ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Giving Yourself Permission to be Happy

Jack Bragen
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:05:00 PM

Some of the things I see on television (yes, I commit the awful sin of watching TV sometimes) are completely uninteresting--that is, unless, for the viewer, it is good enough to see the zooms of barely covered or partly blurred out body parts, usually female. (In writing, it would be known as "gratuitous sex.") On the other hand, men who are successful in acting, unless they are good actors, have a standard male physique brought about, no doubt, by Hollywood trainers and probable cosmetic surgery.  

Once you've succeeded at something, then can you be happy? Are famous people happier than the vast majority of unknowns? Actors and other famous people, and also multimillionaires, seem to gloat a lot. But does the high of being rich and famous ever wear off? Are they really "the beautiful people"?  

What about the rest of us? Is it good enough to drive a used Toyota, live in an ordinary dwelling, eat ordinary food, and be an ordinary person?  

For many with a psychiatric illness, if the illness is disabling, getting up to the level of "ordinary" or "normal" is the sought after greatness. It is like the three characters in Wizard of Oz. "If I only…" had "normality" everything would be okay, and then we could be happy people. 

However, it is not like that. Happiness can be obtained through an understanding of ourselves and an understanding of the mental causes of unhappiness and happiness. While this does not preclude some amount of discomfort, or even suffering (that will still happen some of the time) we can decide it is okay to be happy. 

Goals are great, but they aren't everything. Recently, the television was on, on a Saturday night, and I beheld "Creature Features."  

As a child and young teen, I was really into all of the Godzilla movies (originally made in Japan, with dubbed English), and old science fiction from the 1950's (I wasn't born until the 1960's), that would never have made the cut in the filmmaking standards of the past forty or fifty years.  

The stuff was very low budget, and it moved at a snail pace in comparison to the fast-moving, action packed stuff of today. You would have a scene in which almost nothing happened, and this could last up to a couple of minutes. There was a show called, "Outer Limits," there was "Twilight Zone," and there was "Creature Features" emceed by Bob Wilkins on a Bay Area TV station, I forget which one.  

So, seeing "Creature Features" once again, made me glad. The movie that was on recently was called, "The Milpitas Monster." It was a huge thing, about fifty feet tall, with wings (this thing could fly), it had big talons, and it would eat garbage out of garbage cans and dumpsters, leaving behind a huge mess to clean up.  

It was nostalgic to see shots of the rolling, grassy hills that once existed in large quantities in the Bay Area. This movie was from the 1970's. In the film, Milpitas appeared somewhat rural. While I am not certain of exactly when "Silicon Valley" came into existence, this was before the first Mac's were invented. And, there were no cellphones. 

When things were slower, people had time to do things like read or play a game of chess, or perhaps, five-card draw--penny ante of course.  

I was almost attacked by three men outside of Macy's about ten or maybe fifteen years ago--I was reading a book on a bench at night. The bench has since been removed, and there is better security at Sun Valley Mall in Concord. 

It is no longer "normal" to read a book in public. The irony of Kindle devices, and Kindle "fire" comes from the fact that in Nazi Germany, books were burned. In "Fahrenheit 451," old science fiction, the "firemen" were employed to go after everyone's books, douse them with gasoline or perhaps kerosene, and burn them up in a big pile. In the movie version, which I somehow remember better than the book (which I had read earlier) an old woman chose to go up in flames along with her books.  

Amazon has a near total monopoly on book sales. No longer do we have little bookstores everywhere, or bookstore coffeehouses. In the 1980's, before the dawn of Starbuck's, there was a chain called "The Upstart Crow." They had books, coffee, sandwiches, and sometimes live entertainment. Supposedly, they folded because of over-ambitious management that tried to expand it too quickly.  

People are being deprived of opportunities to be happy. They got rid of the Barnes and Noble near where I live, and this was about five years ago or more--to be replaced by a nondescript retail store, Home Goods. I used to go to the Barnes and Noble, which also had a Starbuck's inside it, I would look at their sci-fi section, often purchasing an Asimov's Magazine, and I would sit for a while in the Starbuck's while I waited for my wife to be done at Target.  

Now, we have television remote controls that you can talk to and that talk back to you. We have automobiles that are supposed to stop for pedestrians, and we have a phone in everyone's pocket with access to the internet, which in turn has access to unfathomably huge pools of human knowledge. 

But, we also have cyberattacks, in which people's money and privacy can be ripped off, we have cyber-bullying, and we have an expectation that everyone is supposed to carry a smartphone. My wife's smartphone kept dialing numbers while it was in her pocket.  

I still like little transistor radios, and I gain pleasure out of reading and writing. 

I'm giving myself a break from so much self-criticism, and from the idea that my life isn't good enough, because I feel that I'm doing valid things with my life. But a huge purpose isn't necessary to be happy--all you need to do is learn how the inside of your head works. Once we are able to edit out some of the mental garbage, we have more power to use our minds as we wish. 

Being happy with what you've got probably entails that you do some of those things like sitting down to read, watching corny, low-budget sci-fi films from the 1970's, or doing something besides playing with your phone.