On Happiness

This post is not my usual fare. It’s personal and it’s not even about meat.

In the spring of 2014, many things were coming together for me. Areas that had been stuck were moving forward, particularly in my intellectual / career life. My love life was improving, too, though there were still important difficulties. The most exciting thing of all was that I had found, applied to, and been admitted to the Recurse Center, a computer science program in New York City.

I arrived there in the beginning of June for the happiest three months of my life before or since. I was living independently in a tiny dorm room in Manhattan just north of Houston. It had few amenities, and only shared bathrooms. Yet I loved it. It was a 15 minute walk to the Recurse Center. I loved to start and end my days with a refreshing walk through the city, and despite its reputation, I found the people I passed to be radiating good cheer.

I always arrived at the Center early to gather my thoughts about what I learned the previous day, and set my focus for the day ahead. I programmed, read tutorials, went to presentations, and wrote about what I was doing every day as an exercise in transparency. I stayed until bedtime. I felt independent, free, creative, and competent, and I attributed it all to New York and the Recurse Center.

A miraculous thing happened. Halfway though the program I met an extraordinary person with whom I fell madly, helplessly in love. I hadn’t been looking for love. Love was the furthest thing from my mind, because I was focused on my creativity, and was too happy to want for anything. But finding it took me to new heights of joy.

When I returned to Boulder, I returned to unhappiness, and I believed it was situational. You see, I’d been practising resentment and blame for my life circumstances for years, for everything from the geographical location I was unhappy with, to my professional stagnation, to the mundane responsibilities of life. This was so unlike me. I have long believed that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well, and more than that—it was worth actually enjoying it! I believed that having made a choice of action, one should take it on as fully as possible, putting in all of one’s heart. But I wasn’t doing that, and I hadn’t been for some time.

I was making a big mistake. I was letting circumstances dictate my happiness. Now don’t get me wrong. I am a material being. There is nothing more spiritual than taking delight in the present reality of the material world. It was good to allow New York City and the Recurse Center to fill me with happiness. It was right to take pleasure in my friend and lover, Sean Baker, who touched me in some ways more deeply than I’ve ever been touched, and with whom I have shared the most intimate of moments over fine things and crass things alike.

The mistake was to depend on these things for my happiness. If I can be happy in a dorm not much larger than my current bathroom, then I can find joy in Boulder, Colorado. In fact, it has surely been a continuous effort not to enjoy such a beautiful city, an effort that was worse than a waste. Today I talked to a man who moved here but two weeks ago from L.A., and instead of launching into my caveats and complaints, I simply told him what I liked about it, and I meant it.

The biggest mistake of all was to depend on my lover for happiness, for in him I saw my only salvation from the rest of it. So I forwent nearly everthing else I loved, in order to spend every possible moment with him, so as to bask in my delight of him, to get my happiness from him. This was not only unfair, but just plain backwards. The whole reason we were able to connect in the first place, was because I was radiating joy. I had something to give. I was fun and easy and emotionally self-sufficient, and the point of being together was to mutually amplify our joy into more joy. If I want to be happy, all I need to do is embrace my creative desires, surround myself with things that give me pleasure, and be the amazing person I know I am in my heart. And then, like during my stay at the Recurse Center, I will be happy, independent, free, and a magnet for miracles.