I saw a funny-but-true statement on the internet the other day. It went:
Question: What’s the difference between a Northern fairy tale and a Southern fairy tale?
A Northern fairy tale begins with, “Once upon a time…”.
A Southern fairy tale begins with “Y’all ain’t gonna believe this sh*t!”
Well, y’all ain’t gonna believe this sh*t, but… I think I’ve discovered the secret. You know, the big one. The one everyone searches to find from the minute they realize that life is a search to find something.
I’ve discovered the secret to living happily ever after.
Ok, ok. So I didn’t really discover it, I just borrowed it from this guy named Kierkegaard. But hey, if Christopher Columbus can say he discovered America….
Wait a minute, Kisha. Who’s this Kierkegaard guy, and what’s he all about?
Oh. Sorry. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Well, to keep it brief, Soren Kierkegaard was a 19th century Danish philosopher (apparently back in the good ol’ days when philosopher was actually a valid job title). In his book ‘Either / Or’, he explains this idea that one has to progress through 3 stages on the way to becoming one’s true self (aka, living happily ever after).
Here’s my summary:
Aesthetics (Love of Pleasure) – The First Stage
In this stage, one is concerned with maximizing pleasurable sensory experiences. Music, food, drinking, sex, travel, art, poetry, pleasurable memories, and the like. Even the anticipation of pleasure is maximized by someone in this stage. The primary purpose of this pleasure-seeking is to combat boredom. But since pleasure is usually temporary, the person at this stage is constantly pursuing the next pleasure to battle the boredom that always returns.
Ethics (Love of Others) – The Second Stage
At this stage, one is concerned with how his actions affect others. Instead of being driven by self-pleasure or personal gain, the ethical person is driven by pleasing others, adhering to a certain set of social principles, and doing things for the good of society as a whole. The ethical person is in a constant battle with anxiety – the anxiety of not being good enough, or not being accepted by society.
Religion (Love of God) – The Third Stage
In this stage – which Kierkegaard considered the highest plane – one is concerned with her personal, spiritual quest, or her personal relationship with God above all else. Unfortunately, very few reach this stage because of the distraction of large-scale religion which discourages personal relationship with God, and encourages being ‘falsely religious’ by adhering to one-size-fits-all doctrines. The person at this stage battles the despair of trying to live an authentic, spiritual life in a religious world.
Kierkegaard proposed an either / or approach – that is, you either dedicate your life to love of pleasure, love of others, or love of God. But instead of either / or, why not ‘all of the above’?
You see, living happily ever after means you get to have it all. You don’t have to choose between one way of living or another. It’s your fairy tale. You own everything!
In my opinion, to live happily ever after you have to find a way to balance all 3 of these loves. Thinking and living in terms of ‘either/or’ will almost certainly lead to a life of excess or imbalance. With the either / or mentality, something will always be lacking, missing, or given up. So, how can you start to move from ‘either/or’ to ‘all of the above’?
The Path to Happily Ever After
Appreciate More – Or, exercise your ‘pleasure muscle’. Instead of pursuing or chasing pleasure, derive pleasure from more and more things – even the simplest things. This will likely require a shift in perception, maybe even a slowing down. Instead of rushing through traffic or hurriedly gobbling down a meal, or speeding through your household chores, take time to savor something about every moment you experience. The more you do this, the more you’ll realize that pleasure isn’t something that has to be chased down, it’s something that has to be tuned into.
Give More – Now, I want to be clear here. I’m not necessarily suggesting that you sign up for another committee to save the world or keep going out of your way to be all helpful and savior-ish to everyone you know. On the contrary, I think many people (especially women, since we are often trained to be over-givers) should be more conservative with how much of themselves they’re giving away and who they’re giving it to. What I’m talking about here is giving more of the things that you have – whether they be material things or abstract things. Give more compliments, give away more credit (even if you did the work), give away more ideas, give away more of your belongings. Remember, you own everything, so why should you be so concerned with clinging so tightly to it all?
Meditate More – It takes a tremendous amount of energy to just sit still and shut the hell up. To calm your brain, cancel-out all the inputs and just be in silence (not even in deep thought). If you’ve ever tried meditating, you probably know that even seemingly harmless, little itty-bitty thoughts can quickly balloon into monstrous distractions.
By meditating more, you develop the discipline and strength you need to find God or your spiritual center even in the midst of all the distractions that life presents.
Imagine More – Or, exercise your ‘faith muscle’. Imagining is a way of reminding yourself that everything is possible. Even the seemingly absurd. Many of us SAY that God is the source from which all good things flow or that the universe is abundant and overflowing. But the way we ACT is that God or the universe is judgmental, demanding, and always ready to punish. The reality is YOU’re the one doing the punishing, the demanding, and the judging by believing you’re not worthy of good things, or by not having faith in the idea that almost anything you think of, can happen in real life. Think of it this way, whenever you present something to God (or the universe, or whatever you choose to call it) the answer is always yes. If you continually present ideas that affirm negative thoughts about you and the world around you, the answer will be, “yes”. Whatever you focus your mind on has a way of materializing. So instead of using your mind to focus on the negative, dedicate time to imagining the best possible things you can, and watch for the “yeses” to roll in.