Read an Excerpt
Chapter One Strength-When You Have It
and When You Don't
and When You Don't
Very few of us realize how much we choose the misery in our lives. Even when we do, we still go ahead with the disastrous choice because we are convinced that we don't have the strength to choose better. A child doesn't give up in school, or a wife on her marriage, because each believes it's a good move. They give up because they no longer have the strength to keep up the struggle. I will first describe in detail how weakness is the cause of almost all the unfortunate choices we make. Then I will argue that anyone who wishes to become stronger seriously consider trying to become an addict.
If you accept the usual definition of addict, this is probably as far as you will read here because to you, and until recently to me, an addict is someone whose life is destroyed by heroin, alcohol, or gambling, and often the lives of those around him are ruined too. Smoking until you are short of breath and risking cancer, or eating until you are so obese you become repulsive to yourself and others, do not make you attractive. Everyone knows that too much coffee can make you nervous and sleepless, yet how many people can kick the coffee habit? I don't deny the truth in these common examples of addiction. but I do claim that addiction is not all bad. To the contrary, I believe there are a number of addictions that are as good as the above-named addictions are harmful. I call them positive addictions because they strengthen us and make our lives more satisfying. They exist in sharp contrast to the common or negative addictions like alcohol or heroin, which always weaken and oftendestroy us. While the concept is new, the practices I call positive addictions are not. They exist at present for thousands of people, a great number of whom are aware that they have a strong habit but few of whom think of themselves as addicted. Many of them are, however, and in this book I will call them positive addicts because, due to their addictions, they are almost always stronger than nonpositively addicted people who lead similar lives. With this added strength they live with more confidence, more creativity, and more happiness, and usually in much better health.
To begin let's examine what happens when we don't have enough strength to find the happiness that I believe most of us want more than anything else from our lives. There are those who would argue that just staying alive is the prime human need, but if we take a careful look at ourselves and those we know, that argument makes little sense. Certainly many people do cling to life when they are miserable and have almost no hope for happiness. They hang on, however, not because life itself is so rewarding but because of the old but accurate cliche, where there's life there's hope. If just staying alive were such an overpowering need, then suicide would be rare, which it is not. Each year at least fifty thousand people in the United States alone, most of whom are in good health, become convinced that there is no hope, no chance for fulfillment, pleasure, recognition, or whatever it is that most of us call happiness. They kill themselves because death seems preferable to the lives they are presently living. Besides suicide, there is also abortion which, wherever it is legal, is now about as common as birth. I am not arguing the pros and cons of abortion, but I think in most cases when a mother decides to abort her child she does so because either her happiness or the happiness of her unborn child is at stake. It is a rare abortion today that takes place because the mother's life is in danger. Finally, although this is much less frequent because, unlike abortion, it is always illegal, mercy killing is motivated by the belief that there is more to living than just staying alive. These are powerful arguments that, for those strong enough to find them, fulfillment, pleasure, recognition, a sense of personal value, a sense of worth, the enjoyment of loving and being loved are not optional, they are the facts of life.
Each individual finds them in his or her own way; but in general everyone finds them through: (1) love-that is, through loving and being loved, and (2) by doing something one believes is worthwhile. From the time we are tiny we are told what is worthwhile and perhaps even more what is not. First by our parents, later by our teachers, employers, friends, ministers, neighbors, politicians, editors, we are bombarded with what we should and shouldn't do. We soon learn the pleasure of doing right and the pain of doing wrong. As we grow, we should learn to judge for ourselves what is worthwhile, but it takes a great deal of strength to do what is right when few people will agree with us for doing it. Most of us spend our lives in a series of compromises between doing what we believe in and doing what will please those who are important to us. Happiness depends a great deal on gaining enough strength to live with a minimum of these compromises. It is never as simple as when we are small, riding our two-wheeler and yelling, "Look, Ma, no hands . . ." or as totally accepted as an adult stepping on the surface of the moon, but no matter what it is, any accomplishment that gains some recognition brings us pleasure and the lack of accomplishment is always accompanied by pain. The recognition can be immediate or delayed. Sometimes we have to wait a long time for the payoff, but if we never get any recognition for accomplishment our lives are miserable. I need not discuss love because obviously it feels good when we have it and it hurts terribly when we don't...