Sunday, July 22, 2012

On Work and Love

I’ve been trying to write every day for the 21 days my youngest is at camp, but I missed Friday because it was finally cool enough to do some necessary yard work. But it gave me a chance to further contemplate Freud’s idea that work, not love, is a key to happiness.

My family of four typically produces one milk bag’s worth of garbage each week. How cool is that! I’m careful about what I buy, and I recycle and use the green bin for meat and dairy. And, I think most importantly, I compost. Sure you can put everything in the green bin, then drive to the dump to get compost for your garden, but I like to take out the middleman. It makes sense to compost and use your own garden waste on your gardens. If everyone did it, it would save the city tons of money and energy carting our leaves and orange peels across the city.  Plus, I don’t trust that someone in the region isn’t "green binning" hardy weed seeds or diseased plants or “biodegradable” plastics, which really just decompose into tiny bits and add petroleum to your carrot patch. Bletch.  So, the work...


Composting is usually almost NO work because I just layer food and yard waste instead of doing all that stirring.  BUT, my composter became crazy full of rats this year. So I had to dig it out completely and line the bottom and sides with mesh (upper left) – something I should have done when I built it ten years ago.  It’s curious to me that I’m embarrassed to have rats in my compost. Beyond anything else I've said here, putting that right out there in print is a bit daunting for me!  I want to sell the idea of composting to people, and I hate that there could be a drawback. It’s unfortunate that it’s not without its flaws. But the benefits of rich organic fertilizer for your gardens (upper right)– for only an afternoon’s work each year - and reusing what could be landfill waste, is worth it.  That leaves and food scraps turn into incredible humus will never cease to amaze me.

The thing is, I felt amazingly happy (yet sore) after doing this work. I was awash with pride. I'm still glowing about it!  Like Freud, I find working to be very pleasurable to finish.  It satisfies a drive for completion.  But the process isn't always fun, and I wanted to stop many times.  I had my requisite garden beers, which are necessary for the difficult process of work – especially when metal wire is mangling your hands!  The during part of work isn't always fun, more just the end bit, yet Freud sees this as overall adding to our happiness levels, and I agree.  I'd even go so far as to say that without strife, without the difficulty I went through, it wouldn't cause so great a happiness in the end, and I wouldn't have been happier not to do the work at all.  The difficulty and resolution created a joy that wasn't there before.

It's curious, then, that love doesn't garner the same respect from Freud.  Because, sure, in the end love can cause great pain if it's not returned or it's humiliated or if it just quietly goes away one day, but that during part can be amazing!  It's certainly on par with cleaning out my composter.  Work can cause pain in the during, but is pleasurable in the end; and love is pleasurable in the during, but can cause pain in the end.  And, it's tricky to judge, but I'd say the during of an activity often lasts longer than that ending.  So wouldn't it be the case then that love, generally, creates greater happiness than work?

Two things:  First, Freud has a teleological bent wherein the end result is the end all and be all of his theories.  And it's certainly the case with many people that how things are in the end, is how people measure how they are in total.  We talk about "failed" marriages when they dissolve instead of "brief" marriages because we focus on the last thing that happened to it instead of the entire process it encompassed.  It's like when my kids were little and they'd play happily for hours, then have one fight that would end the game and both would conclude that it's never any fun to play together - completely obliterating the value of those hours previous to that two-minute argument.  I think that's a flaw in our perception, and a focus on the entire timeline of events, instead of the endings, can be a remarkably easy way to increase our happiness with our lives.  

But secondly, another problem with comparing how well love and work create happiness is that anyone can do some work, but love isn't nearly as available to each of us.

Or is it?

I think it isn't if we view love acquisitively - as something we hope to keep.  We meet someone and want to have them all to ourselves.  That's not always possible, which sucks.

But love can be available, and not just in an agapic way, if we see it as an act free from expectations.  I'm thinking of that one scene in Adaptation in which a character is humiliated by a girl he loved, but he doesn't care, because he loved her and that was his, and nobody can take that away from him.

And I think it comes down to a question of what is love and are we doing it as well as we could be to get the most joy out of it?  It seems to me that the kind of love that can lead to happiness is a feeling that comes from deeply and respectfully admiring another’s ideas or deeds - what makes them tick.  We become their support and cheerleader of sorts.  And we can do that without expecting payback.  It's different than agapic love that Freud fears waters down love in general until it's meaningless because this kind is singularly focused on only a few worthy individuals who become important to us.  But it's not acquisitive or possessive, so anyone can have access to it.

But love that doesn't seem to create as much happiness is a desire to attach to someone because they're somehow impressive as a means to raise your own status with others or just with yourself, to raise self-esteem artificially through a connection with someone deemed valuable, or as someone to keep around for your own entertainment.  This kind of love is easier because it allows for an ability to fall in love without actually getting to know someone to any depth – it's the way I felt when I heard Johnny Depp is newly single, because I’d love to attach myself to him!  He's impressive, but I don't really know him as much as I know about him.  So I only have joy with the idea of what I think he might be. And that's not enough for anything authentic.  It can, however, be a huge distraction for people that gives them an ongoing excitement at the fantasy of it all.  Freud suggests this kind of fantasy is useful for avoiding the reality of our misery, but it's not the same as happiness we feel from loving another.

Love through respectful admiration requires to know the acts and ideas but also the intentions behind them. We can’t respect someone for what they produce without understanding why they produced it.   We have to know them on a personal level, in real life, before we can know what we think of them.  This kind of love can still erode if we have a mistaken understanding of the other:  maybe we made assumptions about why they said or did that, and fell for our fantasy of them, or they presented an illusory persona for a length of time to trick us, or maybe they just changed their entire value system over time.   It happens.  But we had something there for a while.  Even if someone's not ours to have, the act of loving another still creates that warm fuzzy feeling.  We can be excited by their successes, and concerned for their struggles, regardless how they impact our personal lives.  

A focus on supporting and enabling what we admire in the other rather than focusing on what we can get from a relationship can also create happiness in a more universal sense in that it's loving another in a way that reaches not just that individual in front of you, but affects the world through our recognition and support and development of the very best in one another.  And if we can do it without expectation, if we act out of love for the other rather than out of something for ourselves, then we all have access to this route towards happiness.

Something like that.  

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