Archive for August, 2012
Okay, here it is:
“I can be happy independent of my external circumstances.”
I think basically you can derive the main practical benefits of any form of organized spiritual system from this one concept. A few thoughts:
If you really believe this, your overall level of fear and stress will be pretty low, because it is hard to threaten you if you believe you can be happy in spite of bad things happening to you. Conversely, if you don’t believe this, things that are very distant from you such as a policy wonk making a gloomy economic forecast can seem like a direct personal threat.
On that note, I think a lot of religious teachings on generosity and compassion boil down to this in practice. If you feel secure, it’s easy to be generous even if you don’t have much, whereas if you feel insecure, it’s hard to be generous even if you’re rich. Happy people tend to make other people around them happy.
One of the cool things about this religion is that its truth is self-fulfilling. Believing it is a very happy thought, so the more you believe it, the more true it is. (And likewise, disbelieving it is a scary, threatening thought, so the more you disbelieve it, the less true it is).
I’m generally not okay believing in things that I don’t have good reason to think are true, but I think believing self-fulfilling truths is acceptable. Basically, I think you’re okay as long as you’re aware that you’re making a deliberate choice, and you acknowledge that someone who chooses the opposite isn’t wrong in any absolute sense.
As well as being theologically sound and personally liberating, I think this religion has useful practical consequences. I find that, paradoxically, being okay with not solving a problem makes it much easier to solve the problem. It gives you the freedom to step back and consider alternatives that you wouldn’t look at if you have a solve-it-or-die mentality. So although I suppose one could take the attitude that, because I’m happy regardless of external circumstances, I can let the world around me go to hell, I think if you choose to take a proactive, I want-to-make-the-world-a-better-place attitude, this religion helps rather than hinders you.
That said, I do think that when you start applying this thinking to the world around you, it changes your approach to things. It leads to more patient, incremental problem-solving, as opposed to sweeping, all-or-nothing efforts. It also leads to radically greater humility about your opinions, since in my experience a strong need to feel that you’re right is symptomatic of a fear of losing control. The real world is an incredibly complex place, far beyond our theoretical capacity to understand it, and that’s very scary if you’re not secure in your own happiness.
I’m not sure if this is a proselytizing religion. Can you imagine someone going door-to-door promoting it? Shouting it out on the street? Maybe some day. Maybe you!