Tuesday, February 9, 2016

One day and ten thousand

Is it better to have ten thousand unhappy days in your future, or one happy day? It’s quite possible that the one happy day is what we should choose.

What about one happy day or ten thousand happy days? The answer seems clear, mathematically clear: ten thousand happy days are about ten thousand times better than one happy day. That math isn’t silly; we all would like a long life and happiness, and all of the treatment I’m now doing is meant to achieve every bit of that that I can.

But the math also isn’t as persuasive as it looks. Having a single happy day isn’t automatic. In fact, the more we focus on all the things that might go wrong in our lives, the less likely it is that we’ll enjoy even that single happy day. Insisting that we must have ten thousand happy days is a good way to jeopardize the chance of the first of those days being happy. The fear that we might not get the next 9,999 is itself a source of unhappiness, and something that we need to shed, not because we don’t want those days, but because we mustn’t be trapped by that desire. In the words of Gerald Epstein (whose book, Healing Visualizations: Creating Health Through Imagery (1989), I’m now reading), we need to let go of this sort of “desperation.”

There’s another reason that this is so. Suppose we think about that first happy day. Does the knowledge that it is the first of 10,000 more to come make that day 10,000 times happier? Surely we know the answer is “no”; that one day of happiness is already happy, in and of itself. Or at least this is true to a large extent: again I don’t deny the value, towards today’s happiness, of being able to look forward to tomorrow’s; I just mean to emphasize that today is already, itself, a happy day. If we are happy today, this day is already what we want; it will not become 10 times as happy, or 100 times, because more good days are to come. And if today is unhappy, it does not become happy because other days await.

Today’s happiness is a special and complete thing, to be enjoyed – happily – for itself.

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