Topic credit: @angela just asked everybody, “How do you change the world when there is so much sadness?”
I can only say what works for me…
1. I gave up trying to change the world. I’ve accepted the fact that I have changed the world about as much as an individual human is entitled to do, which isn’t much. Most of the changes I’ve been entitled to make, and have made, have been to myself and my immediate environment. There’s a tendency for teenagers to ask this question and for unsympathetic adults to snap back, “You could make the world a more attractive-looking place by making up your bed.” Snarky, but true.
2. I’ve accepted the fact that this is, in some ways, a sad world. A mortal world, where living creatures die and non-living things change. A world of suffering. A world where our actions have consequences, and where some of those consequences aggravate the suffering of other living creatures (who don’t particularly deserve this additional suffering) more than they cause additional suffering to us (who do deserve it). A world where the past can be learned from, but not altered or even forgotten. Sometimes when these natural laws of the universe affect us, directly, they cause us to feel sad, and it’s perfectly proper and appropriate for us to feel sad, and we’re better off experiencing our sadness than trying to hide from it.
3. I’ve accepted the fact that even while we’re living in a sad world we’re built to experience happiness, cheerfulness, passion, delight, and joy. A healthy person’s baseline mood is cheerful. Regular digestion and a vigorous immune system charge us with pleasant energy. (Due to hereditary gluten intolerance I spent most of the first thirty years of my life faking this pleasant energy, and most of the past twenty years actually feeling it. Sometimes I’m so cheerful and energetic as to be positively annoying.)
4. I’ve accepted the fact that I wasn’t built to be an extrovert–even though I have had brief successes at passing for one. Nobody I really enjoy spending time with was built that way either. During my lifetime scientific progress has led us away from the false belief that introverts are depressed extroverts, to the awareness that introverts are actually blessed with more complex neurological systems than extroverts, to what I believe will probably become an acceptance that extroverts are victims of easily overlooked but major brain damage. I don’t define happiness in terms of spending much time around extroverts or appearing to be happy to them. Or even trying to relate to them as equals. Extroverts can be loved, but more in the way dogs are loved than in the way real friends are loved.
5. Extroverts probably aren’t capable of understanding this, but introverts practice good will toward other people primarily by showing them respect, leaving them alone, letting them make their own decisions. We don’t shove “caring” or “friendly” acts upon strangers, because we actually do care about them and don’t want to cut off the possibility that some of them will eventually become friends. We don’t inflict our happiness on other people. Like, I blog about things that interest me; the act of blogging pleases me, and if it also pleases you, that’s very good–I don’t have a need to broadcast my words out of the walls in public places or anything tacky like that.
6. Some things in my private life about which I don’t write, and some things in the public world about which I do write, do not please me. The golden key to happiness when dealing with these things is: Fix facts first; feelings follow. I don’t feel a need to write about some sources of private unhappiness like my minor foot injury this summer because I have some general knowledge about how to fix that fact and, if that’s not enough, I’d want to consult a specialist rather than burden youall with my unhappiness. I do feel a need to write about some sources of public unhappiness, such as Syrian refugees and the possibility that the State Department is about to bungle our collective response to them, because I believe some readers may be able to help fix some of the more distressing facts there. On the whole…y’know that silly foot injury could become a metaphor for my approach to happiness. I want my foot to feel better, yes. I also know that if the source of pain in the foot is a dislocated metatarsal bone, the way to make the foot feel better is to get the bone into its proper place and let the peripheral inflammation and muscle cramps subside, not to cut off the leg or form a painkiller pill habit.
7. This world is also full of safe, healthy, natural mood boosters that we can and should use regularly and that will usually eliminate the need for painkillers and mood-elevating drugs. Brisk walking, singing or chanting, listening to music, being close to the people we love, doing things to help others, being among plants or trees, and stroking a purring cat, each have subtle but verifiable healing benefits.
So, what about the rest of the world? It can be too easy for people who like computers to plug ourselves in, ignore the rest of the world, and become depressed from lack of exercise alone. On the other hand, we’re not likely to change the whole world by very much. What we can change is our environment…starting with the bed, if it’s still messy, and working outward. Maybe we can buy something from a local business and boost our local economy. Maybe we can walk instead of driving and reduce local warming. Maybe we can help a few orphans or disaster victims or Syrian refugees. Anything we’re likely to accomplish won’t seem like much, relative to the whole world…but then again, we’re creating one more pocket of niceness in the world, one more point of light, and that does change the world.
Bless us all, I’m starting to sound like SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), whose Magic Marker art books have done so much to cheer so many. Y’know, she’s going through a rough patch now. Some readers might want to register for her and Dr. John’s fundraiser, er um, virtual writing retreat. If you don’t already know the way to Planet Sark in cyberspace, click here:
(Bluebird of happiness courtesy of Pippalou at Morguefile: www.morguefile.com/archive/display/850043 .)