Happily Unstable


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Happiness is not a stable state; you may have noticed this. To be happy, everything has to be going well; health, money, relationships, career maybe, social standing, reputation. Now and then, the planets align, and we experience well-being resulting in happiness. But happiness resembles the act of getting a pencil to stand on its end. With patience and skill, we may achieve this unlikely state, but the slightest vibration and it falls over. The pencil’s state was unstable, what is called an unstable equilibrium. Happiness is an unstable equilibrium, a minor adverse event (you spill coffee over your computer keyboard), and the happiness comes crashing down.

To go looking for happiness is perhaps one of the most stupid and ignorant things a human being can do. Not only is it an admission that you are unhappy, but the seeking for happiness will amplify the fact you are not happy. Nonetheless, people do go looking for happiness in all sorts of ways. Usually, it involves getting stuff or acquiring a status that will be approved of by others. It’s an inadequate way to live, but it has a large following. Whether we think fame, fortune, power, or status will bring about happiness, the result will always be the same: an unstable equilibrium.

Let’s say we seek fame and successfully exploit social media resulting in a large following. In a situation like this, we naturally have to serve the mass of followers and be careful not to put a foot wrong. It’s unstable. One day we say something that many of our followers find unacceptable, and our fame ends in calamity. This experience will be harrowing, but maybe we then find a stable equilibrium. Just like everything falls to the ground, our ambitions will consistently deliver some level of disappointment to a place where there is stability.

You may also have noticed that the most ambitious people are usually the most unstable; flirting with instability seems to give them a temporary thrill followed by a depressed state. This behavior is a good example showing how a little understanding could save people so much misery; happiness is unstable.

Of course, when life is sweet, it is easy to forget that happiness is an unstable state, so we buy into it only to hit the ground hard when some adverse circumstance arises. Oddly enough, there is a perverse kind of happiness that comes from understanding this kind of thing, but it’s hard-earned, and because it is not dependent on external circumstances, so it is stable. To call it happiness would be to trivialize it. Maybe there is a strange emotional state that comes with understanding ourselves; we might call it contentment or surrender to the nature of reality.

There is something very unsatisfying associated with buying into temporarily happy states, a kind of dumb stupidity permissible in dogs and monkeys, but not human beings. As for stable equilibrium, things will always go wrong, you will be disappointed, experience pain of various kinds, and grow old and die. It’s not as bad as it sounds if you can accept the realities of life; it is only your hopes and ambitions that make the stable ground state of existence seem unacceptable. Ditch your poisonous hopes and your greedy little ambitions, and the ground state of the reality of our lives might start to feel quite fulfilling. The drama queens and people who need emotional turbulence this ground state will never do, but others can make life quite satisfying with a bit of understanding.



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