How to be Happy: 7 Lessons from Deconstructing Nirvana

Sometimes, the answer is sitting right there under your nose but you don’t see it: don’t deny yourself something you’re craving. If it’s bad for you, do it in small degrees. That’s far better than regret. If it’s good for you, then why deny it?

I’m one of those people who have been denying themselves, but in my defense, I didn’t realize it. Let me paint a quick picture, but I’ll warn you now that I’m not holding much back below, as it’s important to understand how we get into downward spirals in our lives. Though there is a happy ending – or will be. The lesson comes after the list of misery. The timeline is approximate, with a bit of jumping around.

The Spiralling Descent into Anti-Nirvana

If you’re not in the mood for this list, jump down past to learn what I learned.

  1. Pre-9/11, I was contracting for IBM Canada and making reasonably good money, hot on the heels of a nice contract in Atlanta, Georgia. (Where I left a lot of my belongings behind, though that’s another story.)

  2. IBM builds a big facility north of Toronto, Canada, and moves all of us, then starts letting some contracts and employees go, especially after 9/11.
  3. Except that I’d already paid first and last on an apartment in a town called Kitchener (once called Berlin), twin city to Waterloo, which is the home of RIM and the Blackberry phones/ devices, not to mention Waterloo University – one of Bill Gates’ favorite places to hire from up here.
  4. Post-9/11, some people who know me start treating me weirdly. I get angry and bitter, have to suffer through other people’s road rage, and $600/mth highway toll fees. Then my contract ends early instead of being extended by a year.
  5. I start a spiralling descent for a period that lasts three years while living in Kitchener. But what saves me is my cat to keep me company, lots of theaters to watch movies in, and my long-time “sister” and her husband as my upstairs neighbors. I was suddenly poor and got ill over time but was otherwise oddly peaceful.
  6. Despite finding time to finally write my short fiction and getting a computer book deal shortly after losing the IBM contract, computer contracts are not forthcoming. It takes me 5 years to realize that my anger probably sunk that career.
  7. I have to start selling off my $25,000 worth of recording gear, including 9 guitars/ basses, 5 synths and other items at about thirty cents on the dollar. It’s a huge loss that contributes to later putting me into bankrupcty. I eventually have to give up my beloved green Subaru GT, which I’d saved money to buy out the lease with, but now have to pay off the recording gear debts with. There goes a potential career as a soundtrack composer.
  8. At some point I lose my Internet connection and cell phone for non-payment of monthly fees. I have to stop blogging (2002). Even though I used to work for a Bell Canada division, I couldn’t convince them to give me another month for the phone so I could find work.
  9. It becomes hard to get work, but my mother – kind woman that she is – puts me through a fast-track cooking school, only for me to “find” how racist a lot of restaurant owners are in that town. Much, much later, after I leave the town, I realize it was me, my intimidating frown. But in the meantime, I have to work doubly hard to find even dishwashing jobs. Are you depressed yet? Don’t be. I learned a lot, as is revealed below.
  10. My brother eventually buys me a cell phone so that I can actually get calls for jobs. I cook and wash dishes for two years in about a dozen restaurants, for crap wages (and no tips), sometimes working up to 85 hours per week, not having time to eat, and getting sicker without realizing it. I live, believe it or not, on “Mr Noodle” and “Mr Freeze”, which of course triggers diabetic symptoms – fortunately on a borderline scale instead of full-fledged. Eventually my debts are too much, despite my parent’s help (totalling $20,000, for which I’m still trying to pay them), and I have to declare bankruptcy.
  11. Truncating the timeline… I return to my home town (or the closest thing to it) as I have a chance at getting in to a Master’s and PhD, only to find politics – which I cannot cope with. I give up after 3 semesters and work for my mother, as well as start blogging again – thanks to a gift from my father of two computers and later an Internet connection.
  12. Fast forward to now: I’m still not making as much as I made as a consultant, but it’s better than I did in Kitchener, barely surviving on about $1,000-1,200/mth in wages for most of that period. Though I have a bit more money, I’m still empty inside, still feel isolated – of my own making, again without realizing it.
  13. Why? Because I’ve been denying myself many, many simple pleasures, and feeling that I have to stay where I am out of some misfounded obligation when it’s really not true. This is my sin: misunderstanding.
  14. I want to move back to Toronto, but that doesn’t seem to be happening quite yet.
  15. What’s the solution? Why the place that I was actually happy once of course. It’s a detour for now, but at the least will make me happy.

The Plan

Despite all that I went through while living in Kitchener, and despite the eery resemblance of my life to the happenings of a main character in a novella I wrote (Fall From Grace), I had a revelation tonight, just before falling asleep, that I brought all that three years of misery upon myself in layer after layer, due to my own misunderstandings about myself. And people around me just reflected my state of mind back onto to me.

I still felt very peaceful in those times, despite everything, I had numerous friends that I’d known for nearly a decade, and had the atmosphere of a mini-Toronto to boot.

Putting time limits on my goals only served to make me miserable, saying I had to do such and such by a certain time. I no longer believe in time in the same way I did for most of my life. And tonight was the culmination of my thoughts for the past three years since leaving Kitchener.

My plan: return there, then make it Toronto to make movies whenever. No time limits. Enjoy good friends and being able to easily see a movie in a theater (not possible where I am now) or walk to the Farmer’s Market, shoot some pool, babysit my “sister’s” four cats or what have you. Things that I simply can’t do right now, where I am, because of the location in town, and the state of this town’s transit system.

Moral

The moral of the story is multi-fold:

  1. Sometimes you broker your own disasters and think it’s everyone else’s fault.
  2. Sometimes, what you think you want isn’t really what you want or need.
  3. Lots of money or little money, you can be happy independently of that.
  4. Don’t punish yourself; forgive and let go, then rebuild.
  5. Don’t set time limits on long-term goals based on meeting them by a certain age. You’ll just be miserable if you don’t do this.
  6. As mystical as it might sound, it’s really just pragmatic not to worry about time long-term. Do what you have to do to get to your goals, but don’t deny yourself the simple pleasures of life.
  7. It’s not failure if you need to take a detour in your goal plans, provided you’re still moving in the right general direction.

8 smashing comments for this post.

  1. Chris Garrett Said:

    I would add #8 friends and family can be as important (or more) than “stuff”. As nice as a flashy computer, nice car, big screen tv can be, when you are down they can’t lift you up like a kind soul can :)

  2. ThePete Said:

    Good post, man–it’s these kinds of personal stories that really make blogs worthwhile. What is happening to you just might be happening to someone else, too–and your lessons learned just might help them.

  3. rdash Said:

    @Chris: Absolutely. I couldn’t have gotten by the last five years without my family’s help.

    @Pete: Thanks :) That’s exactly what I thought. Most people are embarrassed to write stuff like this, but unless you’ve lived some things and give concrete examples, it’s hard to talk about them.

  4. rdash Said:

    Update: Kitchener doesn’t seem to be happening either. However, the good news is that I have a good chance at getting a full-time blogging gig with a small online publisher, and might get admitted into film school in Jan 2009. I’ve already talked to the admissions rep, and she seems to think I’ve got a good chance.

    Filmmaking is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and everything I’ve done since was an effort to raise capital. Except that over the past 16 years, I almost forgot why I was doing whatever I was doing.

    The full-time blogging gig will require me to be in Toronto as well, so I now have two reasons to impel me to move to Toronto as soon as is convenient.

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