Some computer programmes can be very confusing, can’t they? About three years ago, I decided to get a Creative Cloud subscription. If you work in the creative industry, like myself, it can be quite useful to learn a variety of design skills. And so I decided that I wanted to start working with some of the Adobe programmes, mainly Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. The first time I loaded up Photoshop, I was confused as all hell. I had never seen the interface before, I didn’t know what any of the buttons did, and everything seemed incredibly chaotic to me. All I can say today is that if you try and work with Photoshop without even knowing what layers are, you are going to have a bad time.
The Mysterious Programme
Curiously, over the past years I have come to the realisation that this is actually a great metaphor for life in general. Being born into this existence is like suddenly finding yourself in a dark room in front of a computer. You don’t really know what you are supposed to be doing here, but as you just have the computer to work with you focus your attention on that. On the computer there is a programme. Just one single programme. There is (seemingly) nothing else, so you try and work with it. No one has told you what the programme is for, or even what it is called. You simply have to make it work somehow. Using trial & error, you manage to do… stuff. You don’t know if that is what you are supposed to be doing, but hey, it’s something, isn’t it? Sometimes you are quite pleased with what you manage to do with the programme, other times nothing seems to work, or things don’t turn out how you initially wanted them to. There is a lot going on in that programme. Windows pop up out of nowhere, confusing error messages hinder your progress from time to time, and why is there suddenly music playing in the background?
Most people make the best out of the situation. In fact, they work with the programme for so long that they completely forget how they got there in the first place. The question what they are supposed to do with all of this has lost its importance. They don’t ask themselves if they are using the programme in the “right” way anymore. Some of them manage to do some impressive things with it. Others were at a disadvantage from the start because their computers were slower than those of others. Some get so frustrated with the programme that they start lashing out. Those most desperate end up killing themselves because they are so sick of working with a programme they simply don’t understand.
This is, in my view, basically the story of our lives. For us, the confusing programme we are supposed to be working with is our mind. Everything ultimately comes down to our mind. It shapes the reality we live in. A very basic observation, but then again a lot of people ignore how important it is to master the basics before you try to do the advanced stuff. And then they feel overwhelmed. The result: Frustration, a bad mood, and sometimes lasting low self-esteem. I am no exception to this. In fact, I was trapped in this exact cycle for years.
The Absurd Search for Happiness
Happiness. That’s quite a word, isn’t it? If I asked you what happiness is, could you give me an answer? While I can’t hear you answer right now (feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments), I know that I would probably get a variety of different ones. If we go by what makes us feel “good”, or what gives us pleasure, I would say that I personally quite enjoy a glass of wine and a book. Is that happiness? Well, I know for a fact that there are other people who don’t like wine or reading books. Already, we notice that happiness is somewhat of a tricky business.
Another “tactic” I see people quite often employ is the “happily-ever-after-plan”. This is the idea that one day, we will reach a sort of permanent state of happiness. The sort of thoughts like “Well, it’s not so great at the moment, but one day I will have my dream job, be married to my ideal partner, and live in a big house with three children. THEN I will be happy”. This is a nice thought. It is also a mindset that is very much pushed by mainstream films and books. A resolution is appealing to us because it suggests that there is something to work towards. Many religions use make use of this desire as well. The whole idea of heaven is basically a place of eternal bliss.
Checking into Heaven
What all of these concepts have in common is that they would be absolutely horrific states of existence, if they were to exist. Let’s take the idea of heaven: No one can tell us exactly what heaven would be like, but for the sake of this thought experiment let’s just agree on a very common idea of heaven as a state that is different for each of us. It is a sort of personalised resort conforming exactly to your idea of happiness. Sounds good? Okay, well now let’s say you have just died. Sorry to be the one to tell you! But hey, at least you were mostly “good” in your life here on Earth (no idea who judges this, but let us not overcomplicate this thought experiment) and you get to go to this heaven place that so many people would never shut up about.
When you first arrive there you are amazed. It is everything you have ever dreamed of! It looks exactly like your favourite place, and some of your best pals are even here with you. You give all of them hugs, and celebrate your reunion whichever way YOU prefer (playing video games, going out to your favourite pub… it’s your version of heaven, have fun with it). You live in your dream house, and don’t have to worry about paying bills anymore. A look in the mirror also tells you that you look youthful and even a little bit better than you did in real life. Everything you could desire is available to you. Wow. They really weren’t lying. This is amazing!
Time passes. Well, I guess time is not really a concept anymore, but you know there is still some sort of sequential nature to all of this. While you had a lot of fun at the beginning, a slight uneasiness is beginning to settle in your mind. You begin to realise, what “eternity” actually means. There is no end to this. On Earth, you were used to working TOWARDS something. You used to complain about that from time to time. Stupid work deadlines. But you have to admit that they gave you a sense of accomplishment once you completed them. You still meet up with your friends, but more and more often you find yourself sitting in an awkward silence. You have run out of things to talk about. You remembered everything there is to remember about your respective lives. And here in your personal heaven, nothing really happens. Finally, you can’t deny it anymore: You are bored.
You try out everything. If children are part of your personal heaven, you have so many that you have lost count by now. No one can die here, so your children just remain stuck in whatever state you liked them most on Earth. There is never any conflict because remember, this is supposed to be your eternal happy place! You become increasingly restless. This is worse than that one time you were stuck in quarantine during that pandemic on Earth. What was that called again? Coachella 19? Ah, doesn’t matter anyway. You have stopped meeting anyone else because you can’t stand the silence anymore. Instead, you start thinking about death, or better lack of death. An existential dread sucks every last bit of joy out of this prison of pleasure. You start lashing out. Ramming knifes into your chest, shooting bullets through your brain, jumping off of buildings… but you cannot die. You can’t even feel pain. Slowly you are driven to insanity as you realise that you are not at all in heaven, but in the worst pit of hell there could ever be.
Well, that sucked, didn’t it? So maybe “happily ever after” is not such a good idea after all. When it comes to change or impermanence, it is not unlike other experiences in life: We only ever seem to realise their true value, once they are gone. Except that impermanence will never actually be gone. This is the good news, which I deliberately kept until the end. So join me next time, when we will try and adjust our search for happiness. Escapism and resolution have let us down, so maybe we should go about it in a different way. This and more to come in the second part, and I’ll hope to see you then!
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