Despite carelessly slapping the H-word in the tagline of The Human Freelancer book, happiness remains a woolly term surrounded in mysticism that rightly deserves more thorough investigation – especially given our fixation with chasing this elusive state of mind.
Sadness, on the other hand, seems a ubiquitous component of modern life. Perhaps it’s because opportunities for wallowing in misery are more abundant, thanks to 24-hour media coverage of all the war, terrorism and debt you can choke a sickly orphan on. That said, I suspect the main reason most people are so fucking glum is the simple prospect of going to do shit jobs they resent. Just read any stream of status updates on a social network of your choice, every Monday.
On to happiness anyway
So what is happiness? I’m fucked if I know. Until recently I’d have said it’s an intrinsic, understated feeling of quiet contentment brought about by pleasurable activity (or inactivity). That was until I found a wonderfully pompous treatise entitled The Meaning of Happiness by Alan Watts, all dusty and beguiling on a charity shop bookshelf. The book leapt of the shelf at me, being a sucker for anything a bit Zen and pop-psychology, under 50p.
What first greased my whistle was the angle Watts chose to explore happiness with. It astutely addresses the frustration us Westerners feel at the fleeting nature of happiness and how our quests to capture it are always in vain. His book also contrasts modern psychological approaches with the wisdom of the East – an inevitable destination for every good hippy hoping to prise apart the piss-flaps of perception. It was first published in 1940 too, so folk have been trying to crack this particularly stubborn walnut for a long old time now.
The crux of Al’s argument is that we’re chasing what we already have which is why we never find it. Happiness comes only through acceptance of who we are and where we are right now, rather than trying to force ourselves into some other state of mind – one which you incorrectly believe is ‘superior’ to how you feel right now. It isn’t a higher state, it’s the state you’re already in, but accepted for what it is.
Acceptance is a sensible approach if you think about it: shit goes down in the universe whether you like it or not. So it makes sense to at least accept it – whether you made something happen or something happened to you.
Things get a bit spiritual now
Alan goes on to say that by separating ourselves from nature, by elevating our egos and expressing individuality, we’ve forgotten that we, every bit of us including our moods, fears, desires and motivations, even what we do and think, comprise the entire universe – and that everything that happens is inextricably linked to it.
And until we accept that and stop trying to resist, repress, forget, change or escape from that whole universe, we’ll never be happy.
Compelling stuff, Wattsy.
What really piqued my interest though was this observation, especially pertinent to human freelancers:
“We say that they are happy who have ‘found themselves’ for the secret of happiness lies in the ancient saying ‘’become what you are’”
That is to say being comfortable with who you are: an awesome part of a fucking awesome universe.
Old Al expands on what he means by acceptance, describing it sometimes as ‘total abandonment’ to whatever experience you’re engaged with, in whatever state of mind you’re in at any particular moment. So if you’re pissed off, you give your anger full permission to course through your body and express itself because it’s as natural and valid as anything else in the universe. Likewise, if you spot a juicy dog egg on the pavement that captures your imagination, allow yourself to be bound in fascination for as long as you like and fuck what everyone else thinks.
This freedom, to ‘live and let live’ is when you hit the sweet spot. What follows is gratitude for everything and an enormous sense of wonder at the universe. A bit like being a child again, when you were free of social conventions, neuroses and could smear your crap wherever you so desired.
I’m still baffled by how acceptance isn’t just surrendering yourself to the will of the universe, because I’m a shit for the principle of freewill and responsible behaviour. If Alan wasn’t dead I suspect his response to this paradox would be that we’re as integral to that same universe as everything else, so we exert the same amount of influence over it – effectively making us masters of our own destiny.
Top drawer shit this – I told you.
For all his high-brow dick tweaking, Alan and the human freelancer ideology are in broad agreement. I deliberately refer to freelancing as a journey of fulfilment in the prologue, not a journey to fulfilment – emphasising that you should ride along with every incremental experience, both good and bad, because they’re what makes life worth living.
“Acceptance and spiritual freedom is not found by going somewhere but in going.”
Alan’s awfully fond of getting a bit goddy and considering lillies, but other than that he’s cobbled together a thought-provoking read, and his book leaves you thoroughly perplexed but engaged and a little hopeful, as any decent rumination on happiness should. Not bad for a 24 year old – when I was his age I was shlorping protein supplements and chasing anal.
LOOK! There's a book full of this shit and more!
Self-help business books perpetuate the myth that success is relentless growth and more of everything means progress. They preach about bookkeeping and market research: things you might need to do of course. But let’s face it they’re fucking boring.
The Human Freelancer book is your antidote: stuffed full of emotional support and insightful advice for vulnerable newbies to self-employment like you.Buy it now