Your iPhone Won’t Make You Happy

The author David Guterson is best known for Snow Falling on Cedars, but I discovered him after a friend recommend his 1992 book Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense. Having enjoyed the book, I googled Guterson and discovered a controversial high school commencement speech that he gave earlier this year.

The whole speech is worth your time, but I feel compelled to share a particular passage that describes me frighteningly well.

Guterson writes about happiness, and how we willfully distract ourselves from the difficult challenge of facing unhappiness:

We wake up, remember who we are, remember where we are, recall that life is not entirely satisfactory, and then we turn on our various hand-held devices to see what is going on in the world and who is communicating with us, and when those plentiful sources of distraction are temporarily exhausted we listen to music, and when the music doesn’t entirely satisfy we play a game on our hand-held devices while listening to different music, or we read while we eat, or while going to the bathroom, or while riding on the bus, and again we have the sensation that something is wrong, that things are not entirely satisfactory, we lack 100% happiness, and so we text somebody, or look at pictures of people on Facebook, or remember that there is something we would like to buy that could use a little research, and then, when the bus stops, a person sexually attractive to us gets on and sits down, and we look up and distract ourselves from the basic problem of life by admiring them for a while, some of us getting carried away with all kinds of thoughts about that person that have nothing to do with who they are in actuality, and after a while that fades, too, and we go on to the next thing, which might be, before we look down again at the screen of our hand-held device, a visual sweep across the landscape of our fellow bus riders while indulging in a stream of critical thoughts about them, that the person there is ugly, or that the person there is obviously an idiot because if he wasn’t he wouldn’t wear what he is wearing or carry the kind of backpack he is carrying, at which point the bus is passed in the adjacent lane by a car and you turn your attention to that, you peer out the window into the car because there are 4 fellow students in it on their way to school and one of them is somebody you don’t like very much, a cheater and a jerk, and then it’s time to look at your hand-held device again, and now an hour has passed since you woke up and only once or twice, in small, unasked for lulls, were you undistracted enough to know what you were actually doing or thinking and to exercise some control over it. For years and years you’ve done this until it has become, simply, the way your brain works. The neural pathways of judgment and impatience and boredom and dissatisfaction have become deep grooves, until this manner of experiencing the world and life seems to be the only possible way. But it is, in fact, not the only way. It is instead something you have learned to do, something that with time has become so familiar to you that you may be as unaware of it as you are of your own breathing.

If you agree with what Guterson has to say—and wonder about how you might actually deal with the problem—check out The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. I finished the audiobook last week and loved it.

Photo Credit: Nukamari via Compfight cc



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