Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Pursuit of Contentment (Again)

Someone recently pointed out to me that I've been writing these columns for just over a year now. I missed my first anniversary as a wannabe professional writer. This provoked two reactions.

First, I was kind of bummed. I've been at this for over a year without somehow going viral or someone stepping up and offering to pay me to write? Sheesh. Sure, hundreds of thousands of people, millions for all I know, have the same goal, but I thought God was on my side. 

On the other hand, I'm proud of the fact that I've published a new column every week, as I set out to do. 

If I drop dead as I'm writing this I will have managed to leave a batch of love letters for the Stickies and my daughter and son-in-law, which are what my feeble scribbles actually are. I feel like I've followed through on a New Year's resolution for the first time in my life.

The Pursuit of Contentment, my first column, remains, as far as I can tell, one of my most frequently accessed columns. But the statistics and technical tools helpfully provided by Google (the force behind Blogger which is the force behind my columns) often as not leave me baffled. 

For example, I just managed to accidentally delete the original column, and I have no idea how I did it, or where it went. It was my intention to re-publish my first and most popular (at least I think it is) column so far to celebrate my first anniversary and make it available for anyone not aware of it. 

Fortunately, I just happened to have a copy of the original stored offline, which is amazing since I stuff almost everything into the cloud. 

Anyway, for the record, The Pursuit of Contentment, my very first column, was published on 7.23.15. However, if you go looking, the first column you will find is Republicrats v. Depublicans, 7.29.15, because of my technical incompetence I'm technically challenged. Happy anniversary to me!

When I become king I'm going to order that the phrase, "...the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence be replaced with, "...the pursuit of Contentment."

As to precisely what Mr. Jefferson meant by the original phrase, well, that depends on which scholarly interpretation you choose to accept. I'm not a scholar, nor do I play one on TV. I've conducted a (brief) in-depth study and the result was a mild headache and an inexplicable desire to watch reality show marathons.

Since I plan to alter one of the nation's most sacred and fundamental founding documents once I become the King, I must explain the logic at work in this fantasy.

Granted, my critics may claim that any logic promulgated by a man that thinks he should be the king of America should be dismissed as pretzel logic. Two quick points. First, I promise to be a benevolent tyrant. Also, note the fact that I refer to myself as I, not we, a clear demonstration of my sincerity.

To me, and I suspect I'm not alone, the right to pursue happiness means that we Americans (well, everyone actually), not my would-be royal personage have the right to choose whatever course of action that we find agreeable, within certain limits, that we feel (hope) will make us happy.

I use the phrase within certain limits because most of us semi-rational adults, though unfortunately not all, understand that we're not the king/queen of, or even the only kid on, the playground. This is important. We must share the swings, sliding board, etc. with others.

However, there's a problem. It's human nature to believe that once a certain goal or desire is realized, we will, at long last, be happy. "Once I graduate, turn 16, 18, 21 or 65, get the job, have sex, win the lottery, retire or _____, I WILL BE HAPPY!" and we will until we're not.

This tendency is amplified by a consumer culture that bombards us with a firestorm of advertising promising happiness will at long last arrive, via UPS, in 3 to 5 business days. Feelings, like coins, flip easily.

Contentment is also a feeling, of course, but I use it here in a philosophic sense, as a way of looking at things and a strategery for getting through the day. I wish to change a common noun to a proper noun, kings can do stuff like that. Full disclosure: I freely admit that what follows is merely my personal, highly condensed take on a particular aspect of Stoicism, a philosophy that's been with us for over 2,000 years.

Also, I must acknowledge my debt to a book you should read called, "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William B. Irvine. And, to my late wife, Ronbo, who always insisted on looking on the bright side... which sometimes pissed me off (GRIN).

It could always be worse, much worse.

This is the central tenet of King Crank's Philosophy of Contentment. Be thou a believer (in God, a God, or the Gods), an atheist, an agnostic, or _______, the fact remains that if you choose to keep showing up you're going to occasionally experience happiness.

You will also occasionally get caught in a crap storm. Mostly, you will just be doing what needs to be done to keep body and soul together. This is often boring, which may lead us to pursue happiness and explains why it's relatively easy to sell us lottery tickets, politicians, and beauty aids.

How do I maintain my contentment buzz in the midst of a crap storm? Reminding myself that it could be worse fosters a sense of gratitude. Gratitude is important because while our wants are seemingly limitless, what we are given is not.

If you know any recovered drunks or druggies, ask them to explain the phrase, "attitude of gratitude." Being grateful for what I have serves to curb my longing for what I don't. I still want stuff, but I seek Contentment in what I do have today, not what I might have tomorrow.

When I go out to eat I sometimes find myself wishing I could afford a better restaurant than one where the decor includes much in the way of brightly colored petroleum byproducts. Of course, I'm fortunate to be able to eat out at all, or even to count on regular meals since many Earthlings can't.

And Wendy's is waaay better than having to sharpen my spear, round up the gang, and engage in mortal combat with a wooly mammoth.

Have an OK day.