Happiness by the Numbers
& The ABC's of Bliss and The Blues
excerpt from the Option Method Joybuilding Workbook
by Frank Mosca
Let’s begin with "Happiness by the Numbers," a section of 12 titles. We’ll start with some simple personal observations and then expand into an explanation and overview of the three questions that are at the heart of the Option Method for Joybuilding. Then we will explore a menu of basic themes that will give you an education in the basis for the worldview that flows from an understanding of the ABC’s and the Option Method.
You do want your happiness, don’t you?
You do want your joy when you experience the touch of your lover’s skin, the feel of sand slightly wet with summer sea water, the thrill of throwing a ball as far as you can, the whole body feel of the wind pushing against you with your arms outstretched, your eyes closed and the smell of fresh cut grass filling your nose and lungs.
You do want all of that and more, much more. Do you have it? Do you have it now? Take a journey with me. My name is Frank Mosca and I am the author of this Joybuilding Workbook. Together we are going to look at the things you want, the things that stand in the way of what you want, and how you might get more of the things you want by getting rid of the things that stand in the way. Is that agreeable with you? If so, let’s move on.
You don’t believe it is possible not to be unhappy.
I have searched all my life for my Joy. Oh, it was there from time to time, but not in any reliable way. Part of the scheme I came up with was that to be joyful, I had to be smart. I had to understand things. There must be some really complex, difficult puzzle to figure out, I thought. So I looked at really complex difficult puzzles. They were there. Plenty of them and there were also thinkers and gurus always telling me what was wrong with me, what was wrong with the way I ate, the way I made love, the way I dealt with myself, the way I dealt with others. They were sometimes partially correct, at least as I see it now. Then there were those who said that my problems were deep within me, hidden from me and only by some expert’s analysis could I dig them out of the hard rock of my unconscious self. Hey, I even became one of those experts. What better way to figure yourself out than by becoming one of the people that people come to, to figure themselves out? Well, I hope that I did no more harm than most well meaning folks who try to figure themselves out by figuring other people out.
So okay, that did not do the trick, for me at least. Then I came upon something so simple, so outrageously unthinkable as to strike my polished, professional, philosophical mind as ridiculous. My joy, my happiness was always mine to have. I just didn’t believe that it was. Wait a minute, I said. What would happen to my sense of the tragic in life, what would I do with my existential angst? Where would I get the great wisdom from the pains and agonies of depression and despair? It took four years of college, eight years of graduate school, not to mention years in a psychotherapy institute and other training that cost a zillion bucks to get me "smart". Didn’t help. So, how did I get from smart to happy? I found someone who had discovered this simple truth, was living it, and was offering a way for others to understand it for themselves. His name was Bruce Di Marsico and he died in December of 1995.
Now, did I become instantly happy, instantly joyful and remain that way? No, that is not what happened. But what did happen was I discovered that I COULD BE instantly happy, instantly joyful. I just had to want this and work at living it in each moment. Come on now! You don’t want to work? I asked you in the opening lines of this book, "Do you want your happiness?" You did say yes, didn’t you? Of course you did, so let’s look at the work involved for what it really is. Joywork. That’s what it is. I will be along each step of the way, but it will be your Joywork we are talking about.
So we have established that, one, you want your happiness. And two, you are willing to work for it. Now we are ready to go on to the next number and find out how best to do that Joywork.
The A B C's
When my friend and late mentor Bruce came upon the understanding that he could live his joy each moment, he put it in the language that you find in the first quote on the first page of this book. What stands in the way of our being happy is our belief that it is impossible not to be unhappy. That’s how it looks, right? Okay, that is certainly how it feels to us. We are not going to challenge every moment of unhappiness that you have right now. First let us learn the anatomy of unhappiness and then let’s look at what can be done about it.
Try this on for size: the truth about you and the world/ the "ABC’s" of happiness and unhappiness:
A: There is just you and the world (includes all other people and things)
B: You don’t control the world. (The attempt to control the world has been the focus of much of human history and all of human technology. Despite advances, our control is tenuous at best. This is actually as we will see, the main source of dread and unhappiness.)
C: You do control the attitude that you construct toward whatever the world presents to you each moment of your existence.
Now how about it? I bet you accept A and B (though you sure do try to have as much control of the world as you can), but have trouble with C. Right?
Well it is right there in "C" that the problem arises. If "C" is not true then the ball game is over as it pertains to your ability to live your joy each moment. Might as well pack up your bags and move back in with your parents, because someone else is calling the shots on your ability to experience happiness. So if A is true and C is not true then B is the arena where you have to try to find your happiness. That would require you to control the world and all the consequences and outcomes in the world in order for your happiness and joy to be assured. Not too likely.
Which brings us to C: while it may not seem true right now, you may come to a different conclusion as you do your Joywork. That’s what this whole book and your Joywork is helping you to change your mind about. Yes, I know unhappiness in whatever form just seems to rise up in response to the world. Well, if it didn’t feel natural to feel unhappy, then who would ever bother to feel it? Would you? How to explain this? Belief. Yes, that’s right, belief. Just as I mentioned a moment ago. That’s how I will explain it to you.
Unhappiness depends on beliefs for its "charge." In order for there to be unhappiness, you have to put in your two cents worth of evaluation. It’s called meaning or value. If something doesn’t have meaning or value for you then your response to it is going to be close to zero. Just imagine you are doing your morning jog or walk and you pass old Mrs. Thistlewood’s house, you know the one on the corner that always looks like the porch is going to collapse. You know how she likes to chew your ear and you always pray she won’t be out when you pass, but there she is waiting in the road, breathless with the news of the latest tragedy to befall her. It seems that her pet worm, Freddy, has been devoured by some nasty little sparrow. You stop. You put on a face of commiseration. But, are you really going to be broken up over poor Freddy’s demise? I don’t think so. So you can’t be unhappy about something that you don’t believe you have to be unhappy about.
What you believe is what you feel.
Now in the case of Mrs. Thistlewood’s pet worm, you know you don’t want to lose any sleep over that, certainly not give up any joy or happiness you might be feeling. But, I can hear you saying, there is a whole range of other things that you will definitely get bent out of shape about. You just know that right? That is where belief comes in, because what you value or give meaning to is coded in your beliefs. And your beliefs are experienced by you as emotions in your body. Emotions are the experience of believing; they are beliefs in action and operation. So in the case of the deceased Freddy the worm, there is nothing that you believe such that you would feel an emotion such as sadness or grief. Obviously Mrs. Thistlewood includes Freddy as part of something she values and gives meaning to, so that is why she is so upset when she meets you in the street to tell you about it.
How does it happen that we come to value and give meaning to some things and not to others? Well, you know how. Your upbringing; the values your parents, teachers, friends and associates share. That’s how you acquire the values and meanings that are packaged in your beliefs and felt as emotions. So while you wouldn’t be upset over Freddy, you might well be over your favorite pet dog or cat, not to mention someone in your family or among your friends. They have meaning for you.
This response seems automatic doesn’t it? That’s why, when I laid out those ABC’s in section 3, you probably had a hard time with "C." To feel bad when something you give value or meaning to is damaged, hurt or destroyed sure does seem natural.
While there are some common categories of beliefs that people tend to get upset about, (loss of people who have meaning, loss of things and social positions that have meaning and so on) the actual people and things do vary. Remember you couldn’t get too upset about Freddy. Forget Freddy (sorry Mrs. Thistlewood), how about all the events in the newspaper or on television? Those thousand people or so who are always dying in some far away place don’t have any specific meaning for you, they don’t have names and faces that bring up values. So you usually don’t get much beyond kind of mild sense of "gee, isn’t that too bad," and wait for the sports and weather so you can get to bed.
What about when your Aunt Rose visits and begins to tell tales about you when you were a kid? You may find this especially embarrassing if your kids are around to listen to it. It seems remote and silly now to hear how you were absolutely in love with the boy next door to the point of tears and dramatics of great intensity when he did not return your interest. The guy turned out to be a real nerd that you wouldn’t now give a second look to. Isn’t that true? Or, what about the time you wanted to stay out late and finish that terrific game of stickball, but you had to come home. God, were you pissed!
You know the truth is that as you hear Aunt Rose tell these stories, you can scarcely remember any intensity at all. It means nothing. Zero. Zilch. What happened to all the emotional fireworks of days gone by? They are gone, that’s what. Why? Because you have changed your mind along the way about what you value and give meaning to.
This is a good place to begin with what I call "Exper/cises," short for experiential exercise. First I will usually give a few questions to answer, followed by one or more "exper/cises" for you to do. This is the beginning of your Joywork , so let’s go. First I will give two questions which in this instance happen to be two of the three basic questions of the Option Method. They aim at identifying and refining your understanding of why you are unhappy about something in your life.
EXPER / CISE
Here, we will be dealing with things that you no longer have any emotional attachment to. In the spirit of Aunt Rose’s stories of your childhood, consider some incidents from your past, about which you have no present emotional connection, but which you recall caused at least minor emotional firestorms when you were a kid. Use a photo album if you have it. I will be making this suggestion for other exper/cises later on as well.
As you review some typical instances of what I have asked for, use these two questions to identify and refine your understanding of what was going on for you at the time. One: What am I unhappy about? (In this case, "what was I") Make it as specific as you know how. Yes, yes, I know many years may have passed, but do the best you can. Don’t worry. You can’t fail at this Joywork. Once you have identified that, then ask yourself the second question: What about that (the thing I say I am unhappy about) "makes" me unhappy?
Okay do this with as many instances as you can bring to mind. Write them out here so as to give them life and reality. This is a Workbook after all, so don’t be afraid to mark it up. Contrary to what Sister Mary Diptheria may have told you in the first grade, (or old Mrs. Schnitzelbeak if you were not in parochial school the way I was) books are meant to be written in. Your thoughts are as important as the thoughts of the person you are reading, at least to you. So let her rip!
Okay, so you have done that. Great. What was the point? Simple. To show you that you do change your mind about what you believe and that when you do, your emotions follow like little goslings after the mother goose. Was it natural for you to be upset in the ways you were upset at age six or ten or fifteen? Well it was "natural" only in the sense that given what you believed, it made sense that you would respond in the ways you did. Now, once you no longer believe that, there is no emotional response to be found. Conclusion: what you believe is what you feel. Period! Outside of beliefs, there are no emotions to be found. Now remember what I said about the startle reflex back in section 3. Obviously, you do have "feelings" of a physiological nature when the neurological boundaries of your body are crossed either by actually being touched or by triggering one of the body’s early warning systems. That is not what we are talking about here, okay. I am speaking only of emotions which are rooted in your perceptions and then through the process of giving value and meaning, they are deposited in a pattern of beliefs.
So we have established that beliefs are experienced in the body as emotions; that we can change our beliefs and that when we do our emotions will absolutely correspond to that change. So far so good. But you may be asking: "Okay, but what about the speed at which I seem to respond to things? There hardly seems time to alter my responses when everything just seems to tumble out of me. Somebody scratches my brand new car and I get pissed. I learn my dear Aunt Sally has cancer, I cry." Yes, yes I know that. What we are aiming for here is to help you, first, to decide whether you want your Joy and happiness more fully in your life and, second, to demonstrate to you that it is possible to have them if you want them.
Now as to the speed of responses, not to worry. It has to be that way because otherwise we would never get anything done. So in each and every moment of our lives we are responding to what is happening with our own thoughts and with the actions and events of the people and things in the world. Despite the speed of our responses, we ourselves were the ones who put together the meanings and values that created the belief, then the emotion. This doesn’t mean that we don’t control our beliefs so as have that particular response. It is a matter of using the Option questions to identify what we believe and putting ourselves in the position to change or alter that belief if we so choose.
Now the really interesting thing is that so often we actually do not choose to change or alter a belief that produces unhappy feelings. Ah, now that is more what is at the heart of things than anything else. I can hear you saying to me: "Hey, you mean I shouldn’t get pissed when someone scratches my new car? How is anyone to know I don’t like that if I don’t vent my feelings about it? Answer me that, smart guy! Feeling joy now would be stupid because it would sap me of my resolve to get the jerk who did this and make him responsible." Or: "Hey you mean I shouldn’t cry when my Aunt Sally gets cancer? What kind of an unfeeling slob do you think I am? Maybe you have been watching too much Startrek and have a "Mr. Spock complex" or something. When someone I care about is hurt or in pain, I am damn sure going to show that I care. Joy has no place at this time. It would show a disgraceful lack of empathy and sincerity to feel good when someone you love feels bad. God, Frank, that’s just so elemental. Get with the program, pahleeezze!"
The point is that joy is not joy to you and happiness is not happiness to you if you take it to mean that you have to go against your values and what you hold dear to experience it. Of course. Actually this is a great place to introduce the last of the three Option questions to complete the core of the Method you can use to let go of as much unhappiness as you find reasonable to let go of. It echoes the apparent dilemma that we have just experienced: What are you afraid would happen (or would it mean anything about you) if you were not unhappy about that (that is whatever it is you have identified as being what you are unhappy about)?
Do you see? What you are dealing with many times is the fear that, if you are not unhappy at appropriate times and circumstances, it will indeed mean something negative about you. Well, what can we do about it? First, let’s start by making a distinction that can be critical for you in letting go of unhappiness. That is that I am not asking you to be happy about the things that occur that you have no affection for in life, such as scratches on your new car or the illness of those you love, or loss of job, or problems with your children or spouse, or any of the endless events and experiences that you do not want to happen to you or others. No, of course not. What I am saying is that you can find it possible to be happy even though there are things going on that you don’t like! The key here is understanding that your happiness and joy do not represent a betrayal of your caring, loving concern for anyone else. Nor are we in any way talking about a surrender of your capacity to pursue remuneration from, or punishment of those who may be responsible for having done harm to you, those you love. You recall that you did not find it necessary to be miserable or pained to any considerable degree over the news events of misfortunes in places far away. Of course as I mentioned earlier, you will reply that in such a case those events did not have a personal face on them; that is, you did not give them any meaning or value such that you would require unhappiness of yourself about them. But what is clear is that the mere knowledge of misfortune is not enough, normally speaking, to draw forth a response of unhappiness from you, is it? Not for most of you I don’t think (we will talk more to this point later on). Let’s review what we have learned to this point:
Sections One through Five
1. You do want your happiness but
2. You don’t believe it is possible not to be unhappy
3. The ABC’s tell us that...
A) There is just you and the world
B) You don’t control the world
C) You do control the attitude you construct toward whatever the world presents to you at any given moment.
4. While "C" is yet to be proven to you, you understand that you can’t be unhappy about something you don’t believe you have to be unhappy about. Further you know from Aunt Rose’s childhood tales that you change your mind about what you value and believe and that, when you do, your feelings about those things change. So what you believe is what you feel.
5. You are not being asked to be happy about things you do not want to be happy about, but it is being suggested that you can be happy even though there are things you do not like going on at any time.
Additionally, you have been given the Option Questions:
What am I unhappy about?
What about the thing I say I am unhappy about "makes" me unhappy?
What am I afraid would happen (or would it mean anything about me) if I were not unhappy about that?
by Frank Mosca
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