Another Starry Night

By Troy Headrick

A little more than a week ago, I published a piece about an extraordinary evening.  Last night, hoping to have a similar experience, I carried my chair outside again and sat.  The conditions were similar to what they had been a week earlier, so I had great expectations. 

I sat for a good long while, probably forty-five minutes or so.  This time, though, I felt no such happiness.  In fact, I felt restless and jittery and, eventually, frustrated.  Toward the end of my stay, I noticed something interesting.  I discovered that my mind was “chattering.”  I was thinking about the upcoming weekend and about my job and how I’d recently been given a lot more responsibility.  You name it, I was thinking about it.  This discovery prompted me to realize that one prerequisite for happiness is the ability to empty the mind and be present in the moment.  Mind chatter is a killer of happiness.  A week earlier, I had been able to notice my surroundings and hadn’t been distracted.  Last night, I was absent even while I sat under a beautifully starry sky.    

It had been a frustrating evening.  I carried my chair inside and turned on my computer.  I started freewriting about what had just taken place and anything that came to mind related to happiness.   Those notes became the basis for this blog.

It seems that many of us have been trained to conceive of happiness in such a way that makes it harder to experience.  Perhaps we simply need to reexamine the way we define it.  We’ve romanticized happiness and therefore have put it out of reach.  We think it must be a kind of transcendent experience—a type of metaphysical bliss or a giddiness.  Perhaps many of us experience happiness on a regular basis but don’t realize it.  Perhaps the word “happiness” has been loaded up with baggage and unrealistic associations.  What if we simply brought happiness down to earth?  What if we associate it more with “contentment” or “peacefulness”?  What if happiness turned out to merely be the absence of unhappiness?

How would our lives change if we simply began to think of ourselves as happy people?  Would thinking ourselves to be happy—because happiness had been redefined and thus made easier to experience on a regular basis—become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy?  Would thinking of ourselves as happy cause us to be happy?  Of course, I don’t know.  That’s why I’ve loaded this up with question marks.

Again, I’m looking at my notes as I write this.  I have more to say about happiness, but this might be enough for right now.

I look forward to reading your comments.  So much of the fun of writing for Pointless Overthinking comes from interacting with readers in the comments section.  I learn so much from what you have to say.  Thank you!   

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

If you’d like to see some of Troy’s art, have a look.

34 thoughts on “Another Starry Night

  1. Personally, and this is just me, but I think ppl get unhappy when they have unrealistic expectations-out of others, life, anything. They’re expecting to be handed life and love on a golden platter no matter what they do, so they become very unhappy when someone calls them out for wrong behavior.
    Then there are ppl like me, possibly, with very little expectations, and so most of the time I’m very content. I don’t have to have a lot of money, though I want stability and bills paid. And I look over the disrespect that comes my way. However there is one thing that will or can make me unhappy. But I overlook a lot.
    So I think you’re right about definitions, but I also think it has to do with expectations. It’s kinda sad in a way, for ppl like me if you think about it. However if not much is expected, than anything better that happens is a blessing.

      1. I had discontinued reading the article and moved to the comment section to investigate what is said about happiness.
        The respondent was commenting how low expectation is a strategy to remain happy. To which, I would include a statement of agreement; followed by a fail-proof way of contending with sarcasm¿

    1. You’re absolutely right. That’s a very important point. Do you think that is a peculiarly American trait? After all, we grow up hearing lots of very optimistic talk about this being the land of opportunity where everything is possible! The sky’s the limit! Doesn’t this create a certain mindset in people that sets them up for disappointment? I’ll tell you an interesting story. This idea is so pervasive that my wife–who grew up in another, poorly country–was always taught to think that in America money simply falls out of the sky and people just scoop it up. I’m like you. I’m happy with little. If I get a bit more than little, i count myself lucky. Thanks so much for leaving such a wise comment.

      1. I think you’re onto something there about America. In our country there are a lot of tidbits that sound true. There are opportunities…but you still have to work and network and…. And life right now is in flux, I think, for everyone. 2020 has never really left. At work we call it Groundhog Day, but in spite of it, we can choose to rise above the negativity. Bc there’s so much to be negative about.

      2. I grew up hearing the following story. it is deeply embedded in American culture. Go to school, get a good education, work hard and you will “make it.” Many do those things and still don’t “make it.” I did all those things and got lucky because I went overseas where educators really get paid. Most teachers do all those things and have to watch every cent when they retire or they can never manage to retire. (I know a teacher friend who did everything right and is still working–because he mostly has to–at 73.) That’s the old Horatio Alger story. We can all get rich if we follow the pattern. This sort of thinking is very American and propagates a kind of fairytale outlook on the world. (We’ll all make it. We’ll all find our princess or knight in shining armor.) Having lived in other parts of the world where people don’t think this way, has taught me an important lesson. Fairytales are for children’s storybooks.

      3. Yes! And that’s true for marriage as well! Well before I even met my husband I met a lady who was getting ready to be married. Her ring was huge, they were going to have a fairytale wedding, horse-drawn coach, the whole nine yards. But less than 2 yrs later her husband cheated on her and they were getting divorced. My husband and I eloped, and we’ve been married for 20 yrs. It isn’t all about the ceremony, it’s the marriage that counts. But too many ppl spend so much time, money, and attention on that 30 minute ceremony. And that can apply to many other areas in life too.

      4. I have heard many stories of such weddings over the year. Too many fall for the superficial not realizing that they’ve fallen in love with a façade.

  2. Your thoughtful article makes me appreciate Blaise Pascal’s comment “As we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.”

    1. Hi. You’ll note in my piece that I had “great expectations” as I went outside to experience happiness again. Expecting things to happen also sets us up for disappointment, which is very similar to the point that Pascal was making. The best times always seem to manifest themselves as accidental occurrences. When a person wants something very bad, she’s likely to strain to get it. This wanting something very bad seems like the best way to not realize it. I’ll need to check out Pascal. If my memory from grad serves me rightly–and that is a big if–he was an existentialist. Am I right? Thanks so much for the very cool comment.

      1. I run into that expectations thing frequently in the counselling office with distressed couples. It helps to keep them distressed until they lower them. Pretty sure Pascal was not an existentialist. He was a mathematician, philosopher, inventor, Christian theologian and pretty good writer –but not like us bloggers, of course.

      2. So you do counselling? That seems like cool work. I’m a very senior educator who has taught at colleges and universities in five countries. Many years ago, I made a paradigm shift in my thinking. I quit thinking of those in my classroom as “students” first and began to think of them as first and foremost people.) You might be surprised how many are never are able to quit labeling people as students–this creates a very unhealthy dynamic in the learning environment, especially as pertains to power. I just take a holistic approach and often help students solve academic problems by talking about what’s going on in other parts of their lives. I am quite unconventional. I talk about what’s going on in my life too and the challenges I’ve had. Here’s what I’ve found: We get from others what we give to them. If you demonstrate honest, openness, and authenticity, you get those in return. I guess you could say I’m a weirdo, but my students mostly love my approach and feel like they’ve finally found a teacher who breaks the mold. I’ll have to read up on Pascal.

      3. Mine’s also weird, but yours is the higher level weirdo work. Appreciate your genuine approach. Pouring into minds and hearts rather than just leveraging your position or putting in the hours. One good educator can change many many lives. Keep writing. You’re doing more than one good thing by the sounds of it and touching many lives.

  3. Such interesting thoughts, Troy! Perhaps what we should be aiming for is joy and joyfulness. As defined by Merriam-Webster as the emotion of well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires, it seems more attainable than happy defined as favored by luck or fortune. Because we can find well-being in many circumstances even when we don’t feel favored by luck or fortune. A subtle difference but one that I think gets to the point of what you are saying above – how do we control our experience of life?

    1. Yes! Rather than shoot for the moon, aim a little lower. Go ahead and try to shoot the rooftop and be pleased when you hit it. The moon is way out of range. Yes, you put it very well. I love your question: “How do we control our experience of happiness.” We can experience it more often if we make minor adjustments in our thinking and expectations. Lovely comment!

  4. ‘…one prerequisite for happiness is the ability to empty the mind and be present in the moment.’

    I believe that too.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Beautiful insight ♥️ I agree with you that happiness has more to do with contentment and peace. Gratefulness and appreciation of even the small blessings are key to have a happy and content life. And there should be a change in our mindset too, that instead of thinking ourselves as deserving of these blessings, we should take them as gifts given to us.

    1. Thank you, Saliha, for leaving such a wise comment. Why don’t more of us notice and appreciate the small wonders in our lives? Like I said in my piece, we’ve been conditioned to think of happiness as this grand feeling that sweeps us away on a wave of bliss. Unless we change the way we think and become more mindful and aware, we are likely to miss many of the wonderful moments that come and go.

  6. Thee’s active happiness. And there is passive happiness. Different causes, different brain states. Most people only think of active, jump for joy, woo-hoo happiness, not starry night happiness. They fear the silence of the mind.

    Peace of mind and contentment are things that come from within. As long as there are things you think you must have to be happy that are not already a part of you, you won’t be happy.

    The whole point of meditation is to empty the mind of all the externalities. But we can’t stay that way all the time, can we? Life’s needs will intrude. Maybe you really needed to think about all those things. If you did, it is better to think them through because not doing so may render you unhappy in the future. I don’t think chattering thoughts cause unhappiness. Worrying about things you can do nothing about is what causes unhappiness. Accepting reality for what it is gives peace of mind.

    If you really want to be rid of chattering thoughts, find something to replace them with. Music that really sucks me in does it for me. There ARE times the brain simply refuses to be empty.

    Here are some of my chattering thoughts about happiness:

    1. Yes! Totally agree. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of wanting something so badly but not being able to get it. it’s that extreme wanting that causes us to “tighten up” so that we fail and become frustrated. Sometimes, when I’m doing art or writing, I want so badly to make something beautiful and perfect that I feel disappointed with what comes from all that effort. At that point, I’ve learned to stop, walk away, and come back to try later. Sometimes we can’t force things. Thanks for leaving such a wise comment.

  7. A dearly departed friend led her life according to the mantra “choose to be happy”. Her secret to success was in showing kindness to others. Why is that so hard for most of us to do?

    1. Your friend was very wise. I’ve long felt that we can “find” ourselves by “losing” ourselves in important work which can entail serving others. I totally believe in the old idea that we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond when those occurrences take place. Thanks, Jane Fritz.

  8. I pity those who think happiness comes with a price tags and recognitions. It is the intrinsic nature of our true self and when contributes to the welfare of others will be joyful. And no product in the world has happiness listed as one of its ingredients. That’s how I see.

  9. I agree about the chatter. I recently started trying to meditate (have only done it successfully once!) and I never imagined it would be so hard. I find myself thinking of tomorrow, or remembering something that tries to make me break up what I’m doing. Quieting your mind is much more challenging than I ever expected.

  10. It’s amazing how much the second experience differs from the first. In any transformative/remarkable experience. Our expectations remain the same, even though day to day we are a different person every time.

    On a less dramatic note, this is why I hate Tuesdays more than Mondays. We often prepare for Monday without realizing we have to come back for Tuesday 😒😂

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