Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Happiness Hypothesis

Tonight, I watched the San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres 2-1. Tim Lincecum consistently hit 94 mph and pitched 8 innings for the win. The one run he gave up was because of poor judgment by Carlos Beltran in right field.

I went to the game with Joe Lee, Raju Hansra, and Krishna V. It was an All-star crew.

Joe and I were spiritually attached at the hip last October. The Giants’ romp to the World Series was punctuated with back and forth texts – “omg omg omg yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssss” – and “f*ck yes” phone calls – “Oh my god did you see that?! So sick!” We watched the last 5 games together, baited breath before every pitch. He’s my go-to man for everything baseball. Tonight, he helped decode Lincecum’s pitches, made the fans around us laugh heckling the Padres bullpen, and came three feet away from catching a Sandoval foul ball. Afterwards, sipping on a 6-pack in the cool San Francisco breeze, we shot the shit about those good ol’ college days.

Krishna and Raju are old-school buddies. Junior year of high school, Raju and I realized a gaping hole existed at Monta Vista: organized fantasy sports. (I say this in jest, but only half-jest.) Taking our 6 years of experience playing fantasy basketball, football, and baseball, we started MV’s fantasy sports club, organizing draft parties every season and playing Pardon the Interruption every week. Krishna was our most dedicated member. Soon, the three of us started attending Oakland A’s games. Every year, we try to catch a game.

After the game and the six-pack, Raju, Krishna and I walked back to Caltrain, where we realized we missed our train by 6 minutes. The next one was coming in an hour. We started talking in a donut shop, and what started as an innocent question, “So, how’s your love life?” turned into 2 hours of How To Live Life.

I should note now that Raju and Krishna are two of the happiest people I know. It’s not a self-conscious happiness, founded on rational perspective-taking, but rather more based on the inveterate forces of nature and nurture. The two are good humored about everything, and their laughs, which are hearty, and come frequently, are the pith of their characters. They’ve made the leap: instead of thinking, “I know I should be happy,” they are. Best of all, the goodwill is contagious.

Back in Cupertino, Raju drove me home. Here’s how we capped the night off. (Note: conversation has been reconstructed for brevity and wit. Which means I added everything left unsaid.)

Me: “So before something important, like a coffee date with the girl you know you’re going to marry, or a big bhangra competition, maybe the key isn’t trying to convince yourself you should be confident, because of X and Y, but simply not thinking at all.”

Raju: “Exactly. If you’re trying to convince yourself, you’re already admitting, on a subconscious level, that you’re insecure.”

“Just shut the brain off.”

“Right. But at the same time, you can’t just ‘not think’ if you’re going to repeat past mistakes. You have to identify the insecurities and deal with them before you can shut it off.”

“How do you do that?”

“For me, personally, I did deep thinking. I figured out in what situations I was insecure, exactly what I was scared of, and why I was scared.”

“How do you know if you’re doing it right?”

“Because you just know. If you hit the core, you’ll feel the fear dissipate. If you don’t feel different, you haven’t hit the core.”

“That’s the key to self-assurance: know thyself.”

“Right. And here’s the best part: once you’re secure, the second-guessing stops. You make decisions, and by default of you making them, they’re great decisions – maybe even the best decisions.”

“It’s like they say in Harry Potter: the measure of a person is not his ability, but his choices.”

“Personally, this is my philosophy: I do what I feel like. Of course, I’m not killing anyone or screwing people over. It just means I’m not victimized by peer pressure, social status, or habit and inertia.”

“So: deep thinking leads to root-problem discovery leads to inner confidence leads to strong decision-making leads to happiness. And this ‘foundational’ happiness leaks out into everyday life. It’s a self-perpetuating spring.”

“Right. And it doesn’t just work with my philosophy: your value system can concentrate on family, friends, society, poverty, whatever you deem fit.”

“You know, Krishna mentioned a real-life allegory: Portland throws a parade every year that’s illegal to watch – you have to join in. What’s that mean?”

“What am I, some seer sitting on a mountain? I just graduated from UC Davis and I’m still 22, man.”

“Ok, well, I think of the parade as life. The surface level take-away is to take action, end apathy, fix what’s broken. But the more interesting observation is that people are forced to join. There’s no choice. You can’t just watch us having fun, you have to have fun too, even if you don’t feel like it.”

“It’s like paternalism. But without the negative connotations. It’s like removing a choice. Cutting off an escape route. Like the Vikings did when they burned their ships before battle.”

“You sure it was the Vikings?”

“Hmm. Yea, maybe not. Brett Favre would never do that.”

“Or Tavaris Jackson.”

“Jared Allen?”

“Alright man, it’s 1 a.m. We’ve been sitting in my driveway for 10 minutes. I’ll see you again before I leave?”

“For sure. I’m in Davis all weekend, want to do tomorrow?”

“Yup. Afternoon? Laterrrr.”

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