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[This post is a response to the previous post]

I figured I’d make a general response to your reflections on the blog first, Connor, before I delve into the rabbit hole of what makes me happy.

I agree with your observation that sequential planning has been somewhat absent from our posts (mine as well, not just yours). I also sympathize with your sentiment, however, that you’ve found a sense of consistency in your writing style from this. To a lesser extent, I have as well.

Much as it behooves me to talk about how our readers perceive this blog (especially since we appear not to have any), I think that it’s important to recognize how our posts look as a body of work and not just standalone pieces.

That being said, the primary reason I continue to write on this blog – in addition to all of the excellent reasons you mentioned – is because I feel like we really have something unique in our dialogue with one another. I also tend to believe (perhaps somewhat egotistically) that these conversations are interesting and dynamic in a way that will be entertaining for other people.

I think that if we focus primarily on our discussions and contentions as two friends debating topics, then the flow of the blog will start to develop on its own.

Hopefully. I think it’s a nice ideal, at least.

I definitely plan on sticking to the blog to the best of my abilities. To explain why I feel this is so important to me, I have to summarize my last week of experiences. In a word: Crazy.

Starting at a new school in a new city has been absolutely the coolest, busiest, scariest, and hardest thing that I have ever done. There is so little around me that has any sort of formal consistency that I feel inclined to cling onto the pieces of my old life that I still have available to me.

Am I suggesting that this is something we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives? No, it probably won’t be. But, I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea. In any case, with the way that people are running around campus like lunatics right now, long and meaningful conversation is somewhat difficult to come by.

Anyway, that’s why I want to continue writing the blog. As far as I’m concerned, the added benefits of writing experience and mental organization are just a bonus.

But, on to your question: What makes me happy?

I hope you don’t mind if I respond, first, by immediately returning the question. What makes you happy? I don’t agree that one’s own personal happiness is something that is easily identifiable. If it were, therapists would surely go out of business. I’ll make an attempt however.

As I write this, I am currently sitting on a bench at the duck pond in the middle of UNM campus. It’s very peaceful – students are in classes, there’s the sound of flowing water, I’m surrounded by beautiful weeping willow trees. It makes me happy to be here, away from the noise. Serene.

Plenty of things make me happy. Food makes me happy. Listening to music makes me happy. Sex, alcohol, exercise, sleep, friends, conversation, books, movies, and video games all make me happy. But, these are all fairly simple pleasures. I think most people could identify these fruits of life that are unquestionably enjoyable. I believe, however, that you meant a deeper and more abstract definition of happiness. That’s quite a bit harder to answer.

I get enjoyment from accomplishment, from winning, from creating, from affirmation. I’m happiest when I think that I’ve done something unique or special; when I get confirmation from others that I’m good at something. I’m happy when I discover something, when I solve a puzzle, or when I finish a book. But can I tie all of these things into a general philosophy for happiness? No not really.

It’s easy to identify what has made you happy in the past and much, much harder to determine why they made you happy in the first place, or whether these things are a valuable use of your time.

I love feeling like I’m on the top. It’s one of the things that make me such an ambitious person, but that’s not necessarily the end all of what it takes to make me happy. I can find many instances when losing or being proven wrong has actually resulted in a better experience or more long term happiness than I would have received out of being the alpha.

Similarly I can’t justify saying that my current definition of happiness is fleshed out either, because there is still so much that I have to experience in my life.

Then we also have to consider all of the things that don’t explicitly make me happy, but are very important values in my life such as finishing school, getting a good job, being successful, and starting a family. Those things don’t necessarily fit into my personal definition of happiness either.

In the end, that leaves me back where most people are. I know pretty much what I want out of life and why, but I can never be sure that it’s really what I want. I can never be sure that my reasons and justifications for what makes me happy aren’t just shallow constructs of outside factors of my life.

In many ways, this is what I meant when I talked about abstract concepts defying definition. Similarly, abstract and complicated motives and emotions inside of us also defy distinction. I don’t believe that anyone can ever find a true sense of inner equilibrium.

That’s ok though. As I once expressed to our old friend Shiloh, when he was having hard times, “You will always be a different person than the person that you want to be”. In other words, no matter who you are or how much you improve your life, or your personal situation, you will always feel like you aren’t living up to your own expectations. This is because people have near limitless potential.

To leave with a good thought – I think life would be boring if it weren’t that way. In fact, I’m glad. To me, not being able to define myself and what makes me happy means that I can always shoot a little higher, always be a little happier, always do a little more. I’ll never be at the highest point of where I’m going to be, and that means I’ll always be looking up.

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I’d like to, for a moment, take a look at what we have so far, and talk about what I want from this blog, and then I’d like to ask you a quick question, Ben.

Firstly, I read through my previous posts and thought deliriously “what was I on?” before remembering that I wrote each one without really a thought towards planning or for readers. I never expected my first essays written outside the school system to read like those do. For instance, I mentioned Aristotle’s theories in two essays, and referenced him in all three extensively, but I’ve never thought of myself as a fan of Virtue Ethics. Me? I thought deontology was the way to go, all the way, in school. Also, I found myself trying to turn new phrases, like “seeing life lived was the only life to live.” I don’t think that’s going to catch on, but I’ve learned it’s really fun to play around with words and phonetics.

So I’ve learned a bit about myself, which is an amazing boost for this experiment. I thought it would take a few months, not a few weeks, to see some patterns in what I writing about. My hypothesis, and what I hoped for, hope for, is that not only will I learn something about myself, but that A)  I will have a portfolio of ideas to look back on so that I can say to myself “You’ve done something you put your mind to, Connor” and B) I will also become a better writer. Now, I think I get too carried away with mashing together themes and motifs and whatnot, and it comes out sounding like pretentious pseudo-intellectual bs.

Which it is, maybe. I dunno. Yes. Maybe I don’t give myself enough credit, maybe you’re your own toughest critic. And to a great extent, that criticism can be laid on 95% of the opinion pieces and intellectual blogs on the internet, which brings me to the other reason why I’m doing this: I hope becoming a better writer entails an ability to become a serious writer, rather than one who writes half-hour articles on 50c online newspapers. I know it’s not that simple, but perhaps if I get the writing down, the research and the critical thinking will be easier to tackle. But maybe that’s what all those terrible writers also think.

Lastly, I want to stick to this because I’m tired of second-guessing myself to the point of inaction. I know you just wrote about that aspect of procrastination, and I think there are some problems with the catch-phrase, but on the whole it strikes at a central aspect of why I sometimes don’t finish what I put my mind to. So I have to hand it to both of us that we’ve made it this far, and that we’ve already done something I find interesting. Also I read our new “about” section- great job!

But I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched. The new school year is starting soon and if I remember back to my first freshman year I had a great project going with my friend, Michael, where we were going to write episodes of a short radio show about a hobo looking for his long-lost daughter in a kafkaesque, rain-drenched city. To me, it was a way to maintain contact with him and provide a basis for an interchange of ideas between the two of us about our new experiences at our respective colleges. But as soon as we got to our respective colleges, we found that our lives didn’t have room anymore for us to sit down weekly and skype about the humorous adventures of a mutual hero. To return to the concept of procrastination, I’ve found that changing circumstances is the number one reason why my plans don’t always go through. Sometimes I plan a time for a homework assignment, and find then that that time doesn’t work out for reasons good or bad. Sometimes months devoted to one plan turn out to work better for another, and to some extent, that’s life. We can’t really predict the future, can we? So it goes.

At the same time, when I don’t get what I want, I’m unhappy. I’m unhappy in my fatalistic response to changing circumstances. I’m dissatisfied with the way life goes if you don’t change your own goals to coincide with your changing circumstances, and I don’t like it when I’m too flexible and drop any plans to ride the wave of whatever is happening through a particular time in my life. I want control, but manageable goals are a necessity. So that’s why, initially, I’d like to take this slowly and alternate weeks, so that we have a week to respond to the previous post. With that in mind, some food for thought:

What makes you happy? I mean, you’ve established that it’s a difficult concept, happiness, and that there’s no right answer. But at the same time, people older and wiser than the two of us have indeed found a variety of serviceable and fully-baked answers to your questions that many other people have supported for centuries. So I bet, as I have just learned to some extent, that if you did in fact look at the way your life works, you’d find an inner logic to what makes you happy, and a strong personal definition to what happiness is to you. What is that definition to you? I don’t care so much that it’s a hard or easy question. Furthermore, I bet if you answered that question, we could find some philosophers who have already expanded on it! Which I think is the greatest part of philosophy; that we share the human experience so closely that we come to similar conclusions about abstract concepts sometimes thousands of years apart.

Happiness. What does it mean to be happy? Why do we want to be happy? Is happiness a valid pursuit or goal? Is it a separable state of the psyche?

Happiness is one of those taboo, abstract words of the same category as “love”, “Life”, or “Freedom”. Such terms defy psychological and philosophical analysis. After all, how do you go about putting  box around the amorphous monster that is our wide and varied definition of “happiness”? If there was an easy answer to this question than it would have been discovered long ago by people much wiser and much more worldly than either you or me.

Why must we persist in the exercise then? For some reason, we have a bizarre and irrational need for explanation of this whole “happiness” business. Much in the same track as the search for the meaning of life, it is a quest that is doomed to be as unresolved as it is ubiquitous.

Consider the following question: If I could give you a pill that would make you euphorically happy all the time, whenever you wanted, with no repercussions, would you take it?

To this too, there is no easy answer. If you take the pill, are you not forsaking the value of the journey? Doesn’t receiving instant gratification defeat the whole purpose of accomplishment in any form? After all, how can we – goal based, reward oriented creatures – apply any value to life if it’s fruits are so readily within reach?

The alternative answer raises no more palatable queries though. If you decide you do not want to take the happiness pill, then you are saying that there is a thing in life you value more than being happy. What could possibly have a higher value than ecstasy in being? Is that not our very definition of heaven; the very thing that humans have dreamed and built for throughout the entirety of our species existence?

There is no easy answer. Intellectually we know that there are pursuits in which we must sacrifice our own personal comfort in exchange for scientific progress, or family, or the greater good. But, we must always balance our sense of social empathy with our own desire for exuberance.

The religiously inclined believe that through deprivation of certain worldly pleasures they will be rewarded with pleasure far greater than any mortal happiness available to us in this plane of existence. This begins to approach another problem in the happiness dilemma though: where is the upper limit? Is an exceptionally happy rich man happier than an exceptionally happy fisherman? Doesn’t the mere idea of hierarchical rapture devalue all happiness below “infinite” to zero?

Buddhist monks have been said to achieve enlightenment or full understanding on their existence through meditation and solitude. Is their “enlightenment” a reflection of universal truths or is it merely a product of an incomplete equation? After all, one can imagine that it is much easier to come to conclusions about the universe when you have seen less of it to begin with. If all you ever knew was a small stone room in a monastery, then perhaps you could come to beautiful and even profound conclusions about that room, but they would not necessarily reflect the universe at large.

We are all living in our own version of the Monk’s stone room. We define the highs and lows of our life, our ecstasy and our anguish, by the depth of what we have already experienced. All happiness and all pain is relative to the experiences of the person experiencing it.

There was once a young girl held captive in a concentration camp for many years of her life. She had little to no outside stimulation. When asked what gave her happiness, what she found “fun”, she replied “the color yellow”.

Our search for meaning and definition in happiness is a boundless and limitless search that will expand as our perception of the universe (and our relative experiences there-in) expand. It is not impossible to imagine that one could artificially engineer their experiences to be an ever expanding series of increasingly happy and sad experiences so as to never prematurely reach the “happiest moment of their life”. To a large extent, our journey into adulthood already accomplishes this unintentionally.

Since there is no right answer to these questions, there can be no wrong answers either. Happiness and fulfillment are not concepts that can be captured in a jar and held up for inspection. Happiness can be found anywhere and in anything. Your own personal search for it or search away from it can only ever be influenced, not foretold. Be that as it may, our understanding of the human psyche and the universe around it is ever-expanding in its depth and reach. We may yet philosophize strange and complex proofs. However, much like with Plato’s cave, it is likely that the search for meaning among happiness and its definitions will ever be undercut but uncertainty. You can only ever decide what happiness means for yourself.