The Pragmatism of Happiness, Colliding with Bubbles and The Five of Wands

The pragmatism of choosing to be happy.

Maybe we’re just meant to be happy.

That may sound a bit simplistic and silly on the face of it.  “Duh . . . who doesn’t want to be happy?”  Still, when we consider all of the hoops we jump through in order to NOT be happy, it’s kind of amazing.  Happiness, for many of us, always seems to be a future event rather than something we enjoy in the present moment.

  • I’ll be happy when I finally get out of high school.
  • I’ll be happy when I finally get laid.
  • I’ll be happy when I get a good job.
  • I’ll be happy when I get that new computer.
  • I’ll be happy when I get a new car.
  • I’ll be happy when I fall in love.
  • I’ll be happy when I get married.
  • I’ll be happy when I get divorced.
  • I’ll be happy when the kids are grown up and I have some time for myself.

And on and on and on.  That approach is valid, to a certain extent.  We do get some measure of happiness from all of these things and events, but it never seems to last.  It never seems like real happiness.  It’s like we’re microdosing instead of getting the whole pill.

One of the problems is that we always look at happiness as something that happens to us, rather than something we generate on our own.  We see this reflected in the way that we talk about the process.  “You make me happy.”  Or, “this made me sad.”  Or, “I couldn’t believe how happy that made me feel.”  

The way we verbalize it sounds like there are these bubbles floating around the universe that we occasionally have collisions with and it changes the way that we feel.  “Uh, oh, I just ran into a sad bubble, so I’m sad now.”  Or, “Oh, man, that happy bubble felt good.  Yay!”

Since we don’t control those sources of happiness, since they’re things that happen to us rather than by us, we never feel as if we control our own happiness.  Yes, we can try to maximize our lives so that we run into more happy bubbles than sad bubbles.  We can get rid of the negative people in our lives.  We can find jobs that don’t totally suck.  We can intentionally pick out books or videos that are uplifting, rather than depressing.  But that’s still giving that power of happiness away to exterior sources.  We’re still just trying to control the exterior sources rather than realize our own ability to be happy just because we want to be.

So a good first step in being happy is to just claim our own emotional states.  That means realizing that our happiness, sadness, joy, depression, anger, love, etc. are all things that we are generating ourselves.  They don’t come from outside of us – we’re making them up as we go along.  

Put another way, it’s not a simple stimulus/response interaction.  We don’t have to automatically respond to our life’s events in certain pre-programmed ways.  We can – and do – interpret them.  We just usually interpret them in a very unconscious way.  We’ve been taught that some events are supposed to make us sad and some events are supposed to make us happy and we never stop to question why.

For instance, marriage = happiness and divorce = sadness.  We accept that equation instantly, despite the fact that about half the marriages in our country are miserable experiences and divorce often feels like being let out of a prison.  As the bumper sticker says, “It is better to have loved and lost than to go on living with a psychopath.” 

Now, once we’ve gotten there, when we’re willing to accept that WE are making our own emotions happen rather than colliding with random happy or sad bubbles, then the next step is to actually ask ourselves why we’re choosing those emotions.  A good yardstick to use in that process is evaluating whether they’re actually doing anything for us.  Are they making our lives better?  Are they moving things forward?  Are they improving the quality of our lives?

By way of an example, I used to love, love, LOVE my self-righteous anger.  If I really, genuinely felt that I was right and someone else was wrong, I was willing to argue all night and fight to the death to defend my position and change the other person’s opinion.  I was angry because I had every right to be angry.  

In my defense, I don’t think I’m exactly alone in that process.  Social media groups often feel like the Five of Wands, where everyone is madly swinging their opinions at everyone else, all of us sure that we’ve got the real skinny on what’s true and what’s not.  Our current politics are even worse.

A peculiar thing happened to me, though, where I reached a point of realization that anger just didn’t work very well.  It was this sudden revelation that every single time I got angry, it made things worse instead of better.  Every single time.  Without fail, if I lost my temper I ended up with shit on my shoes and feeling like hell.  Far from changing anyone’s mind about the issue we were arguing over, it just convinced them that I was an angry asshole and there was no reason to listen to me.

And so I just gave it up.  Sure, I get irritated or impatient, just like any other human being, but I haven’t been angry in several years.  Not because I’m some kind of Mahatma Gandhi, but simply because it doesn’t work.  It’s like trying to use the wrong key to start your car.  If you know it’s not going to work, why would you do it?

In the same sense, sadness and depression are emotions that just don’t work very well for human beings.  They make life a lot harder, instead of a lot easier.  They freeze us in place and keep us from attaining our goals and feeling connections with life and joy.  

They are basically an unnatural act, in the true sense of that term.  When we look at young critters, what’s their primary activity?  Play.  Puppies, kittens, young humans, young apes, any young being gets up in the morning and plays until they’re so exhausted that they fall over.  And then they get up and do it again.  We’re born happy and we have to learn how to be unhappy.

Now, it’s true that into every life a little shit must fall.  We aren’t going to feel happy and positive when someone we love has just died or we’ve just gotten run over by a truck.  About 90% of the time, though, NOTHING IS WRONG.  That means that in about 90% of our lives, we can make that simple choice of how we’re going to feel:  happy or sad?  Can you imagine having a life that was 90% happy?  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t have to be some bold, existential statement, either.  It doesn’t have to be some phony Pollyanna stance that everything in life is sweetness and light.  It can be a simple act of pragmatism.  Happiness makes us feel connected with life and our fellow beings.  We move forward toward our goals and opportunities for growth seem to appear out of nowhere.  Depression makes us miserable and we feel that we have no choices and no growth in life.

In a nutshell, depression doesn’t work very well.  Sadness doesn’t work very well.  We can give them up, just like a bad habit, because ultimately that’s all they are.  


An exploration of the notion of evil as it applies to anti-social personality disorders.

There are some people who seem to be just . . . evil.

It feels kind of icky, just making that statement.  It seems like stepping into that whole judeo-christian tar-pit of demon possession and punishing, crazy gods and hell fire and damnation and sinners.  We can see that idea illustrated pretty well in The Devil tarot card.  Two nude people are chained to a black altar while a gigantic, scary demon bat/goat sort of a thing hovers over them.  Yikes!  They done been possessed by the devil!!!

Evil in that context seems like a very medieval, primitive sort of a concept.  Something that you expect to hear coming out of the mouths of fundamentalist religious people who aren’t very spiritually evolved.

Still . . .there are some people who seem functionally evil.

Many of us have had the ill-fortune to encounter a few psychopaths or sociopaths or malignant narcissists.  Usually – if we’re normal people – they take us completely by surprise.  Many of them are extremely adept at concealing their inner natures, but they basically have NO EMPATHY.  No sense of compassion.  No kindness.  No love living inside of them.  Not even a little sprout.

It’s a shock, when we realize that.  That these are people who appear to be perfectly normal on the outside (in fact, in the case of narcissists, they may be very attractive on the outside) but have nothing but a dead, arid desert in their hearts.  What’s worse, many of them aren’t content with just being morally and ethically dead, they actually delight in causing harm to others.  Sociopaths may be content to live and let live (as long as you don’t cross them) but malignant narcissists and psychopaths go out of their way to fuck people up.  They don’t see other people as humans – they see them as prey.

It can still be difficult to get from that behavior to the concept of evil.  We tend to view, “evil,” in terms of moral wrongness and choice.  In other words, if we see a clear choice between loving kind behavior on the one hand and cruel, malicious behavior on the other and we choose to be cruel and malicious, then that’s evil.  The evil lies in perceiving the distinction between the two behaviors and choosing the one that causes harm.

Psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists don’t seem to have that sense of choice.  It’s not that they’re choosing to be evil rather than being kind, they simply have no concept of kindness.  What’s more, they view that lack of a sense of compassion as a strength.  They view normal people who have a conscience and try to be kind as weak and they go out of their ways to exploit that weakness.

So, in a classic sense of ethics, we can’t really see them as being evil, because they don’t have that capacity to choose between being a good human being and being a fucked up human being.  They’re just fucked up.  Period.

We may embrace the medical/psychiatric model and try to make excuses for them.  We look at them from a normal person’s point of view and think, “How awful it must be to live in a world of no love and no kindness.  Something horrifically traumatic must have happened to them to make them that terrible.”

Well, yes and no.  Sociopaths, for instance, have brains that are measurably, physically different from those of normal people.  They appear to have been born that way.  Not all people who are born with that brain structure become sociopaths, however.  It seems that something has to happen in their environment to trigger the brain into becoming sociopathic.  It’s like they’re hardwired that way at birth, but someone or something has to throw the switch to activate the wiring.

Psychologists and researchers are still arguing about exactly what it is that throws the switch.  It could be emotional trauma, physical trauma, horrible parents, malnutrition, all of the above or – in some cases – none of the above.  A lot of sociopaths were born into wealthy, loving families. Somehow, though, they end up with NO feelings of compassion or empathy, with a total lack of the characteristics that make us fully human.

It’s important to note, though, that THEY DON’T FEEL THAT WAY.  At all.  They’re quite happy with the way they exist in the world and think the rest of us are fools.  They don’t see themselves as lacking in basic human characteristics, they see us as weaklings.  

It’s also important to note that there are apparently no, “cures,” for these disorders.  There’s no way to magically change them into, “normal,” human beings.  If you dig around on the internet you’ll find some theorizing that talk therapy may be effective in treating malignant narcissism, but when you ask actual therapists about that, they just shake their heads.

There is some evidence that the number of sociopaths and narcissists among us is actually increasing, but there are arguments against that.  It could be that our methodology for detecting them has just gotten better.  It could be that they’re just more visible because of our new world of social media.  

In any case, there’s no question that they’ve always been among us.  In fact, Austrian philosopher Karl Popper argued that what we call, “history,” is largely the record of the psychopaths of our species.  We study people like Hitler, Napolean, and Genghis Khan, people who caused immense pain and suffering in the world and just didn’t care, but we ignore all of the millions of kind, loving souls who were trying to just get through life.

 Although they are very much a minority, almost a tiny fraction of the population, they have an oversized effect on the people around them.  Because of them, we tend to question the goodness of human nature.  We see the world as a dangerous place and fail to see all of the love and compassion that exists in the majority of human beings.

Even worse, they frequently succeed in dragging us down to their level.  Anyone who’s been worked over by a malignant narcissist will tell you that you emerge from that experience with a lot less trust of other people and  with a constant question of whether the next person you become involved with will be a real human being or another monster in disguise.

So . . . we end up having to recognize that there ARE people living among us who have no empathy, no compassion, no sense of ethics, no internal moral compass, and who cause a great deal of suffering for other human beings.

We can’t really call them, “evil,” in the ethical sense of their choosing to be rotten human beings.  And we can’t really use the medical model and say that they’re, “sick,” because many of them live normal, productive lives and appear to be quite happy, making everyone around them miserable.  And, thankfully, we’re evolving out of that primitive model of thinking that they’re possessed by demons or they’re servants of the devil.

But there they are, walking among us like human question marks. How can you be a human being and exist in that space?  If you DO exist in that space, are you still fully human?  It’s truly a conundrum that currently has no solution.  Until there IS a solution, they can at least serve as a contrast for the rest of us.  We can look at them and realize, “That’s what I DON’T want to be.”

Dan Adair is the author of, “Just the Tarot,” available on at a very reasonable price.

The Magician, The Devil, and the Habit of Evil

Have you ever had someone in your life who was truly evil?  I mean, beyond our usual descriptors of, “He’s an angry person.”  Or mean. Or disturbed. Or selfish. 

I mean, really, genuinely evil.  Someone who consciously inflicts as much pain as they can, knowing that it’s wrong.  It can leave you wondering about the world and about everything you believe in.

For most of history, human beings have been using a sort of, “argument from nature,” to excuse their worst behavior.  They point to the world of animals where fangs and claws seem to rule, and pronounce that it’s either kill or be killed, the strong survive and the weak die, and, since we’re animals, too, those rules apply to us, as well.  We HAVE to be cruel because it’s our nature.

Even leaving aside their totally disregarding all of the love and nurturing that we ALSO see in the animal world, it’s a bogus point of view.  They are deliberately ignoring the fact that good and evil are choices and that where no choice exists no concept of evil can exist.

We might feel pretty squeamish watching a cat torture a mouse but we don’t think that the cat is evil because of it.  We recognize that it’s the cat’s nature and instinct to hunt and kill and that the cat hasn’t made a conscious choice in the matter.  There’s no evil because there’s no choice between good and evil and where there’s no choice there can be no morality.

In The Fool card, we see pure energy entering into the world.  In The Magician card we see a human being directing that energy and choosing how it will be used.  He or she can use it for benefit or harm, for good or for evil, and that’s the point where morality is born.

To a certain extent, those of us who have embraced the New Age movement are guilty of being a little goody two-shoes about the existence of evil.  We try to live in the affirmation of love and caring and we try to NOT let negativity, malice, anger, and hatred into our lives or our consciousness.  But, as Louise Hay said, “If you are going to clean the house, you have to see the dirt.” Pretending the evil isn’t there doesn’t make it go away.

The good news is that there’s probably a LOT less evil in the world than some religions would have us believe.  If we recognize that true evil involves a conscious choice to hurt and cause suffering we can eliminate all of the animal world because they operate on instinct, not choice.  

Psychotics – even serial killers – can’t really be called evil in the pure sense because they can’t make rational choices.

Serious alcoholics and drug addicts can’t really be called evil – no matter how much damage they do – because they’re driven by their compulsions and disease.

Sociopaths and narcissists get us into an interesting – and scary – gray area.  Sociopaths actually recognize that other people make moral choices between good and evil but they have no internal moral compass themselves.  They recognize the concepts but they just don’t care about them.

Malignant narcissists also recognize that other people make moral choices but they think we’re stupid to do so.  They delight in manipulating people who have a sense of right and wrong and use those deceptions to enhance their own sense of being superior to everyone else.  “See how I charmed you and lied to you and you were too stupid to know the difference?”

And that’s a strange thing to wrap your head around.  If someone knows the difference between good and evil behavior on an intellectual level, but has no heart, no compassion, no empathy with others, are they actually capable of understanding the hurt and pain they’re inflicting?  And if they don’t really understand it, are they evil or just very flawed humans?

I dunno.

Sadly, it seems that a lot of the evil in the world and in ourselves is a matter of plain old habit and rationalization.

The Devil card is very dramatic.  We see two humans in chains with a literal Bat Out of Hell glowering above them.  The riff on this from fundamentalists christians would be that there is evil everywhere and if you’re not careful The Devil can reach out and SNATCH you up, just like that!

But – again – evil is not something that is external to us;  it’s an internal choice. In fact, it’s a series of choices. Despite the theme in horror films, no one is born evil.  We just get comfortable with it. We CHOOSE to act wrongly, to react with anger instead of compassion, to indulge our rage instead of finding our love, until choosing to be a curse in the world rather than a blessing is a habit.

So the people in The Devil card aren’t just wearing their chains.  They made them, one link at a time.

“Little by little a person becomes evil, as a water pot is filled by drops of water… Little by little a person becomes good, as a water pot is filled by drops of water.” – Buddha

Even Hitler was once someone’s beautiful baby boy.  Choose carefully.