David Deida had a phrase that crops up in my head from time to time. He was writing about the things that stunt our ability to live out our authentic purpose – that is a life that makes us most fulfilled most of the time. A big hurdle is the ‘thou shalt’ dialogue that plays over in our minds like a broken record. And who’s the voice on the other end? Who’s responsible for laying down the first few tracks?
Well, usually they’re our primary care caregivers, the one’s we looked up at with wide eyes – the mums and dads, maybe aunties, uncles or big sisters and brothers etc. They gave us our first road map to the big world we knew so little about and still when it comes to decision time – we go straight to the same road map index.
For me I’d often hear my dad saying: “you shouldn’t be doing that, David”, “That’s not a good thing..”, “Its best to do this…”, “You need to do that…” etc – Not in a Norman Bates way (where I’d talk to myself as my mother in in my mother’s own clothes – Hitchcock’s Psycho) – its more a pattern of thinking based on the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ passed on by our primary caregivers that we use as a measurement or a sounding board for whatever plays out in our present life. In this way Deida states:
“live your life as if your father is dead…”
But it’s not about our relationship with our parents, whether they are alive or dead, or what influence they might have or not have on us. It about being able to distinguish between the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ that probably worked well for someone else in some other time and place from the right and wrong that works for us right now. This is what Nietzsche talks about in his story about slaying the dragon of all created values (referenced here). The lion (determined action) slays the dragon (passed-on values) and transforms into the child (innocence able to create new values).
So what does this have to do with happiness?
Well my happiness starts from being happy in myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’d get a real kick out of other people acknowledging me, sending me praise and adulation – genuinely handing out a lot of ego pampering (of course, I’m not stopping you…). But if I’m not OK about myself no amount of praise and recognition will do me any good, especially when things turn around (and they always will) and the love stops coming. This kind of describes the curse of the celebrity.
To find happiness I need to know that the direction my life points is guided by me. If I’m not at the helm of my own life, if my dad, my wife, or Frederick Nietzsche always makes the final decision to go left, right, backwards or forwards (yes, up and down too), I’ll eventually be afraid of my own decisions (as I’m not making any of them). I’d lose trust in myself, grow dependent and wind up miserable and addicted to the drug of approval (well someone’s got to approve of what I’m doing- I don’t know if its OK or not – “someone, anyone HELP!”).
The alternative is to guide our own lives, to create values based on what is most relevant to us at the time and place it is best suited. To begin to trust in our ability to make precise decisions, in other words to put faith in our ‘gut feelings’ or instincts as a guide to life. And with this new found self-faith and spontaneity – there lies our road to happiness.