Re-becoming happy

August 6, 2010

A crazy thing happened last night.

I was lying in bed, unable to sleep. I could hear the gentle snore of my elephantine next-door neighbour through the walls, and see the soft orange glow of streetlights filtering through the cool SF fog outside.

It all happened in a matter of heartbeats. All were brand new realisations.


I’m not content. I’m not happy. I’m stressed.


I’ve felt this way all summer.


Feeling this way is absurd. I have more than anyone could ask for.


I’ve had lots of fun times. But moments of fun don’t equal prolonged happiness.


Happiness is only in the mind. In my mind. No one but me can make me happy.


I can choose to be happy.


It’s as simple as choosing to feel happy.


I now choose to feel happy, content, and unstressed.




And I was back. Back to Paris-mode Wyatt, back to Stanford-mode Wyatt, back to dumb-happy, vivacious, genuinely content-with-life Wyatt. I started giggling uncontrollably, rolling around my bed, getting tangled in the sheets. It felt so different! The strange black cloud hovering over the back of my mind was gone, the worry about nothing was gone, the pervasive sense of waste and guilt was gone; just as soon as I could see that all of those sentiments were in my head, I could choose to realise how absurd they were.

I’d done this before. This meta-cognitive mindfulness exercise where I take stock of my mental processes and consciously change them. But I’d been in an unmindful rut since returning from Paris, and I the worst part about being in a rut like this was that I hadn’t been able to tell. My mind state had been an unknown-unknown… I’d thought I was happy so couldn’t tell what didn’t quite feel right.

I think Sapolsky snapped me out of it. I’d started reading his A Primate’s Memoir that afternoon. That’s when I was first able to tell that there had been a glint of stress at the back of my mind all summer — and that I was no savannah animal running from lions, I was living the good life. So if I was stressed, it was unnecessary and entirely in my head. The classic problem for me with realisations like this is that snapping out of it really is as simple as making the choice. It only requires being aware of the problem mental state (which, granted, is difficult — and why I needed Sapolsky to open my mind to itself), and then choosing to not feel that way. In fact, it’s so simple, and so easy, and so arbitrary, that it’s embarrassing. Snapping out of a mood is so easy that when I do it, it makes me ashamed that I ever indulged it. A bad mood can feel terrible and ruin a whole day, or month… but it is so easy to get rid of — the hardest part is realising I’m in a bad mood. Then it’s just a matter of not being too proud to fix it, but I’m not a very proud person.

So, I did it. And it’s changed everything. It’s likely that little has changed outwardly — I’m fairly decent at acting consistently exuberant. But on the inside, it’s all green trees, tall grass, blue skies, and warm, gentle sun with a crisp breeze now.

I’m back…!

2 Responses to “Re-becoming happy”

  1. chrisrurik said

    Cool and true, though I’m not sure it’s quite as easy as you make it sound.

  2. Michael Brandt said

    You sometimes learn a lot more when you’re not happy. I think it’s because you have a clawing feeling in your head. In this case it seems you learned about happiness itself by being unhappy.

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