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Swami Smack on happiness


What did heroin give me?

Well, hepatitis C for starters.
A ringside seat on a very interesting period of the eastern Sydney underworld too.

It showed me that what I want and don’t want can be the same thing.  It also taught me about happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain and how they fit together in perfect symmetry.
How you can’t have one without the other.

And why it is futile to seek pleasure or happiness, because the balance will inevitably reassert in its opposite.
Unless you die first.
Perhaps that’s why ODs were so popular among my junkie friends.

That’s why the things that make you happy will always turn on you.
What varies is the withdrawal period.

Boredom is the withdrawal symptom of excitement.
Anxiety the withdrawal symptom of security.
Grief or heartbreak the withdrawal from love.

That’s because positive sensations change your perception of normality.
What was once ‘happy’ is now ‘normal’.
And the return to the old ‘normal’ is perceived as sadness.

Pleasure and pain receptors both dull with repeated use.

The only way to maintain the buzz of happiness is to keep increasing the dose.
Any junkie can tell you where that ends.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no use in happiness.
It can be used in moderation for social or recreational purposes as long as you are prepared to pay the price.
It can be used to get you through emotional crisis, like morphine can get you through acute pain.

But don’t allow yourself to become addicted to happiness.
Happiness junkies destroy themselves and those around them.

This is how I learned an important lesson about dukkha.
And why they will never find a long term antidepressant that works.

  1. I maintain that the times I was least happy in my life were largely due to external, extenuating circumstances. I also think that people have the intelligence and technology to make life more pleasant, rewarding and comfortable. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be that we will experience pain and pleasure in roughly equal doses. There are certainly people who got far more than their share of pain. A documentary I saw recently showing how some women and girls in Afghanistan had been abused by the Taliban comes to mind. Surely unhappiness following being radically disfigured by having acid thrown in one’s face is due to external circumstances. Juxtapose this with, say, my classes. In my classes, well, I’m the benevolent dictator. I try to make things fun and interesting, and am supportive of all my students. The tend to be pretty cheerful during the classes. This suggest that if we humans provide pleasant and nurturing environments, as opposed to lopping off people’s appendages to teach them to submit, pleasure can far outweigh pain and suffering. IMO.


    • Maybe bipolar as well as smack has tainted my perspective, but I would expect the disfigured girls – if they lived long enough – to eventually learn something about bearing pain and the fleeting superficiality of beauty. At least they wouldn’t have to go through the trauma and loss of self-esteem so many other women (and men) go through as their attractiveness fades.

      On the other hand your Chinese students will face a lot of not-so-benevolent dictators throughout their lives and your example of how it doesn’t have to be that way will give them a stronger sense of oppression and dissatisfaction. If they meet up with enough like minded people they might do something about it and either go under the tank tracks like the Tienanmen Square protestors or even successfully overthrow the system of oppression like the Russians did – only to see another system of equal or worse oppression take it’s place.

      Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Myth of Progress necessarily applies to all social endeavour – or I would never have bothered with activism (though I must admit I still probably would have done that even if I was certain it was futile). I do however think that chasing individual happiness is chasing an illusion. It will inevitably turn out to be nowhere near as satisfying as you thought or will blow back on you in the form of some later loss.

      Anicca and dukkha will prevail.
      The only cure is to realise anatta – no self – which is also to realise there is no happiness to be grasped and no grasper.


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