I find mindfulness a hard theory to embrace. Surely one of the most magnificent things about the human brain is its ability to hold past, present, future, and their imagined alternatives in constant parallel, to offset the tedium of washing dishes in Pinole with the chance to be simultaneously mentally in Bangkok or Don Draper’s boxer shorts or finally telling your mother-in-law that despite her belief that “no one born in the ’70s died,” using a car seat isn’t spoiling your child. I struggle to see how greater happiness could be achieved by reining in that magical sense of scope and possibility to stare down some oatmeal.
Like most people, in any given day I will experience emotions and sensations including (but not limited to) hilarity, joy, irritation, ambivalence, excitement, embarrassment, paralyzing self-doubt, boredom, anxiety, guilt, heart-stopping love, resentment, pride, exhaustion, and the shrill, insistent buzz of uneaten chocolate somewhere in the house.
It’s hard to pin one definitive label on all this clattering emotional noise, but I’m conﬁdent that if you add them all up and then divide by the number of emotions (or whatever other formula they use to calculate the statistics in all the research studies on happiness that I start to notice in the press), then you reach an average falling squarely into the box marked contentment.
My instinct is that this (my new happiness-seeking American acquaintances seem no happier, and often more anxious, than my cynical, joy-slacking British ones) is because happiness should be serendipitous, the byproduct of a life well lived, and chasing it in a vacuum just doesn’t really work.
The happiness-seeking culture is clearly supposed to be part of the solution, but perhaps it is actually part of the problem. Perhaps America’s precocious levels of anxiety are happening not just in spite of the great national happiness rat race, but also in part because of it.