On Chasing Peace, Happiness or Joy

…and the role of labor and its fruit: outcomes

Previously on this show: I explored the theme that chasing happiness is a fool’s quest and so is true for its lesser cousin — joy, and that peace is not only the more attainable goal, but also the one we need (as opposed to the one we want).

However, I also believe in the cliche of to each, her own.

Hence, for the purpose of this post, I am going to call the holy grail as Peace, Happiness or Joy. Or PH&J, in short, carrying in it’s meaning a reference to a sandwich that I recently have grown to like.

I imagine PH&J as a continuum. There’s nothing at the time of one’s birth and we gradually start accumulating PH&J as we pass through this world. I also imagine this as intrinsically an internal possession of all who possess a prefrontal cortex.

That’s the preface. Or a preamble. I will digress for a bit here before I amble on to the point. For those in a hurry, or those who are pressed for time, or those for whom TL;DR might be a real risk, or the megalobibliophobes, please skip the next paragraph. For the hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobes, I apologize for using the word.

I believe that a preamble is a critical part of human speech, and more so in this current era where we are all readers with opinions. The function of a preamble is to make sure that the listeners and readers are on the same page as the speaker or the author — without which, much of what the speaker or the author has to say runs the risk of being lost in translation. Especially in absence of a viable brain machine interface when we are stuck with a rustic tool of language, that I for one am in no rush to feel nostalgic about.

Coming back to the purpose of writing this post. With the starting point established above, I recently came to realize that PH&J is akin to a rainbow. It’s something that is real as long as you can cherish it from afar. And it’s something that is unreal as soon as you start chasing it.

This isn’t meant to render us inactive, although there’s value in doing that too from time to time. We all have an intrinsic and internal base of PH&J and it’s important to cherish that. At the same time, it is natural and one could argue, almost essential, to seek a delta addition to this base and to attain a higher state on the PH&J continuum.

For that additional delta PH&J, we need to plan, work, put ourselves out there and sometimes also struggle or fight for something we believe in or fight against something we believe is wrong. And this entails being brave and vulnerable and putting yourself at the risk of being hurt. The times you succeed, the delta addition to the PH&J is apparent. But it also means that sometimes, you will fail. And when you fail, it’s possible to feel that you’ve lost your inner PH&J. But that’s the understandable theatrics, the drama, the heat of the moment. In the long run, it’s important that you are able to let go of the outcome and still find the base PH&J. And the best part of the quest of bravery and aspiration, and actually the drama that ensued as well, is that it adds to the PH&J automatically.

Then you get up and go again. Like Sisyphus, because that’s probably is the essence of being alive. We might not know how or if our actions carry a deeper meaning but we find meaning in the action itself and allow it to enrich our lives.

And that’s, quite literally, absurd. Footnote: absurdism is a school of though that is neither existential (all actions carry deep meaning and repeat in perpetuity) nor nihilistic (life has no meaning, nothing we do matters), but rather a shrug of not knowing, and being okay with the fact that we might never know, whether there’s any meaning. And for me, that makes it so wonderful!

Coming back to the metaphor, as you either drive on the highway of life or are driven, depending on where you stand on the free-will vs. destiny spectrum, don’t forget to look out of the window once in a while at the PH&J rainbow. Looking at it enriches it’s beauty as only gradually the colors become discernible. As you move along, the vantage point changes and hopefully the vista of lake and mountains will be visible soon in the background, adding to the PH&J rainbow’s beauty.

And another thing of emphasis here is that PH&J itself is basically outcome independent, even if that’s not always intuitive. Even if your new vantage point does not allow you to see the rainbow with a better background, the rainbow itself remains beautiful.

A nerdy way to look at it is that to introduce “outcomes” as an independent variable or a predictor in the PH&J function might seem to increase the coefficient of fit, or R-squared— but it is essentially overfitting the model and attempting to capture on the curve what is essentially just noise. The argument, then, is that the adjusted R-squared is lower than that of the function without “outcomes”.

Public health professional by day and a writer by night. Author of fiction novels The Quest of the Sparrows and DareDreamers.