The world is words……How to stay alive in it.


HH-UK-coverPerhaps, and it is a big perhaps, the American writer David Foster Wallace would have lived if he had read the book I am reading . Titled ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’, and written by a man from my generation, Jonathan Haidt, this book states in simple terms how human beings can live their lives more satisfactorily.

David Foster Wallace hung himself at 46. He had wanted to live generously but in an interlude where he was not taking drugs to help with his clinical depression, life became unendurable. He is acclaimed in America as the writer of his generation that will endure, reflecting life in America with acuity and humour. The joke was not taht funny for David. He did not find much sense in America’s modern fantastic interpretation of the world in the 21st century. He wanted to think, and did think about life in thoughtful, considered, educated ways. He wanted to live in a world where he shared the planet where the majority used their brains to think and acted on their resultant discoveries. He found that all of us are deeply flawed, we may want one thing but we do another. We have conflicting desires, our rational brains are sometimes unable to drive our emotional brains. The result leaves human societies everywhere having to encounter poor decision making at domestic and national levels. As a result marriages become domestic hells, and countries go to war or economies fail.

You see, I think David was right about some of the things that he said. He wanted to share his insight about the damage that a society travelling at speed, unable to stop and smell the coffee, was one hell bent on destruction of what it means to be human. David needed medication in able to write. He needed it in able to live. He is no different from me on that one. He saw the world through a lens that burnt the impression too brightly, too painfully . Had he read Haidts book, he would have been instructed from the various disciplines of philosophy , social sciences and neuroscience, and that collaboration helps any reader to build up a store of reserves to fall back on when strength fails.

I have a personal interest in this subject of finding the happiness hypothesis. I have wanted to be unalive on various occasions. I have felt so numb and bereft of the feelings associated with being human that I have felt less than human, and the pain of that leads the will to want to stop breathing. I suspect most people have toyed with the idea of suicide at some time, possibly most during teenage years when the emotional temperature is higher, and the impetus to act is more urgent. Most people who are well mainly drive away those difficult feelings by recalling family bonds, or friendship commitments, or the need to complete a worthwhile venture. Most people may ignore those potentially threatening feelings because they are too difficult to confront, which benefits the person as they stay alive another day.

If you want to know some important ways of staying strong, of building your reserves I implore you to read Jonothan Haidts book. It just might save your life. It just might improve it. At the very least, it will introduce ideas that are interesting, diverting and intelligent.

David Foster Wallace left a valuable legacy of fiction and non-fiction writing that you may want to explore. Many Americans will be acquainted with his Kenyon College commencement address,and I quote from it here, for the full address go to

The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.



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