Have you ever stopped and thought of your life as a computer game? You know, where you remember to click on SAVE when the game is going well, so that if it all gets screwed up you can start again from where you were happy? I often think of that, and it pays to pause and appreciate when your game might be worth saving.
Thomas Jefferson said in the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, and that they are imbued with certain inalienable rights, namely: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But while the first two seem more than possible, and entirely attainable in a civilised society; the last-mentioned is more complicated to achieve.
Happiness, as I read last week in a Huffington Post article, can be defined as the distance between your expectation and your reality. If your reality is a miserable existence the expectation of a good night’s sleep is enough to make you happy. If your expectation is to be a billionaire while you languish in a middle-management bureaucratic job, you’re unlikely to close the gap. The shorter the distance between expectation and reality, the happier you will be.
Some South Africans think they’re going to die tonight. Their own family is predatory, they have no security to speak of and will be fortunate to find a warm meal and succour. Their expectations are very low. Waking up tomorrow might be enough to make some people happy, and a government grant might be enough to ensure their satisfaction with the machinery of state. They would like their sports team to do well over the weekend.
Other South Africans will drive home in luxury cars to a privileged existence, dine on fine food and sleep in Egyptian cotton linen. Their expectations might include an accumulation of material things, and the respect and admiration of their co-workers. They would like their sports team to do well over the weekend.
Here are some things that definitely won’t make you happy:
1. Expensive things. We all know someone who has everything money can buy but who just can’t enjoy life. Consumer culture, advertising and jealousy have convinced us that if we just have more stuff we’ll be fine.
2. Someone else. You can’t expect someone else to ‘complete you’(in the words of a cheesy, romantic Tom Cruise movie). If you’re an incomplete person, you’re going to steal from that other person like a parasite. Enhance each other, but don’t try to complete anyone but yourself.
3. Fame. Just because people know your name or your face doesn’t mean they’ll think highly of you. Sometimes being famous can magnify your mistakes and amplify the insecurities. Do you really want more people to know you, just so more people can dislike you?
4. Looking really good. I’m not sure about this one, because I’ve never thought I looked good – but people tell me we all get old and unattractive eventually. Even ugly and fat people have sex, so maybe we shouldn’t be too preoccupied with how we look.
So what will bring you contentment? That depends on who you are and what’s important to you. Only you know the answer to that.
If pessimists are trying to make themselves happy by setting low expectations, and optimists are expecting everything marvelous to happen when their reality isn’t good at all, then perhaps the healthiest attitude is something in between. Life needn’t be a walk in the park, nor a burdensome struggle.
The pessimist, crying into his hands, laments: “Oh, things couldn’t possibly get any worse, could they?” To which the optimist replies with a smile, “Of course they could!”.
If things are going well, and you suspect you might have seen a glimmer of happiness, remember to take a minute and SAVE your game.