mental health minute: on happiness and wholeness

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that – I don’t mind people being happy – but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep,” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position – it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is. — Hugh Mackay

I feel as though I’ve never been truly happy.  Sure, I often say things make me happy but do they really?  The feeling is so fleeting and never has much depth to it that I don’t believe it’s ever been genuine happiness.  It’s hard to calculate whether or not it truly has been, so to pivot away from happiness and onto something else like wholeness is a great relief, because if those fleeting, shallow moments are what I’m supposed to be striving for, then no thank you, I’ll stick to my depression.

Ever since I started seeing my current therapist, we started talking about peace, and one of the things that I’ve been trying to do is recognize when I feel at peace.  To be honest, it’s not often.  It’s hard for me to recognize that feeling as well.  I think the closest I come to it is when I’m writing something that I really like, even if that something is never going to see the light of day.  But still, peace is something that I don’t understand, mainly because to me peace is a calm, relaxed state and I’m never at that.  My mind is constantly going ten billion miles an hour.  I have more thoughts and ideas in a minute than some people I know probably have in an hour.  And it’s just the struggle of understanding peace that has been so frustrating, because how can I seek out something that I cannot seem to ever get a grip on?

But finding this quote has changed the shape of the narrative.  Maybe it’s not peace that I should be striving for but wholeness.  I feel like my life, since the day I was born, has never been whole.  I have always been the odd man out among my family and friends.  I think differently, I feel differently, I act differently, I am just different.  And to me, that’s always translated as damaged.  But maybe the damage hasn’t been a bad thing.  Maybe I wouldn’t be this person with this creative drive if I hadn’t been damaged.  I fell in love with books and writing because they were an escape from the world that I was living in.  If I hadn’t been living in that world, would I have done that?  It’s hard to say.

Writing is part of what makes me whole.  I wouldn’t know how to live without it.  My family also makes me feel whole.  They provide the love and support that I need.  I cannot imagine where I would be now if it weren’t for them.  But what else makes me whole?  I have no idea.  It’s hard for me to pick the things that make up who I am out in such a detailed way, but I’m going to figure it out someday.  I’m going to figure out what I need in order to be whole.

Maybe along the way I’ll figure out what it means to be happy too. I don’t know if that’s possible, but I’m going to try. But I know that’s not what I’m striving for. Happiness will come if wholeness comes first. Now if I can just figure this wholeness part out.

Chester Bennington (1976-2017)

Celebrity deaths can often times be shocking, but this one hit me out of the blue with a sucker punch.  Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington was one of those people who affected my life in ways that he couldn’t possibly have ever known, but I will always remember.  The lyrics that he helped to craft and then eventually sang reached a part of me deep inside that I didn’t know at times could be reached, and the songs he created with his bandmates have been part of the voice of my subconscious since their debut album, Hybrid Theory, came out in October 2000.

I really don’t have the words to describe the shock and sadness and utter loss I feel right now, so I’m just going to post some of my favorite Linkin Park songs.  Thoughts and love to Chester’s family, bandmates, and friends.  Rest in peace, you talented, talented man.

film mini-review: spider-man homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming was directed by Jon Watts and stars Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/Vulture, Jacob Batalon as Ned, Zendaya as Michelle, Laura Harrier as Liz, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.

This was a film that I didn’t see coming.  Having been influenced by Sony’s five previous attempts at making a Spider-Man film, Spider-Man was a character that I simply didn’t care about.  I understood that he was beloved by comic book readers around the world, and that those who liked or loved the previous films were in the same boat, but I had pretty much decided that Spider-Man was just a comic book character that I wasn’t going to relate to.  The biographies of the character that I had read online never seemed to match up to what I watched, and since the visual media was not providing me with the Peter Parker I wanted to see (and it was really the Peter Parker aspect that was lacking for me, the Spider-Man stuff was just fine), I’d given up.

Then came Sony’s financial troubles, the leaked emails showing discussions with Marvel about a collaborative effort with the character in an attempt to earn some cash, and the eventual announcement that Spider-Man was coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I was very skeptical about this whole idea based upon my previous attempts with the character, but I was surrounded by people who were thrilled with this, so I decided to go into it with an open mind and see what happened.

What happened was a first appearance by Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and I had the biggest grin on my face during the couple of scenes he was in.  It wasn’t much of a sample size, but it looked like they might have finally gotten the Peter Parker I wanted to see right.  He was an awkward, anxious fifteen-year-old kid who was so nervous in Tony Stark’s presence, especially when he started to realize that Stark knew that he was Spider-Man.  It was a nice teaser for his own solo film, and I looked forward to that film greatly, despite the fact that I was worried about the collaboration between Marvel and Sony.

I didn’t need to be worried.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fantastic film filled with humor and heart and great action and a wonderful twist I didn’t see coming and, most importantly, the Peter Parker I’ve always wanted to see on screen.  This fifteen-year-old kid who is struggling with going back to being a high school student after going on a mission with Tony Stark and fighting alongside the Avengers has a great story arc.  Even though the trailers that Sony put out gave away far too much of the film, leading me to know what was going to happen more often than not, there were still plenty of moments that surprised me.  The characters were superb.  Peter’s best friend Ned was a particular highlight, as was the girl with no friends Michelle, and I even liked their interpretation of Flash Thompson.  (“Penis” Parker, anyone?)  I loved that the group of kids were all a bunch of math and science fanatics and that a large plot point centered around an academic decathlon team that they were all on.  And the main villain, Adrian Toomes/Vulture as portrayed by Michael Keaton, was a memorable villain who made an impact on the film in many different ways.  You understood his motivations, you understood why he acted the way he did in certain situations, and when Toomes and Peter finally come face to face, it’s in a truly memorable way.  There is very little about this film that I didn’t like, and I was not expecting that.

Score: 9.5/10