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After 100-plus essays, we are finally getting down to the core of what this is all about.
How do you live a happy life?
It’s actually not as hard as you think.
Deep, meaningful relationships make you happy. Porn does not. Sure, it does, for 15 seconds of bliss, but then you are back to square one.
Work and achievements make you happy. Crack does not. Sure, it does, for 15 seconds of bliss, but then you are back to square one.
A relationship with your higher power makes you happy. Video games do not. Etc.
That’s pretty much it. There are a few things that will give you lasting happiness, and everything else will give you transitory happiness. Material things will make you happy for a time, but that wears off, and then they end up in the landfill. That’s not to say that material things don’t have their place, because they do. I get annoyed with people who eschew all material positions, saying that they want to live a spiritual life. Not everyone can be Gandhi. Buy a nice car if it makes you happy, with the knowledge that you will need another car someday.
This is the point at which I bring up addiction. People can become addicted to all sorts of things: alcohol, drugs, sex, and gambling are the big ones. I mentioned crack for a reason. I know some people who have used crack, and they say that the high is so powerful, that the first time they try it, they add up all their money and figure out what it would take for them to be high all the time until they die. I’ve never tried crack, and I don’t want to. It’s not a drug that people do recreationally, in take-it-or-leave-it fashion. I do know some people who have tried cocaine, and said, nope, not for me. They are not addicts.
Addicts are God’s chosen people, and I’ll tell you why. They are in pursuit of a high which approximates that produced by a genuine spiritual experience. Except they are fooled—no matter how much alcohol or drugs they consume, they are unable to attain it. They are trying to find God—they are just looking in the wrong place. This is why twelve-step programs work as well as they do—they supplant the high produced by drugs with the high produced by a relationship with a higher power, replacing transitory happiness with true happiness. It’s really that simple. For people who enter twelve-step programs with preconceived notions about religion or spirituality, this can be very, very difficult.
I’ll go further. The biggest study ever done on happiness was recently completed at Harvard University. It was a 70-year longitudinal study on a Harvard graduating class that measured every aspect of their lives: their careers, their spouses, their kids—even the length of their scrotums. Everything. They were trying to find out what made people happy. They did find one thing. You know what all the unhappy people had in common? Alcohol. Those that had above-average consumption of alcohol were far less happy than their peers. How about them apples.
It's funny—alcohol prohibition was considered one of the most grievous errors in public policy—and also an infringement on personal liberty—but sometimes, I understand why they did it. It is estimated that 90% of crimes are committed while people are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The abolitionists thought they could get rid of 90% of crime, until the law of unintended consequences kicked in. We are stuck with drugs and alcohol, at least until we get central bank digital currencies, and that, my friends, is a discussion for another day. Prohibition is not the answer—people must be free to make bad decisions.
One thing I have constantly tried to emphasize in these essays is the importance of professional accomplishments. Not everyone shares this view—a lot of clock punchers out there. I would say that the vast majority of people understand the importance of deep, meaningful relationships with family and friends—I can probably name 10 guys off the top of my head who don’t take their jobs particularly seriously, but are shot out of a cannon at 4pm to go spend time with their kids. That has its place, too, but I can tell you that nothing compares to the feeling of doing something, building something, or winning something, then standing back and said: I did that. When I graduated in June, I won the award for being the best writer in my graduating MFA class. Still buzzing three months later.
I always go back to the funeral. Some people’s lives will be measured in their achievements (“great men”) and some people’s lives will be measured in their relationships (“good men”). It is possible to have both. And it is possible to have the third leg of the stool as well—a relationship with God. Some people will chafe at the mention of God in this essay. Let me tell you that you don’t have to believe in God to have a relationship with God, as nonsensical as that sounds. I will tell you everything you need to know about God: there is one, and it isn’t you. I have had mixed experiences with organized religion, and I haven’t been to church since 2010, mostly because I don’t like the behavior of other people in church. But I have a relationship with a higher power today, whereas I didn’t 20 years ago. It has made all the difference.
I will add that doing quote unquote “bad” things will decrease your happiness. I call this the “sneaky scumbag” phenomenon. If you ever find yourself doing sneaky scumbag things, like, getting a prostitute, or stealing, or engaging in character assassination, what you will experience is a drop in your self-esteem. You will like yourself less, and your happiness will be diminished. We all know the difference between right and wrong, and you’re only as sick as your secrets. Which is essentially what All the Evil of This World was about—seven people with seven very sick secrets. I had to write that book to get it out of my system, and now I don’t have to write about it anymore. I can tell you, you can hire a private investigator to follow me around, and they would not find anything interesting, except for the occasional lunch at Hooters.
I can’t seem to find the chart at the moment, but I saw recently that happiness, in the aggregate, is declining in the U.S. We can all guess at the causes. Social media? Maybe. Isolation and loneliness? Maybe. An increase in drug use? Maybe that, too. Maybe it’s all of these things and more. I can only tell you what works for me: relationships, achievement, spirituality. Maybe you have another solution. Maybe whacking off six times a day makes you happy—whatever floats your boat. I’d write a book on it, but I don’t have enough material. I don’t even have enough material for a 10,000-word article. It’s really simple. Love other people, love yourself, love God. Two out of three is pretty good. Most people don’t even get one.