As I said in my previous post, the phrase “muddling through” has been echoing in my head and weaving itself into my paradigm lately. Maybe it is because it sounds like a British phrase and British phrases so easily get stuck in my head. Anyways, although I couldn’t disagree more with the overall worldview of the elite who uttered that phrase, his observation about the resiliency of human beings to adapt and “muddle through” hardships is nevertheless true. We can take a lot more hardship than we think we can.
Often it seems like our sense of happiness is like our sense of temperature; we cannot tell by touch the actual temperature of an object, but rather its relative temperature to our own skin. I was on the swim team in high school and our pool’s heater was always breaking down in the winter leaving our lean bodies and blue lips to chatter away in the frigid water. One winter day we got a rare East Texas snow, and myself and a couple of other crazy guys ran outside clad in skimpy Speedo briefs to make snow angels. After a roll in the snow, the pool felt like a hot tub!
Our sense of happiness seems to operate likewise. Happiness or unhappiness is not so much based on how much of x, y, or z we have, but rather on whether we are experiencing loss or gain at the moment. After we muddle about in sadness and self-pity for a time we come through it and reach equilibrium – our skin temperature matches the temperature of the thing we are touching – our circumstance and state of mind reach stability. When we experience loss, we experience unhappiness, but eventually our state of loss becomes the new norm and we accept it as such. We are no longer unhappy about it… we manage to muddle through it.
Having the ability to recall the past and project the future means that we can drag out a sense of loss and therefore unhappiness far into the future – perhaps a lifetime – or we can project a gain into our future indulging lusts and dreams and hopes only to return to the mundane present losing what we have not yet obtained and experiencing a virtual loss. This is why wise men from all generations and cultures have taught that one key to happiness is to live predominantly in the present moment and be content and thankful for what we have.
It is a precarious balance, to hope for a better future, yet to be content and live in the present. If we only live in the moment, we can have no ambitions, goals, or expectations and therefore achieve no increase. But if we live only on hopes deferred we’ll never be happy. As usual, wisdom is found in the balancing of extremes. Dream big, but wake up. Forget the past, but learn from it. Ignore the future, but hope for it. Count your blessings and muddle through the losses. Life goes on.