit. You want to see some misery? Visit an assisted living community. There you’ll find a diverse collection of downtrodden, heartbroken, and woebegone folks who can collectively say they’ve seen it all. From war to illness to natural disasters, misery has a way of sticking with you. If it didn't, retirement homes would more closely resemble dorm floors than hospital wards.

“Here’s your prune juice, Ed – now DRINK mother fucker, DRINK mother fucker, DRINK mother fucker, DRINK! Hell yeah! Who wants to do a body shot? Woo hoo! I am going to kick your ass at Backgammon, Margaret.”

Not only does our misery collect like hair in the tub as we get older, pursuing happiness gets harder, too. Kids are easy – it doesn’t take a whole lot to make their day. When was the last time YOU shrieked and danced around at the mention of the name “Chuck E. Cheese’s”? I admit I got excited about it on Sunday, but I'm a strange bird. For most people, the stuff we got excited about as kids doesn't do it for us anymore. Cardboard boxes. Weekends at grandma's. Pixie Stix. Not so exciting anymore.

Even the stuff we got excited about just a few years ago is old now. But the soul doesn’t stop wanting - it's insatiable. We fill our lives with meaningful experiences, accumulating fond memories along the way, but the more we see and do, the more difficult it seems to become to find happiness. You can only fly on an airplane for the first time once. You can only go skiing for the first time once. You can only go to Hawaii for the first time once. You can only have sex for the first time once. You can only get married for the first time once. You can only have a child for the first time once. You can only drive a Porsche for the first time once. You can only buy your own home for the first time once.

The more you do, the more you’ll have done. And the thrill, as a result, as they say, is soon gone. Meanwhile, your joints get a little stiffer each day. You eyesight gets a little weaker. Your memory gets a little cloudier.

******

So here we are, a bunch of living, breathing organisms constantly seeking comfort and happiness, regularly bombarded by pain and misery, trying to make the best out of our situations given what little we have.

Is there any way to maintain a peaceful, easy feeling?

I was thinking the other day about all of those little things I know make me FEEL good. The idea being, whenever I sense I may be slipping into a funk, for whatever reason, I can take immediate action and thwart the onset of pain, disappointment, and/or frustration. So what do I enjoy? What brings me instant comfort or relief? Here’s an incomplete list of the THINGS I know make me feel good, in no particular order:

Coffee
A nice, long shitbreak
Teaching someone something new
Two beers
Chorizo
A good hug
Making someone laugh
A long, hot shower
Writing something brilliant
Taking a nap
Self-manipulation
Marijuana (Just smelling it, of course)
Three beers
A good back scratch
Sinus medication
Exercising
Eating pizza, tacos, or deep-fried anything
Tequila
Wearing new shoes
Making music
Survivor
Playing games
Crossword puzzles
Watching sports
Cilantro
Getting a haircut
Breaking wind
Hamachi Carpaccio

There are so many other things that bring me joy - and if I wanted to extend this exercise to include PEOPLE, it would quickly grow. Any therapist will tell you that depending on others for your happiness is not a healthy thing, but we all know people who can make us feel good. Close-knit relationships can be powerfully comforting. Lying on the couch with Geri, for example, is far more therapeutic at the end of a frustrating day than any shit, shower, or television show. The important thing is to recognize the things that bring YOU joy...as well as the people, things that you can do and enjoy right now...and people you can call for a laugh, or visit for a nice, long hug. And when you need a little jolt of happiness, pop one like a pill. Now that's chicken soup for the soul.

And don't worry if you're not contributing to GDP - your four fathers won't mind. I promise. I wrote the show.

2 comments:

Resident Weevil said...

Things that make me feel good:
four beers
compliments on my work
my children's open adoration
difficult projects successfully completed
doing jigsaw puzzles with Wife
doing unspeakable things with Wife
reading
making an old joke for the 4000th time
clean socks
women's butts and boobs
having one person to share life with
putting money into savings
pictures of my children laughing
comments on my blog
a Dr. Pepper at the right moment
a cigarette at the right moment
five beers

Jupiter-190 said...

Things that make me feel good:
A good book
good coffee
staying up late
surfing the web
setting Tivo to record something new
my children when they aren't annoying me
driving
smoking
bookstores
emails
mountains
foreign people
history lessons
spending money
chicken

I SEE YOU!