September 5, 2016

HAGOPIAN | Trying on Happiness

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I had a conversation with a girl recently. As I write that, I can almost hear my middle school friends sardonically expressing their disbelief.

But it’s true. I did. And the conversation still sticks out in my memory. “The girl,” as I will continue to call her in the manner of a Sundance film director, is a figure of moderate importance in my life. Not technically an ex, but something close to it. Our relationship is a clusterfuck of ambiguity and half-felt feelings that toe the line between annoying and genuinely distressing. Things have only boiled over a few times, and this was one of them. I won’t get into particulars, because my addled love life is not the subject of this article. Suffice it to say that at some point I threw up my hands and said, “well, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

It was a throwaway, a placeholder uttered in exasperation. I can’t recall ever saying those words before that moment, and I haven’t said them since. All I got in response from the girl was a derisive look. Because of my argumentative nature, my brain kicked into high gear trying to come up with supporting evidence for the position that I had so spontaneously adopted. And so I found myself seriously entertaining the idea of predestination for the first time in my adult life.

To clarify, the phrase “It just wasn’t meant to be” implies a certain kind of predestination. Not determinism, which is the idea that every event is an inescapable result of previous events. Rather a kind of benevolent predestination; the kind that is normally associated with some kind of god or divine force. What I was really saying is “it just wasn’t meant to be… and that’s a good thing no matter how shitty it seems.”

Such an outlook seems immature. It is de rigueur these days, especially in this country, to believe in the power of humans to shape their own affairs. People dismiss the idea of gods with an outspoken certainty that I find unnerving. How could I, someone who couldn’t tell you one thing about organic chemistry despite having studied it for nearly a year, have any idea about the higher mysteries that have puzzled great minds for centuries? I would contend that metaphysical outlook is largely a matter of choice — there’s really no evidence either way.

But many individuals, even some who identify as religious, have a hard time coming to grips with benevolent predestination. After all, look at all the misery and misfortune and suffering in the world. Why would an all-powerful entity with our best interests at heart allow so much bad to happen? Now, I acknowledge that I am looking at this issue from a place of privilege (I have had a pretty good life without much suffering), but this viewpoint has always struck me as shortsighted. And I put no stock into the Chicken Soup for the Soul idea of small good things being so good and beautiful that they outweigh all the bad stuff. I look towards things like the laws of physics. If the force of gravity were, say, twice as strong as it is now, planets would be drawn almost immediately into stars and life might not even be possible. Gravity might have unfortunate consequences in my daily life (I’m 6’2’’ and I still can’t dunk a basketball), but it’s just the way it should be. Less a bowl of chicken soup for the soul, more a colonoscopy.

I’m not trying to convince you to change your belief system (I myself am an agnostic. I have no skin in the game, so to speak). I just want to share the results of a thought experiment I performed. After my conversation with the girl, I chose to go through life believing that everything around me was unfolding just as it should. And it felt amazing. Even when I couldn’t quite convince myself it was true, trying to do so allowed me to see the positive side of every situation I encountered. I recommend the experience to anyone who feels stuck in some kind of rut.

I acknowledge that my new happy-go-lucky worldview might be paper-thin. If I were to experience a real tragedy, it is entirely possible that I might become an existential nihilist. Even as I type this article, however, I find myself wondering if my entire shitty relationship with the girl was meant to teach me this lesson so I could share these words. Nietzsche said that philosophy is the biographer of the philosopher, but I believe it’s the other way around. I hope my new philosophy can influence my biography.

Ara Hagopian is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at ahagopian@cornellsun.com. Whiny Liberal will appear alternating Fridays this semester.

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