I never talk about what I’m grateful for in life. If someone puts me on the spot to answer, within myself, I sense resistance to putting it into words. It’s like how some cultures believed photography can steal their souls. Language, or any system of representation like photography, is a tool to represent what is not there. Words or photos therefore have the effect of reminding us of what is lacking in them. Even in situations where the thing or the person we described in words or in photographs still happens to be there, they remind us of the possibility of disappearance, lack, or loss. This is partly why we take pictures of our joyous moments. As we experience the joy, we are already worrying about the end or the loss of that joy, and this worry can prevent us from fully enjoying that moment. In this sense, language or photography, if used in a certain way, can steal your soul.
Idiot’s Guide to Being Happy
As I’ve said in the past, pursuit of happiness is rather superficial, and therefore overrated. When I said it, I did not have a child of my own, and did not even want one, at least not consciously. Now that I do have a child of my own, one might expect me to take it back. To my own surprise, I find my own statement truer than ever. In fact, I can go as far as to claim that, at the time, I didn’t even know the true meaning of what I was saying. Happiness indeed is superficial.
What do I mean by “superficial”? I don’t mean it in any personal sense. When we commonly use the term, we mean something easy to achieve. For instance, we consider fashion modeling to be superficial because, for those who were born beautiful, it requires no effort on their part (at least so we assume). Something “substantial”, on the other hand, is a quality born out of hard work, dedication, and perseverance; for instance the achievements of Isaac Newton, Van Gogh, and Beethoven.
When I look at my own daughter, an inexplicable feeling of happiness takes over me. I had never experienced such a feeling of happiness before in my life, which means that I was not truly aware of what “happiness” was when I said that it is superficial. Because of this, even though my statement was technically correct, it was at the same time false. In retrospect, I realize that what motivated me to say it had more to do with my desire for it to be true than it had to do with my deep conviction. It was my own defense mechanism trying to negate happiness so that I did not have to feel guilty about feeling unhappy.
Happiness, as I know it now, is supremely superficial. I didn’t have to do much. It is so automatic. As I’ve heard others say, any idiot can be happy, that is, as long as he is lucky enough to have a baby. I’ve always said that having a baby is an easy way out of the philosophical conundrum of life. This too was true. I have realized that God made it very easy for us to be happy. No deep philosophizing, meditation, and solitude are necessary. It is no wonder that many great philosophers in history never had kids. When you have kids, the philosophical questions of life that persistently haunt you, vanish. Ludwig Wittgenstein predicted that when one sees the world rightly, philosophical questions vanish. He was right, and zillions of people know/knew it. All that is required is to have a child.
This is not to say that raising a child is easy, but obviously it’s not that hard either. After all, the vast majority of people on earth somehow manage it. I have no respect for parents who claim that they sacrificed themselves for their children. Firstly, it was their own choice to have children. They had children because they wanted to, not because they were forced to. It is as idiotic as saying, “I sacrificed myself to buy a Ferrari.” Secondly, it’s cruel to say such a thing to their own children. It would make their children feel like their own existence was a burden on their parents. Thirdly, with all that joy, happiness, and learning experience of raising children, how could anyone possibly say that they sacrificed themselves! If anything, it’s the exact opposite. If my daughter could choose her own father, she probably would have chosen someone better; instead, she sacrificed herself to give me the joy and happiness that I don’t even deserve! To think that anyone deserves such great joy and happiness is utterly beyond me.
I would have to say that I was quite happy even before I had my daughter, but in my early 30s, I had a strangely elusive feeling of discontent mixed in with my happiness. At the time, I thought it might be related to my career or my lack of achievements. I thought about switching my career, moving to yet another foreign country, and even entertained the idea of living in nature like Henry David Thoreau did. Then, I had a medical problem that almost killed me. After experiencing what it is like to face death, I became thankful of my second chance to enjoy life, and I became fiercely productive. Despite all the positive changes that I went through, this elusive feeling of discontent did not go away. This puzzled me profoundly. I kept asking myself, “What the hell is it?”
Now I know what it is. It was biological. It was my body telling me to have a child. Women are familiar with it and expect it, but for men this can be confusing. After I had my daughter, that feeling of discontent completely went away. It was as easy, simple, and superficial as that. It was not anything profound, it was equivalent to feeling horny. Imagine this: somehow a whole bunch of baby boys were stranded on a remote island. As they grow up on their own, at some point, they start to feel horny, but since they are not even aware of the existence of women, they never find out what this feeling is about, and they end up attributing profound significance to this feeling, and it becomes the great riddle of life.
I actually think that this is what happens to those who never have kids. They live their whole lives with this inexplicable sense of discontent, and they end up attributing profound significance to this feeling, and ask such questions as, “Has my life amounted to anything?” as they face death in their old age. They become obsessed with achievements because they wrongly assume that their feelings of discontent is stemming from their under-achievement. Naturally, achievement is relative, and one could always achieve more. Even the vast majority of those who are famous for their achievements today, would be forgotten in a few hundred years, or even less. Even Jesus Christ would be completely forgotten if some huge meteor smashes into earth pulverizing the whole planet. And, such an event, in the scope of the entire universe, is quite minor. So, any great achievements in the end don’t really mean much at all. This means that their pursuit of achievements is a rat race; they’ll never reach a point where their feelings of discontent would disappear.
If any of you readers have the same inexplicable feeling of discontent that I had, and if you don’t want to have any kids, my advice to you is to simply ignore that feeling of discontent. Don’t try to solve it. It’s not worth it. Don’t waste your life trying to figure out what that is. Accept the fact that you will always have that feeling of discontent, just as we all feel hungry for food. If happiness is superficial, so are any pursuits driven by the lack thereof.
©2005 Dyske Suematsu, All Rights Reserved.