The practice of happiness

Since many people seem to me to be too unhappy, and since I like being happy (and believe, therefore, that other people will like it too), I thought I would share with you a couple tricks I have for recognizing the good in my life, in the hopes that you might become happier by using them.

(1) Every once in a while I take a few minutes to imagine in a quite serious way how I would feel if a member of my family died. This is, honestly, hard to do vividly. Nonetheless worth it, as it fills me with a tremendous appreciation for the living presence of my loved ones. It occurs to me writing this that I should try doing this with my friends as well. I got this practice from William Irvine’s book on Stoicism, which I recommend to everyone.

(2) A related, but happier, practice: I occasionally take a few minutes to see my good friends as their loved ones see them. Today in the car I spent some time imagining how my friend Colleen seemed to her now-husband (and my friend and riding partner) Lee the first time they met; then I flipped it around and imagined Lee from Colleen’s point of view. I ended up feeling a little bit in love with each of them myself, happy for them, and happy that I know them.

Both these practices mitigate against the tremendous danger of complacency about one’s own good fortune (earned solo or, more likely, acquired with the substantial help of others), the slow slide into ungratitude and habituation that accompanies the status quo. These exercises are designed to disrupt the stability of that status by reminding you of how fragile it is: in fragility it was obtained, in fragility it can all be lost. Every minute that it sustains itself is a small boon from the universe, a continuous miracle whose miraculousness lies precisely in its insane continuity, as you move through now, and even now… and still now! … and nothing has gone wrong that would destroy it. Isn’t that wonderful?