Monday, March 4, 2013

On Happiness And Writing

I watched a documentary called Happy last night and I agreed in part with it and I disagreed in part with it.

I don't think I become happier if I support some 3rd party's crusade to save the world. Granted, giving money to someone who is Doing Something Good is a great way to assuage your guilt for Doing Nothing, but I don't see this as necessary to happiness.

Ayn Rand would say that Altruism is a Bad Thing, because men and women are not sacrificial animals. This is in part true, but Ms. Rand failed to account for the fact that altruism makes the altruist feel good.

Karl Marx said, "religion is the opiate of the masses." If so then altruism-borne happiness is part of the high. (I always like it when I can juxtapose Marx and Rand.)

I've personally experienced the fact that I'm happier when I can "get outside myself." And altruism is one way to do that. Same goes for community. One may deny that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but one cannot deny the existence of the communities one associates oneself with.

My extended family, and my church aren't perfect but when we're getting along I get a warm fuzzy from the association. Same for the circle of friends I meet with because we share interests in writing, programming, technology, etc.

One the thing that really gives me a huge kick is getting something done. Sometimes that accomplishment comes at the end of a long, hard slog. Those times it is more like a feeling of relief. Like the first day after you've been sick and you feel good about feeling good. Or when you get a chance to put your feet up after you've been on them all day.

A bigger kick is accomplishment after I've had fun doing the work. Some times the joy is in the journey. Some times work is play. When you are writing there are times when the scene and the characters take charge: your fingers fly across the keyboard and prose pours onto the page. The ancients would pray to the muse and the Hebrews would say that they spirit of the LORD came upon skilled craftsmen. Today we term that state of mind "flow" and I am happiest when I am in a flow state of mind.

The employer is wise who can arrange for his workers to spend the majority of their working hours in a flow state. This explains why my writing suffers when my day job is most enjoyable, and why my writing gets so much better when I have to "pay my dues" in the rest of my life.

I spoke earlier of having a sustainable rhythm of writing. I've found that nothing disrupts my rhythm of writing more than having so much fun at work that I forget my work-in-progress. And nothing gets me back into that sustainable rhythm of writing than getting into a flow state while writing. Hemingway said that he always quit writing when he still had something more he could write. This kept him in the flow state right up to the moment he quit work, and it gave him an avenue to get back into the flow state when he resumed work the next day.


  1. I actually saw that same documentary a few months ago, and it really got me to think about flow and how it could be used in a productive fashion.

    I agree completely with your notion that we don't always need to attribute happiness or internal satisfaction to a higher power…there are plenty of completely satisfied individuals who are considered successful in having achieved personal happiness by just improving themselves. I think it's more important to highlight the fact that just merely finding worth in the things you can accomplish is a huge part of positive self fulfillment.

    I'm glad to see that someone else watched this documentary, actually…I tend to stray away from topics like this, as I've suffered from clinical depression for nearly a decade and "being happy" is actually a subject I haven't been familiar with up until the past few weeks, actually.

    Thank you for commenting on this.

    1. I haven't suffered from clinical depression, so I can't imagine what you've gone through. I can say that I've spent time in a chemotherapy room, and looking at people on the short end of the exit ramp did a LOT to make me feel sympathy for those worse off than me.


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