Saturday, July 03, 2010
One Answer to Life, Happiness, and Everything
Okay, it’s soapbox time. I’m going to stand up here and spout a bit of my personal philosophy. I make no apologies for this. After all, isn’t that what a blog is for? Especially one like TLH&D where we get together to deal with so many issues around people, life, relationships, happiness, sadness and so on.
And I admit it – I stole the title for this little tirade, or at least borrowed the idea. Those of you with a passing familiarity with another great forum on relationships might be familiar with the idea. I am speaking (okay, typing, sheesh...) of course, about (clears throat importantly) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is revealed. Only in this case the answer is not 42. Nope. Here is the answer, stated as simply as I can make it:
As in, every one of us benefits greatly when we have some. And here’s how I think about this in practical terms. We all need things to look forward to.
And for those of you going, “Dang Andrew, you’re not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition” ... well, I have no less an ally than Winston Churchill on my side, who is reputed to have said: Not ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with I will not put.
But seriously, think back to some of your happiest times. Sure it’s great when fun things happen, but what about the anticipation? How about those hours and weeks and years when we dream happily about what lies in store for us. How many of you have a vacation coming up in the next few months? Will you be taking a trip soon? I bet some of you are currently planning an upcoming celebration, or a visit from a loved one. I’m also willing to bet a pretty penny that you’ve already reaped a healthy dollop of happiness from simply looking forward to these sorts of things.
I believe this sort of anticipation is what keeps all of us going as we slog through the more mundane aspects of life. We all have to drag ourselves out of bed some mornings when the night was just too short. Each of us has work to do, a report to write, a diaper to change ... tasks that we do over and over again, which lend a flavor of drudgery to our lives. But we can keep smiling through all of that ... as long as there is something on the other side of it to look forward to.
I have friends – very educated and truly smart friends – who believe that lottery tickets can be more accurately described as a tax for the mathematically challenged. In other words, your chances of winning are so infinitesimally small that buying the ticket amounts, for all intents and purposes, to giving your money away.
Well I disagree, and it’s not because I can’t do the math -- I can. I just believe that when I purchase a lottery ticket, I do indeed buy a tiny chance of winning a large amount of money. But what is more important to me (and I suspect to millions of other satisfied customers) is that I am really buying something different, something I receive with 100% certainty every time.
Hope. A dream. For a few days, until I break down and check the ticket, I get to dream about what it would be like if I really won. I get to smile inside and imagine.
There’s a lesson in that. We can all make our own lives richer by creating our own lottery tickets. We can do this by getting busy and creating something we can look forward to with pleasure. Plan an outing with your children for next Saturday afternoon. Start writing a short story so you have the pleasure of anticipating how much fun it will be to share it with somebody when you are finished. Buy a ticket to a theatre production that’s coming to your town next month. Or if your budget is tight (and even if it’s not) email a friend about what is going on in your life so you can look forward to their reply.
Try something. Plan something. Arrange something. Get some items entered into your future calendar ... and then just see if that next shift at the factory doesn’t pass by a little more quickly.
Stephen King wrote about this phenomenon, only in the extreme, because that’s what makes for a poweful story. His short story entitled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption deals with lifelong convicts who struggle to imagine a day in the future when their lot in life could possibly be better than it is today. Even when finally released from prison, elderly convicts in this story struggle to take advantage of the freedoms they no longer know how to enjoy. Except for Red, who heads for Mexico hoping to catch up with a friend who escaped from prison years before. King writes this character’s thoughts at the end of the story:
- - - -
I hope I can make it across the border.
I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.
- - - -
After years of having nothing to look forward to, Red’s life now has meaning again because of this powerful emotion.
So go make some hope for yourself. I bet you’ll be glad you did.