Allow Yourself To Be Surprised
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes people happy.
As a neurotic, obsessive, creative-type I spend a lot of time in my own head. I spend most of my time crafting elaborate ideals for my near-future and projecting unrealistic personalities onto people I care about. No one knows what I want better than I do, and I have a fairly robust imagination, so these dream scenarios are pretty awesome. However, that’s all that they are - dreams. Dreams are great to have, but you can’t allow them to take shape as goals that will grant you happiness: you will be disappointed.
Ezra Koenig was on the Nerdist podcast last week and gave an anecdote that spurred this train of though. Vampire Weekend (his band, pardon me for being presumptuous) was playing at the Hollywood Bowl. Of course, if you’re in a band, playing at the Hollywood Bowl is pretty f***ing cool. Ezra, however, wasn’t able to actively live within his dream. It was work. He felt nervous beforehand, self-conscious during it, and disappointed afterward. All of this pressure has been placed on making this event important, and you know what isn’t fun? and what can ruin something you would otherwise enjoy? Pressure. Pressure is the answer to both of those questions. So the concert ended, and Ezra was at the after-party. Whilst he was making small talk, and knowing Ezra, actively avoiding small talk, a fan approached him with a jacket. She reminded Ezra that about a year ago he made a dumb joke on Twitter that he wanted a ‘Babar’ jacket - Babar being the swankily-dressed cartoon elephant. She revealed that she had hand-sewn a giant Babar patch on the back of this denim jacket, and it fit Ezra perfectly. Ezra spoke about how this gesture made him so viscerally happy; happy in a way no concert at any big venue could ever make him feel. He mused, and I agree, that it was because the jacket was a surprise. It was unexpected. It was a gesture untainted by neurotic forethought. It probably didn’t hurt that a Babar jacket is objectively awesome and I shall be eternally jealous of it.
Hearing Ezra recount this experience made me realize: it doesn’t matter how much you fantasize about things that are out of your control, because even if you are able to successfully predict an outcome that will bring you joy, you’ll still be happier if you didn’t expect it. I mean that’s the nature of comedy: the joke is all about the surprise - the unexpected. Being constantly in your own head trying to figure something out is a trap I lure myself into far too often. Why? Why do I, why do WE, do it? At the end of one’s life you don’t talk about the promotions you worked for or the things you bought. You talk about first kisses, heartfelt gifts, and all of the decidedly unromantic moments where every thing went so wrong that it become beautiful in light of it’s flaws.
So I guess this reinforces a lesson I’ve been learning all year - a lesson that’s actually become cliche in the comedy community: live in the moment.
Appreciate your life. When I was in high school it was my dream to perform stand-up and have a podcast. Now I have those things and they oftentimes falls away from the special pedestal I placed them on in my mind. They turned from being my dream to just something I do. I owe it to my past self to occasionally take a step back and realize, I’m living the life I wanted to live - and it’s awesome. Appreciate the now. Plan for the future, of course, but don’t live in it. You’ll only end up disappointing yourself; because happiness is a condition that’s affected by outside forces. You can place yourself in a situation where happiness will come to you more readily, but you can’t always attain happiness. Instead, you can learn to be content with where you are, and fall in love with the life your living. Stop thinking about what you need to be happy, and instead realize that there’s so many things around you that can make you happy. Don’t expect anything from them.
Complacency comes from getting what you wanted, happiness comes from getting what you didn’t know you wanted. Allow yourself to be surprised.
*Every time I address “you”, I am addressing myself. You big idiot.