How to be happy, brought to you by Google and Commencements

It was bright and sunny. Then everything turned a yellow-taupe hue, the wind blew a bunch of shit everywhere, sirens blared, and hail fell. Now, it's only dripping from broken gutters and there's a sweet breeze. It's May. I'm graduating and I think the weather just wrote my self-reflection. This Sunday, I'll give a tiny speech at convocation, which has me thinking and reflecting on what the hell I'm doing.

I started by re-reading a manifesto assignment from last year about happiness. For the most part, it reads like a "hang-in-there-cat-poster" and I'm surprisingly fine with that and agree with some of the words I etched into those proclamatory tablets [please imagine large extravagant hand gestures with every syllable]:

  • Happiness is not fictitious, neither is magic. Exercise both [by dancing].
  • Risk-taking and generosity are one in the same.
  • Happiness is transformative - not easy or saccharin.

Cats, hang in there!

Naturally, my next step was to start googling things. I googled "How to be happy." (Don't worry, this is more a curiosity than a plea). I'm not going to bother you with my google wormhole-path, but I will offer the highlights alongside the most popular ideas of how-to-be-happy:

Don't be an asshole, control your breathing, apply the Socratic method to your negative thoughts, get moving, optimism is infectious, practice active gratitude, follow your intuition, smile, enjoy your work, push yourself out of your comfort zone, go outside, sleep more, spend time with others, engage in mindful/meaningful conversation, and help others (it was specifically stated that 100/hrs is ideal- hmmm). 

Okay? Especially easy is the apply the Socratic method crap, which inherently makes me return to "don't be an asshole."

[Forward] I read a bunch of graduation speeches aimed to inspire... popular ideas seemed to point at the value of learning to learn*, remaining curious, loving your failures because they are ships that take you to lands you never planned on visiting!!! etc. And yes, learn through curiosity and pleasure. Yes! Enjoy the work and shift mistakes into regal attempts at what has yet to be figured out. Yes! We are putting ourselves out there by doing the work we do; we are doing something. Yes! We can have faith in this. Buuuuuuuuuuut..... it can be hard to remember these points of happy artful living, and harder yet, to feel their value and my own value in doing them. I imagine I'm not alone in this feeling.

[Redirect] On one website somewhere, Dana Schutz was quoted as saying - define yourself not by your successes but by how you survive your most difficult times, and Ed Helms - as long as your desire to explore is greater than your desire to not screw up, you’re on the right path. And of course, there's Neil Gaiman's truly uplifting Make Good Art 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts. It's a popular one for sure, but you should still listen to him and not let the popularity deter ya. 

He begins by addressing that he has never had a career plan, but has a practice of making lists. Lists of what he wants to do. He offers that not knowing on the way to knowing is a beautiful place to be. One that allows freedom from knowing the rules and, more importantly, an ignorance to what has been determined impossible. He goes on to heartfully and humorously comment->

...on making mistakes

...when things get tough comes and goes but at least you have your work

... make YOUR art

...enjoy it all

and arrives at a proposal/reminder to make your work for new futures opposed to those designed to uphold unproductive and exclusive art. The rules for how we need to proceed are breaking down and there is room/need to make up and forge new paths; new ways of doing what we do for/with each other.

[Now] Upon graduating, I feel a bit outside of myself; a bit exposed like I forgot my pants and just took a bite of something sloppy and too big for my mouth. I'm reminded by today's weather, Neil Gaiman, googling and revisiting that maybe some of my sad-not-sad-kinda-itchiness-flutter-of-anticipation-wtf-ness is less about me knowing what the hell I'm doing and more about my acceptance of my not knowing as a potentially profound way of reimagining my work and the way I'm feeling. In the words of Gaiman (ish, paraphrase supreme) I imagine where I'm going like a very distant mountain with many paths that can lead me there. Sometimes I may mistake an opportunity that is closer to the mountain as one that will leads me closer, but it leads me away. Recognizing when ambition blocks intuition.

CATS, we will get to the mountain.


*I'm a bit hmmm about the popularity of learning to learn as a pedagogy, which maybe I'll write next about. Don't worry, I'm not indicting this aim, it just seems like it is harder to not-learn than to-learn [there are certainly things I wish I could unlearn]. Perhaps, it is more the ability to keep on task, indulge the imagination, and do the work. David Foster Wallace in one speech somewhere stated ... teaching you how to think is shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. Control is another saucy term for artists... but this maybe a bit of where I'm headed.