A few days before isolation season, when we still got to go out and mingle and go on camping trips altogether in the middle of our city traffic jams (ya, remember when we used to complain about that?), I invented and started to play a pretty neat game to entertain myself during the commute.
I live south of the metro and my rehearsals for work are always usually about two hours of travel away. Bringing a car is sometimes faster and easier; sometimes more troublesome. But I think I have always preferred public transport despite how insufferable the commutes could get because of my being a writer. I have come to this delineation a long time ago noticing that my performer usually friends drive and my writer friends usually don’t. When you drive you can practice singing in the car and when you don’t drive your hands are free and you can scribble, your mind is free and you can read, and your lurker of a spirit is free to flitter and observe just about anything without the potential of crashing into them.
So I have always been an expert commuter. I have also always been an expert observer. And, with years of experience in both fields, I am also an expert at entertaining myself.
Happiness in hiding
It’s funny when the doors to the next MRT train open at the ladies’ special section and we all try to act cool and poised and not-at-all-hormonal and create this passive-aggressive wave of feline stealth as we scatter quietly once past the doors and navigate our booties expertly into and around a nearest empty space, all while resisting our instinctive urge to bare our claws.
It’s easier for me now to just laugh at however things are. Besides my amusement in observing strangers, I have recently acquired this new hobby of just being happy, always. Always. No excuses, no backpedaling. Of course, in any hobby, as we just begin to learn the craft, we hit snags and go over lines and give up on the bad days; but if we have decided that it’s something we really enjoy, we keep going.
And I just happen to be enjoying happiness.
Since happiness and I have been hanging out quite a lot, this new companion of mine has been tagging along and squeezing itself into everything I do, infiltrating my given routines and how I now experience them. And one day in early March, there it was sneaking up on me during a crowded MRT ride.
Because this particular hobby of getting happy happens to shed a lot of light on things, I was suddenly struck by this musing: if I could find happiness in absolutely anything and anywhere, it must be all around me. Where is it hidden in all these people? I wondered why… why… I wasn’t actually seeing it.
When we are out there in the world (mmm, remember how that feels?), how do we usually look at other people? Not our friends, not our family members at reunions or at home, not our partners holding our hands, but complete strangers. We don’t know them, but we see them. We share this field of energy with them. We might get the chance to talk to them. And how we see them must affect how we interact with them if we ever had to.
The first we would notice is the physical appearance – their clothes, their hair, the pretty eyes or the tired complexion. Then we make a judgement. We can’t help it. Our brains and senses are wired to recognize, to interpret, to associate, to make a decision based on what we already know from our own life experience and environments. And we decide right there what we think that person is – stressed, interesting, talkative, shy, vibrant, sullen, addicted to social media.
How often do we look at strangers and be sure of how happy they must be in the life they are living? I’m not talking about listening to a millionaire get interviewed about all his money, or watching the celebrity with adoring fans, or the lady with a perfect set of kids, or that couple dining at a restaurant.
Taking yourself out of the picture – your own desires, your own needs, your own thrills – how often would you just immediately assume that anybody and everybody walking about in their busy-looking lives around you is happy?
It’s hard to do with what the world is right now, isn’t it? Or even with just the common predisposition that humanity has always placed itself in. We are living beings obsessed with suffering. Our religions prescribe it, our years of schooling offer it, our work thrives in it, our news report it 24 hours a day. We think it noble to struggle. To achieve something means you must go through something, anything, difficult first. We deem it necessary to have experienced pain and torment in order to become wise and to learn our lessons dutifully and “rise above it all.”
The word and the act of “judgement” itself immediately presents a negative connotation. When we “judge” other people, it is to say that we presume on the bad parts of them. Why is that automatic? Why can’t we “judge” someone meaning that we have just judged that person to be leading an extraordinary life?
The Happy Joy Rider Game
Whatever we see is a mere reflection of who we are and how we think. If I wanted to be thoroughly happy, I realized that I needed to also remove the habit of seeing other people’s miseries. It is most common to pity a street child, to judge the lousy jeepney driver as uneducated, to engage in “harmless” gossip, to decide that the politicians and the privileged are poor heartless mammals, to watch the news for the latest fears and battles of the hopeless human race. It can be so easy to believe that we are all doomed.
But what if we simply refuse to believe it?
What if I refuse to believe that anyone is struggling through life? What if I truly believe that life is wonderful and only wonderful lives come out of it?
I tried it.
Sitting in a crowded Ligo Sardines model MRT carriage, unisex this time, I looked at every single face and imagined great things about them. It had to be quickies because it could be a bit weird if they caught me dreamily staring at them with all these fantasies in my head about their individual lives.
This girl is so in love right now. This guy’s the ace of his corporate team. Her mom just texted her that her favorite adobo is hot and steaming and ready for her at home. He loves spending his daily commute with this chatty officemate of his because he learns a lot from him. That dude just got promoted. Girl behind him just got a much better job offer through text. Awww, she has a sister that loves her dearly. Man, this charmer has gotten every single girl he has ever wanted. She just completely healed from cancer. He’s… he’s… he’s just happy, like all the time.
Whatever it was, I stuck to one gift of joy for every individual. And I made sure I got excited for every one of them, celebrated in all the possibilities of their lives. I’m telling you, I GOT SO HAPPY. I am giddy just remembering all these maybe-not-so-made-up-could-be-real “lives” right now. Even if I missed on all my “judgements,” I feel as if I’ve claimed it for them anyway. I felt like a fairy sprinkling away little blessings, deciding for these mere mortals the beautiful fates that awaited them.
If we want a happier world, we should start seeing it. We should decide to start seeing it, whatever it takes. We have told ourselves this story that we have to wait for the good stuff to happen. We are now already in a world crisis and we are thinking this is the worst it has ever been. So what if it is? And so what if it is not? Let’s ask ourselves what we are waiting for next. What are we watching out for to see in this world while we are living? Do we wait to see a life that struggles or do we wait to see the next smile on the next happy face?
The Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso has a book about living a Compassionate Life and my favorite part is his opinion about watching the news. He was asked how we could possibly avoid feeling so jaded and helpless in a world so filled with bad news every day. His Holiness pointed out that the reason why it is called “news” is because it stands out – that is why it is new. Bad things are the rarity, while it is the good that is actually commonplace.
What we see out there is what we make out of our lives. Let’s make happy. Think happy thoughts, think happy people. Let’s all daydream about how all others are enjoying what they are doing in their individual homes right now. Then imagine what we could all be doing together once we come out and gather once again, renewed and sure of ourselves. Let’s be ready. We are all players of the same game and we are all in one team. If we want to finally up this game we are all playing, it matters to believe that we are all winning.