On Happiness

I live in America. It’s common here to think of happiness as an exuberant state when you are beaming smiles.

I’m going to argue that’s not the case. I am a woman who has been told by men to smile more because I look unhappy. In fact, I have never been happier in my life. My happiness is deep and steady. I don’t have to be giggling and showing my teeth in order to be happy. These past few years have been joyous.

Happiness is the state of being unperturbed. That is mostly within your control. It’s up to you to decide what perturbs you.

I face challenges. Just the other day, I was thinking about how to deal with a potential problem. That doesn’t make me unhappy. It’s a chance to work out rationally what I should do and see how it works.

Stoics often engage in such things. Marcus Aurelius often went over what he may do in an expected situation and wrote his thoughts in his journal. Dealing with expected challenges does not need to make you unhappy. It doesn’t need to perturb you.

In America, we have a false and shallow view of happiness. It is fleeting and dependent on external circumstances. It is smiling with your teeth showing. It is exuberant laughter. The type of happiness I experience is not so fleeting. It is steady. And I feel it even when the circumstances around me are bad. It’s my goal to stay that way and, with practice and meditation, maybe I will.

I am unperturbed. And that, I think, is the true state of happiness.

A Stoic Take on Voting

If you are like me, you want Trump out of office. Maybe you’ve voted already and made sure your vote was counted. Maybe you encouraged friends and family to vote. Maybe you posted voting updates on social media.

I have done all that, too.

It’s three days until Election Day and people are amping up.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to watch CNN 24 hours a day for the next three days. You don’t have to look at every poll. If you have put in the effort to get friends and family to vote and have posted such reminders on social media, you don’t need to remind everyone anymore.

In short, you don’t have to stress out about the election results. Stressing out will not change the outcome of this election.

As a Stoic and an activist, I am confident I have done what’s within my power this election. I fully realize what’s at stake–and what’s at stake is our very democracy. I know lives are on the line with COVID-19 in the air.

But if you stress out and are full of anxiety as Election Day comes upon us, it does no one any good. It won’t make you happy and it might not encourage the happiness of others around you.

You can matter-of-factly engage in activism and politics without stressing yourself out. You owe it to yourself and those around you.

The key is knowing what you can control and what you can’t. If you have reminded people to vote, made your case for voting Trump out, and have voted yourself, there’s not a whole lot more that needs to be done right now. Your stress and anxiety will not change the election results.

If Trump wins, there will be more to be done. Save your energy and keep your sanity for when and if that time comes.

Keeping up with politics can be stressful. Know what to pay attention to and what to disregard. You may like to keep up with every single poll–and that’s fine as long as you aren’t stressing about the outcome, which you cannot control at this point.

There are healthy and sane ways to deal with the likes of Trump that don’t cause distress, worry, fear and anxiety. In fact, if you let him have that power over you, he arguably already won.

Let’s keep our cool and be patient. We may not know the results until after Election Day. You can see the seriousness of the issues at hand without losing your cool.

Stoicism: The Key to Happiness (And Justice!)

Back when I was in graduate school, I read the book Radical Hope by Jonathan Lear. It’s a very short work of philosophical anthropology. In the book, Lear argues that the path Crow Chief Plenty Coups took–as opposed to Sitting Bull–was the best route. At the time, I offered many objections to this, seeing Sitting Bull as a role model for justice. Sitting Bull resisted colonization with everything he had in him while Plenty Coups encouraged his people to adapt to reservation life and get to work. Back in grad school, I argued that both tribes ended up basically the same, so wasn’t it better to fight injustice with everything inside you?

Fast forward to now. I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had to leave school. Donald Trump is the current president. I have learned a lot–and have suffered a lot. In my quest for mental health care, I went to counseling and engaged in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a derivative of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

When Trump was first elected, my stomach was in knots. I lost a lot of weight. I was worried, scared and terrified. I knew services that I needed may be cut.

I see this a lot on the Left–anxiety, fear, worry.

Because I saw a great counselor, I was able to work through those emotions and come to better terms with things. I am no longer a wreck–and I haven’t been for quite some time.

This new perspective gives me a better understanding of Plenty Coups, who I previously regarded as a sell-out.

If we see Plenty Coups as being more of a Stoic than Sitting Bull, it makes sense that, when all was said and done, Plenty Coups ended up happier than Sitting Bull.

Stoicism is a philosophical position that you practice. You live it. For Stoics, the end result is virtue and a state of inner calm known as “Stoic calm.”

Stoicism brings you happiness.

That’s why it’s foundational to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Plenty Coups wasn’t a sell-out. But he may have had better adaptation skills than Sitting Bull. He may have had better flexibility. And he may have been happier.

A lot of people think that Stoicism entails quietism, but it doesn’t. In fact, one of the key virtues of Stoicism is the virtue of justice–a virtue that is sorely lacking, including among the Left.

Ancient Stoics famously opposed slavery, even though they thought a slave could be virtuous and, thus, happy. Maybe they were against slavery because they thought slaves could be virtuous.

At any rate, Stoicism does not entail quietism. I am fairly Stoic in my lifestyle and I care for people, help people and voted against Trump. A Stoic sees brotherly and sisterly love among humans. That’s an essential part of being Stoic. Therefore, justice is required.

For a Stoic, happiness doesn’t depend on external things. You can be poor yet happy, dying yet happy. No matter what your state, you can be virtuous.

When I was studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for self-betterment, I learned that, often, unhappiness stems from cognitive distortions. Therapy, then, is the task of minimizing those distortions. Once you are in a state of fewer distortions, you can make better decisions–about life, about politics, about everything.

Being a slave to the political concept of justice–the way I thought of Sitting Bull–and dying and suffering for your just cause will make you less virtuous and also less happy. You may suffer mental disturbances. And this is true even if, like Plenty Coups and Sitting Bull, your fate is virtually the same and sealed from the beginning. Isn’t is better to have lived a happy life while also considering others than to suffer mental disturbances and do basically the same?

I think so. Too boot, I think the state of inner calm I experience puts me in a position to make better choices–about justice and all else.

Plenty Coups wasn’t a sell-out. And Stoicism does not entail quietism.