For many years I lived in a familiar pattern. I would look at my life and see reasons for my happiness. Sometimes the reasons would be as significant as an acceptance letter or a new relationship; sometimes as small and distant as my favorite football team winning one Sunday or the discovery of an inexpensive but delicious table wine. Because I am human and I always want to feel good, I would spend my days mentally counting my happiness cards – as long as I had a full deck, as it were, life had meaning, and I was happy.
Inevitably, no matter how many cards I accumulated, a day would come when I would look at my hand and see nothing. Some days I would see no cards at all. Other days, I would see the same cards I’d held the day before, and the cards I had felt happy looking at the day before now meant nothing to me. And so I would despair. Life was a great empty string of meaningless events I had fooled myself into caring about to alleviate the repetitive misery that was life.
The odd thing about this kind of misery is you have to be disciplined about it. It’s very easy as you go about your day to stumble and become interested in something and forget to be unhappy. You have to be stern with yourself in such instances: Don’t let yourself be fooled again. You know how this always ends up.
I eventually began training myself out of the deck of happiness cards habit. And it was training. My attention was always on, always searching for something to light upon that would bring me pleasure. By and by I taught my attention to direct itself toward that which always brought me pleasure, regardless of what I drank, with whom I related, and who won on Sunday.
Still, habits stay with you long after you think you’ve broken yourself of them. From time to time I still feel a familiar hollowness and realize it’s because I spent the last day or two coveting my precious cards. I turn toward my old friend despair. But as my attention swings toward the emptiness where for so many years this friend waited, I find it is pointed exactly where I trained it to go since putting down the cards. The nothing I ran from once is now calling me back to myself.
Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.