Tag Archives: winning

Lasting Happy

This week I finished reading Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., which inspired several posts. See them here, here, here, here, here, and here.

In the concluding chapter of his book, Seligman poses a fascinating question. Is it possible that negative emotions such as fear, anxiety and sadness evolved in us in order to help us identify win-loss, or power-over games? These feeling reactions set us up to fight, flee, freeze, or grovel. If so, he speculates, might it be that positive emotions such as happiness evolved to help us identify win-win, or power-with situations?

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If this is so, and I know of no data that either confirms or denies it at this point, the stakes for understanding and pursuing happiness are even higher than I first realized. If we as a species can cooperate in such a way that everyone has an equal share of peace, joy, contentment, and happiness as we form communities and families, raise children, create and invent, work and learn together, we are actively creating a culture based on win-win, or power-with.

As I watched a violent mob storm the United States Capitol this week, and have absorbed what people are writing and saying about democracy and our Constitution, I recognize an epic struggle for power.

It occurs to me to wonder if democracy is not a destination, but a practice. The United States self-identifies as a democratic republic, but we are far from perfect in upholding democratic ideals, as the Black Lives Matter movement reminds us. The ideal foundation of a healthy democracy is equal power, which is to say equal voice. Some of us in this country may aspire to that, but we’re not there yet.

However, we’re closer to democratic ideals than many other areas of the world where people are engaged in bitter ongoing struggles for individual power and rights, as in Hong Kong.

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The thing about a democracy is that it depends on the consent to share power. This means individuals won’t get everything they want, all views will not be validated, all beliefs may not be supported, and each individual is subject to the power of the majority. It doesn’t mean we have no voice. It means our voice is not more important than anyone else’s.

Many millions of Americans were heartsick and fearful after the 2016 election. Many millions are clearly devastated by the 2020 results. This is democracy in action. We are each given a vote, but there’s no guarantee our hopes and desires will be supported by the majority.

I am struck, over and over, by the clarity of using power as a lens to view current events. Any individual who seeks power-over or win-lose dynamics is not fighting for freedom, justice, or democracy. They’re fighting for power for themselves and disempowerment for others. They may call their actions strength, courage, or patriotism, but that gaslighting doesn’t hide the bottom line.

A peaceful protest demanding equal rights is not the same as a violent mob intent on having what they want at any price, including human lives, regardless of the democratic rights of others.

If it’s true that we humans are at our best and happiest in win-win and power-with dynamics, our imperfect and battered practice of democracy is worth fighting for and strengthening. However, it’s a grave mistake to assume that’s the goal of everyone in this country. Individuals currently in power, as well as some others, do not want to see equal rights. They do not want a true democracy, in which everyone has an equal measure of freedom and personal preferences are subject to the will of the majority. They want absolute freedom and power, no matter the cost to others.

I have yet to see anyone who believes they have absolute power look happy. Arrogant, maybe. Boastful and triumphant, yes. But not happy. On the contrary, people I have personally known who force power-over dynamics have been weak, fearful, miserable, and emotionally isolated. I have not seen a happy face in all the footage from the day of the riot. Rage, contempt, stupidity and weakness, gloating, attention-seeking theater, mindless violence and a desire for destruction were all present, but I saw no peace, no contentment, and no happiness in that mob.

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Is a largely unhappy and unhealthy culture sustainable over the long term? Do we value control of others through fear, disinformation, and violence more than strength, courage, respect, cooperation, and happiness?

Democracy isn’t a free ride or an entitlement. A healthy democracy requires that individuals take responsibility for participation in sustaining it. If we want our constitutional rights to be protected, it’s up to us to protect the rights of others. Our personal freedom is not more important than the freedom of others.

Democracy is like tolerance; it’s a peace treaty that acknowledges and even honors differences within a framework of checks and balances so that one group cannot take absolute power. This protects all of us from authoritarianism.

Our constitutional rights do not include the right to incite or commit violence, the right to disempower or injure those we disagree with or don’t like, the right to destroy property, or the right to deliberately put others at risk during a public health crisis. They do not include the right to spread disinformation. Free speech excludes the incitement of violence.

Happiness builds social capital and resilience. It encourages broad-mindedness and cooperation. It’s self-sustaining, constructive, and creative. Supporting happiness in ourselves and others takes patience, courage, self-discipline, and strength.

Manipulating others through fear, rhetoric and disinformation is easy, and weak personalities employ those methods because they possess no other tools. Destruction and blood lust are brutishly simple and direct, giving an entirely false sense of power and control.

If we stood shoulder to shoulder and stripped away all our labels and identities until we were just people of skin, flesh, and bone, all living on the same exhausted planet, all with the same basic needs for connection, food, clean water, and shelter, what would we want for ourselves and our children? Would we choose to live in an atmosphere of violence, hate, and power-over, ruled by a mindless mob, or would we choose to create a more equal system in which everyone has certain freedoms but no one has absolute freedom or power, and in which everyone has a chance to participate, both through voting and service?

Do we want to concentrate on losing or winning?

Do we aspire to lasting happiness, peace and contentment, or chronic fear, anxiety, and despair?

It doesn’t seem like a hard choice to me.

My daily crime.

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Consent

Last month I posted about our power and ability to say both yes and no to others.  This morning I’m thinking about another level of yes and no; that is the yes and no we say to life.  At this level, the term ‘consent’ is useful.  Consent means to “give permission for something to happen,” according to a 2-second search on Google.

Consent is a huge and complex topic and there’s a great deal of discussion about different aspects of it.  For the purposes of this post, I’m using consent in the widest sense; the way in which we approach life.

Several interactions this week have made me think about the mysterious difference between people who consent to learn and grow and those who don’t.  When I think about my observations, and people I’ve known, it’s clear to me that the difference between these two kinds of people has nothing to do with age, sex, money, education, employment, intellect or family.  It has nothing to do with the color of our skin or the god(s) we worship, or where on the planet we live, or what kind of horrors we might have endured.

I’m acquainted with a writer who sent me a piece in praise of stubbornness, a quality she admires (as do I) in herself and others because to her it means a determination to survive and do well, regardless of limitations, real and perceived.  (Thank you, A!)  We might mean the same thing by consent and stubbornness, or close to it.  I see the ability to consent to learning and growth, over and over, no matter how many times we’re knocked down and cut off, as a kind of stubbornness—a refusal to give up, to close down, to conform to something that doesn’t work for us.

Without even trying I can identify seven people in my life, past and present, who don’t consent to the experience of life, the flow, the dance, the mystery and uncertainty, the synchronicity and the billions of invitations that arise for exploration, connection, understanding, growing and being.

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These folks are easy to spot.  They resist.  They argue with what is.  They deny, distract, fall into various addictions.  They don’t communicate effectively.  They care about winning, being right and power-over.  They have rigid stories and expectations.  Everything that happens to them is a personal insult or a crisis.  They’re victims.  A good, deep question is a grave threat.  To my eyes, they look miserably unhappy.  They repeat the same patterns, over and over, dying a little more with each fruitless repetition.  They do not consent.  They refuse.

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Every single one of the seven people I’m thinking of has had opportunities to learn, to grow, to change, to make different choices.  They all had people in their lives who loved them and had information, tools and skills that might have enriched them.  They all had people in their lives who valued them and wanted their contribution.  They each had at least one person in their life who would have done anything to support them in learning and growing, and that person was me.

Most of those relationships are behind me now, because I have this unforgiveable quality of consent.  You might say it’s my daily crime, in fact.  My life now is based on the why, the what if, the whose rule is that, the help me understand. My life is about teach me, show me, share with me and what do you think?  My life is about doing more of what works and letting the rest go.  People who refuse and people who consent invariably have friction, because their needs are opposite.  There’s just nowhere meaningful to go.

People who consent are not perfect or perfectly happy people.  On the contrary, their lives have been filled with mess and miscalculations, abuse, addictions and other painful experiences, but they’ve learned from everything and everyone.  People who consent don’t look at their lives with bitterness or frame things as mistakes.  They see teachers, opportunities and fascinating things learned and yet to learn.  People who consent are endlessly curious.  They’re always thinking about what they don’t know and questioning what they think they do know.  They’re always seeking the hidden thing.  They’re more likely to ask questions than proselytize or lay down the law.  They’re not interested in power games or being right or winning.  They seek to understand, to explore, to exercise choice, to manage their own power.  They can laugh at themselves.  They can and do say no, but they say it to protect their integrity and needs, not to shut out or control life.

People who consent choose happiness.  That’s the most important one for me.  I’m still reaching for that.  I’ve always been a person who consents, but I’ve also chosen to stay limited in many important ways.  As I’ve learned to discern between refusal and consent, I see that living life from a state of consent results in joy.  Again, it’s got nothing to do with age, beauty, money, status or any of the things that the culture says we’re defined by.  Joy, at the end of the day, is a simple thing, arising out of being at peace with this wild ride we call life.  Joy is consenting to surrender, consenting to feel and experience, consenting to feeling fear and doing it anyway, consenting to give up trying to control all the things we can’t control.  Joy is composed of tears, blood, loss and disappointment, pain and growth.  We already have it.  It’s here, sitting on your shoulder as you read this and mine as I write.

All we have to do is consent.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

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Jennifer Rose
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