The Elusive Happiness Face

Happiness seems to be a goal for a lot people. Our society, in general, values a positive mindset and doing a bazillion things to get there like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, vegan food, paleo food, religion, secularism…it’s a constant battle between differing ideologies that are selling the same thing. Happiness. Being okay with your own self and body. Of course, even money is being sold as, or at least the means to get, happiness. If you’re reading this blog, you are probably already aware of these things. But whatever the label, many of us have unconsciously become convinced that if we could just, be, HAPPY everything would be okay. Because we think that we can hold onto our feelings and emotions, because that’s what happiness is, a feeling or emotion, and that if we’re good enough we can make that inherently temporal thing last.

What’s really going on here? Why haven’t we figured out that we are meant to experience all emotions, not be limited and so blindingly focused on this singular aspect of ourselves? It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be angry, guilty, disappointed, and all the others. Emotions tell us that we care about something, that it’s important to us on a more-than-superficial level.

Our society gives us a list of accomplishments that we need to complete to be happy and successful. Generally something along the lines of going to a good university, getting a well-paying job, finding a life partner and restarting the process with our own children. However, in the process of achieving them, because we train ourselves not to stop, not to waver in our pursuit of these goals, we do not find happiness. Instead, we have learned to never be satisfied, how to value people based on how close they get to those accomplishments, and how worthy we are depending on our dedication to these goals.

Happiness, in my life, has been a choice, an attitude, a state of mind. A separate state from the emotion of “being happy.” It’s a state where you are okay with yourself. This is probably more accurate to what many of us search for. We just want to know and feel and believe our lives and ourselves are okay. For many, it is SO much harder of a place to get to. Many bravely face mental health challenges every day and, hell, even normal day life with or without chemical mishaps can be utterly overwhelming. The pressures of life are hard. Attitude or state of mind is a simple and straightforward concept, but certainly not easy to embody.

Existence alone is enough of a prerequisite to be happy. Did you hear that? You have every right to be happy. (You also have every right to feel every other emotion possible.) The “happy” emotion is already within us. It’s one aspect of our many sides, one emotion of many. Remove the social baggage that tells us we are not enough.

To take a rather anachronistic example from Eastern thought, we don’t look at plants and animals, say a bird in the sky, and ask, “Geez, why doesn’t it have its shit together? All those other birds have already made nests and caught bugs, what a loser!” No! We say, “Aww, how nice it is to see a bird, hear its song, and watch it fly. It’s soooo cute!” Why do we expect human beings to be any different? We do not compare between animals, even of the same species, so why must we put that pressure on our own selves?

We place such high expectations on ourselves and judge others based on arbitrary standards of a flawed society and culture (here I speak predominantly of my own, Western American culture, but no society is perfect so this statement still applies to others). We play a game with rules, but don’t acknowledge that there are any. By not acknowledging that a culture’s rules are largely manipulated by previous generations, we pretend like the rules and this one specific game is all that there is to life. Maybe happiness is about removing obstacles, rather than getting somewhere to find “your happy place.” One of the obstacles being arbitrary standards of accomplishment. The elusive happiness bug and what I’ve described above to find it is just one (mine) very subjective and personal account. So take it with a grain of salt, because we all have to find our own.

Wednesday Warriors – Yayoi Kusama

This one is a bit sentimental, since Danny and I did a team project on this lovely lady back in the days of art history classes. I don’t remember what grade we got on the project, but we certainly had a good time making it.

I freaking love this lady.

Yayoi Kusama, also known as the coolest Japanese grandmother living across your street, has been influencing the New York and world art scene with her psychedelic, culture-normativity-warping physical exhibitions as well as interactive and performance art. In the ‘60s, she hosted happenings, or “social demonstrations” as she called them, usually involved painting nude people in polka dots around targeted monuments such as the Statue of Liberty or the MoMA, to promote an anti-war, anti-capitalist, and a free love agenda. Polka dots have remained a theme in her canvas and sculpture artwork, and so have penises.

You read that right. I said it. Penises. Phallus’ covering chairs, walls, step ladders, and more. Feel free to peruse here. They’re shocking, embarrassing, downright hilarious, and ultimately you’re not sure what to think, but you leave the gallery feeling better about life and yourself. It’s a perfect balance of taking a taboo thing, breaking down its parts (no pun intended) and questioning its place, role, and status in society. Particularly something that has held power and control, and associating it with banal items like chairs and ladders.

Yayoi has been around for so long and is so prolific, that attempting to capture the full aspect of her body of work is, well, unadvisable. She’s involved in fashion, art in countless mediums, literature, and film, with pretty much yearly new material for our general enjoyment, we just can’t get enough.

To end on a more personal note, Yayoi grew up in an abusive and restrictive home. She has openly written and spoken about struggling with mental illness her entire life. In 1977, she checked herself into a mental hospital, close by to her studio, where she has lived ever since.

Oh, and if you’d like to purchase (and then gift to me, her biggest fan) some polka dot goodness to lift the spirits of your office or home, see here.

Book Review – Ready Player One

It’s time for another monthly book review! This year I have joined a book club on Goodreads and signed up for many challenges, which has been giving me the motivation to just wreck my way through books. I am inhaling them. This means I actually had a few options of what to review for once!

I figured, why not do a super late review of Ready Player One?

Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian near-future where the planet has gone to hell and most people spend their lives in virtual reality instead of the physical world. The man who invented said virtual reality dies and in his will sets up a contest; whoever completes the RPG-style quest of finding keys and completing challenges will receive all of his fortune. Naturally, the world goes insane doing it, and when we enter the narrative most people have decided that it’s either impossible or just not true since nothing has been located after many years.

Our protagonist has not given up. However, due to his own poverty he cannot afford to leave the VR planet he goes to for school to explore and discover the key. This is a major problem…until he discovers that the first key is on his school’s planet.

The story then follows him as he tries to complete the competition and avoid being murdered by soulless corporate assholes.

The book is frontloaded with a lot of lessons in gamer speak and culture that will annoy you if you are involved in the gaming community, but I give it something of a pass as it is necessary to non-gamers understanding. Still, it probably could have been done better.

The plot of the book is, honestly, mostly non-existent. You listen to Wade’s thoughts as he works out puzzles based on 80s references and clues. Someone being described playing old arcade games isn’t precisely exciting. However, the book manages to be enjoyable; a light read for some 80s nostalgia and cheering on the nerd.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday Warriors – Alan Watts

Welcome to our new weekly special, Wednesday Warriors. Each week, Danny and I will be choosing one special figure in history who has inspired us. People walking all paths of life from social activism, to economics, to art (and best of all, where they all intertwine), these are the masters who have made our selves and our world a little better. We hope you learn something and are inspired, too.

Alan Watts is a British philosopher noted mostly for his bringing Eastern religion to Western audiences. His lectures are profound, funny, and certainly uplifting. If you’re into podcasts or are a YouTube junkie, this is the guy for you. Don’t believe me? Have a listen here.

Don’t skip it. Go back and listen, it’s only 3 minutes long.

So as much as I’m not about promoting old dead white guys, what he has to say is just too relevant to today not to discuss. Are you struggling with what to do in life and how to live it? Do you have a sense that things just aren’t quite right, and that our society maybe has some weird or even stupid rules? That its requirements for how to be and act aren’t very good requirements at all? Are you feeling, like so many of us, a bit disillusioned with the standards and expectations thrust upon us each and every day? Then cool, this is the guy for you.

I hear people talking every day about, and I see people living it out, too, alternative realities for life. What do I mean? I mean people who aren’t following the status quo of college, steady 9-5 job, life partner, babies, etc. Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with those things. There’s not. However, when that becomes the only narrative available, and in that order, for ones life then there’s a problem. Alan Watts helps illuminate the ways in which we live our lives, the ways we are EXPECTED to live our lives, and asks us to question them. Why are we really doing the things we’re doing? Why do we use society’s standards? Will they really make us happy? What is happiness?

You can find most of all his lectures online for free, so no need to indulge in any capitalist consumerism for this one. Enjoy.

How to Be an Expert Museum Goer

We all know what it’s like. You’re underperforming in a class and you see, printed in minuscule font at the bottom of the now coffee smeared and tear stained syllabus, the option to go see a couple new exhibitions at the Met to boost your class grade. Or, you decide that a really sexy date would be coffee and taking him to the newest MoMA retrospective. Maybe you’re visiting a new city and feel like a little culture behind you would make for an even better selfie. But museums are intimidating places, filled with collections of the greatest minds’ work and infinite displays of those who think they are the greatest minds’ to ever critique them. I get it, and that’s why I’m here to write your go-to guide to staring and murmuring softly at that art like a pro.

  1. Bring as much luggage as possible, preferably backpacks that have as many pockets as possible, to fill with only partially closed containers of food and liquid. I recommend loose leaf salads with particularly potent vinaigrettes.
  2. If there is exemplary antiquated furniture from generations past, be sure to pretend that you’re reclining on all the chairs and divans because the museum management totally loves a good laugh to get a break from the monotony of the day and their otherwise dull existence.
  3. Rather than using door handles, simply push the glass doors open with your hands (preferably still sticky from your food and drink).
  4. Be loud. Very loud. Call up a friend to chat if you’ve gone by yourself. The louder you can talk about the art, the better you are at seeming like you know what you’re talking about.
  5. Ask the people sketching and drawing what art school they’re going to, if they’ve made very much money yet, and maybe sit down to give them a few pointers.
  6. Follow around the guided, prepaid tours, being sure to ask lots of questions that have already been answered, just in case the people in the back didn’t hear the first time.
  7. Carry with you at all times backpack leashes for children so that you can reattach them to their parents when they’ve escaped.
  8. Don’t follow the lines or queues, especially the ones for the special exhibitions for which you have to pay extra. Ignore those, everyone knows they’re just suggestions.
  9. Show up just before the closing time and play hide and seek with the guards responsible for ushering people out. They LOVE that.

Editor’s note: The Growing Ever Upwards blog, partners, and staff will not be held responsible for any possible legal action or physical ejections that may occur after following the advice above.

Interreligious Relation in Trump’s America

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

So, how we all doing in the hellscape of America? Good? Good.

Your friendly neighborhood Catholic pagan has an invitation for you at this time. I’d love for everyone to take a second and read Nostra Aetate. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Ok, now that you’re done not doing that, I’ll let you in on what it is and why I want us all to read it. Nostra is a declaration by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965, regarding the Catholic Church and her relation to non-Christian religions.

You seeing where I’m going with this yet?

Banning a whole people from a country, marking people as “illegal”, calling an entire religious group automatically dangerous…these things may ring familiar.

Regardless, there is a message of action and attitude toward other peoples in Notra Aetate. Pope Paul VI encourages Catholics to remember Christianities birth in Judaism and to recognize them as people of the same God.

Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Of Muslims, the Pope says, “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.” Tied up in this message of a shared God and the morality of Muslims is something greater than historically connected belief systems.

The declaration, in highlighting for Catholics specific historical and spiritual connections with other people, is really reminding us of the value and dignity of all people’s which, in a Catholic view, comes from creation by God and in His image. He relates that, “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God.

I’m not trying to do any theology here, really. I’m just a religious studies major who recently had to read this declaration for a class, and as I read the call I became aware of the failings of Christians as a whole, including moderate and apolitical Catholics, to support others in this time of injustice and discrimination.

We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God.

Meaning, to all of us, it is time to stand actively against these actions instead of living in our safety, recognizing all people as our family in need of protection.

And if you don’t want to do that, if you think you aren’t part of the problem, I’d like to introduce you to an MLK Jr. quote that you likely won’t see in mainstream media:

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” – Letter From a Birmingham Jail

A final note: does my cover photo for this post seem contradictory to a Catholic view? Yes. Do I care? Not really. Punch a nazi, it’s the American spirit.