A good thirty years ago, there was a moment of sublime happiness in our part of the world. A nice long moment lasting quite a few years. What no one would have dared to imagine in their wildest dreams, happened: The system changed, Soviet troops left by themselves. Freedom dawned upon us. We were swimming in joy. Constraints disappeared by the week, new things became possible in that air of fraternity, enthusiasm, the promise of a wonderful future in Eastern Europe.
Russians then were replaced by McDonalds, and Viktor had already been here. We got really disappointed. I think this disappointment is justified, and so is concern about the future of the world. Not just in our parts but everywhere on our planet. The question is to what degree apathy and gloominess will help matters. Or if there is something more promising?
Be quiet for a moment. Make sure no one sees you. Cover the screen from the side. Behave casually, whistle if you want. Lean closer so you can hear my whispers: Have you thought about trying out being happy for being alive?
It’s called joie de vivre en French. The happiness for being alive.
Oh, that. Existential joy. No, thanks. What’ your next plan, enthusiasm? In this age, that’s just what we need. My friends would jeer at me. Anyways, what should I be happy about when things are looking awful?
I didn’t mean to make your inner state dependent on external circumstances. That’s another strategy: You rake favorable events, like autumn leaves, into a heap, add the beauty of the world, then jump into the pile. This is a good method for cheering yourself up. But the time to remind yourself of the joy of life is when things are not so splendid. When you just hit the jackpot, you don’t need to meditate on what positive thing you can find in life.
When the yogi Maharishi Mahesh started to teach meditation he had the idea of framing this as a rational activity. He, after all, had a degree in physics from Allahabad University, and anyway, we live in the age of science. His followers conducted tonnes of experiments, demonstrating that individuals who regularly meditate have significantly better physiological, emotional and mental functions: a lowering of the blood pressure, better blood flow to the brain, reduced anxiety, improved creativity and confidence and probably a square abdomen as well. Although I hope that meditation has more to offer than liposuction, the data makes sense. Why not apply it in our lives?
If you allow me to steal from a great yogi, I’d like to try his slightly childish method of persuasion. Although, since advertising conquered the realm of positive messages, it’s not easy to offer inspiring news. People will immediately scowl: What do you want to sell? Well, I’ve already told you: Joyfullness. Happiness. Enthusiasm. What’s my profit? Firstly, it makes me feel good. The rest I’ll tell you later.
Ready? Then, first of all, let us surmise that existential joy is probably natural. It does not appear too likely that archaic microorganisms in the primordial ocean started out grumbling: “Oh, I came into being, damn it!” Or lichens that had conquered land scraped the rock angrily: “I can’t believe it! Another century with one millimeter growth!” When you step into birds singing in a tree or baby animals playing, how do you feel? (I know empathy is not scientific but it works amazing in language learning. You take on the body posture and gestures of native speakers and start to understand them better.) I would even dare to say that plants enjoy sunbathing, open their flowers with delight and happily sip their nutrients from the ground. The spiritual life of plants is a subject of another article, the point now is that living things do enjoy life. I would go as far as arguing that this is their intrinsic state.
Are you a living being? Good. I meet quite a number of people who don’t behave that way. Have you, a real living being, thought about awakening your joie de vivre more often?
I know that despondency is more cool, pessimism is more artistic and existential pain is more intellectual. These are strong arguments. Yet happines feels better. And, since energy flow is more free when you are happy, it becomes easier to find solutions to problems. Even your immune system works more efficiently when you are well. You don’t need drugs, you are not staring at your screen in the hope of finding some comforting stimulus. Having more libido and vitality you can achieve more. You are also a more pleasant companion refraining from biting off the head of your partner because he used the last lemon that was meant for the cake. Your happiness radiates out to people, to your dog, your garden.
I don’t even have a partner or a dog or a garden, you may mumble. Well, when you allow the blossoming of existential happiness you will! Happiness is like the rays of the sun, others will gather to sunbathe like a green lizard in a cool morning. They will benefit from your contentment even when you do nothing. When you feel fine without having a car, all those creatures that would have been destroyed by the manufacturing and exhaust fumes will survive.
And this is my other gain that I had referred to. I happen to live on planet Earth which is presently being vandalized by humanity. When my specie-mates rediscover their core emotions and grow more balanced and optimistic, the situation becomes easier to change. We can then be more perceptive of what is needed and we will have the power to bring it about.
So this is the catch in the small print, you say. Now I have to feel responsible for the fate of the world! I have to be well, otherwise it’s the apocalypse.
No, no, no. It’s enough to allow yourself to be well. The rest will come by itself. The formula, however, does work the other way around. If you do something inspiring which is also beneficial to the greater whole, amazing energies will open up in you. You will, once again, feel alive. You can take a break from working for money and consider: If there were no expectations or routines what interesting and useful mission would I engage in? In the thirties when people worked 16 hours per day with a pickaxe the answer would have been simple: sleep. But how many hours per day do you spend in front of a screen? How much will your life change if once a week you do something worth while instead? You can act with others or alone in secret. When you look back a year later you can see that you have planted this many trees or empowered that many children. When you notice your actions made a difference in your neighbourhood or your planet – do you feel different?
Saving the world is actually not needed for joie de vivre. You can just immerse yourself in sensory experience, expanding the limits of acceptable behavior. Yeah, I will hike up to the ninth floor. I’ll allow myself to feel the pounding of my heart and the tightening of my thigh muscles. I’ll eat some plain rice to get the clean taste of the cereal. (It does help if it’s not full of chemicals.) I’ll wade into the cool creek, take a bath, even though I have no swimsuit or towel. I’ll sniff the heavy odour of the boxwood bushes, allowing to bring back childhood memories. I’ll run, not on the tracks with an exercise plan and a blood pressure app, just when I feel like it. Allowing enthusiasm from my chest to explode I’ll burst out running to better feel being alive. Or to get home and be able to begin some amazing activity.
All this is easier when you free yourself from the expectations of both others and yourself. Oh, my god, the cupboard must fit into the room! You can allow life to be good even when something this important doesn’t work or get done. I missed the sale, the work’s not finished, I’m still going to the party without a shave and my heart is singing like a bird. Why? Because. Because the sun’s out, because I’m here on this magnificent planet, because I’m alive. How I feel is controlled by me, not external factors. Perhaps something turned out differently from how I intended it but I can still be merry. I learned something today. If the cupboard fits, we have shelf space. If not, we have room space. I can feel good in many different situations.
We don’t know our purpose on Earth; where we come from, where we are headed. Well, many people say they do – good for them. I have an intuition that one of our tasks – if you can call it that – may be to be well. Not in the sense of being succesful, having power, money, women, glamour and a Ferrari, not in the way of the artificially happy people in advertisements, just simply being who we are.
You can be happy just the way you are.
So will you take a walk in the woods instead of finishing this great piece of wisdom? I hope so. Leave your phone at home.
A friend of mine has recently brought back a line of a song from Colombia: “Deja que tu corazón se abra y repite este mantra: Estoy bien. Estoy bien. Estoy bien.“ Allow your heart to open and repeat this mantra: I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.
Whether the music, the video is to your taste or not, the words speak for themselves. (Machine translation has gotten quite acceptable lately.) If you pay attention, you can find meaningful messages on a sheet of newspaper whirling in the wind.
You take care now. I’m going out in the drizzling January rain to cut some firewood. I like rain, it’s so nice and wet. Air also feels softer and the smells deeper. The snowy, sunny winter of our childhood would be nice but this is what we have now. Snow drops are blooming, broccoli and ruccola ready to be picked in the garden. It’s the middle of a sweeping change that we live in, a heroic age, a ballad contemporary.
 Orbán Viktor, prime minister of Hungary for the 4th consecutive term now.
 If you like super smart and crazily depressive films, check out Even Dwarfs Started Small (Auch die Zwerge haben klein angefangen), by Werner Herzog. Brace yourself for a tough journey. The good news is that you don’t need subtitles.