When I picked the “10 seconds to happiness” experiment, it was because I thought it’s very easy. I like people with all our differences, and I wish them well in general. How hard could it be to wish two people every day to be happy?
I had no idea that it will end up being one of the most difficult experiments so far – much more difficult than the 3 day water fast.
Under normal circumstances, this exercise is easy and invigorating. Anytime I’ve done that, it left me smiling and in a good mood. I had the warm feeling of genuine kindness and interest. It made me think about a lot of ways how people can be happy, and I ended up thinking about what is important to me and what makes me happy.
Friday was a real trial by fire. I had to go to the India Visa Center to apply for visa, because my old passport with visa ran out of pages (ironically with fair contribution of India immigration officers not being very frugal with space).
I have nothing against India or Indians. But I hate inefficiency and pointless bureaucracy with passion. And I can’t stand the feeling of helplessness when you deal with the gargantuan inefficient state apparatus.
Update January 2018: If you think I’m exaggerating and I should trust government more, just read this article. Now you can (illegally) buy access to the all-Indian-citizens database for 8 USD. Admin access is 95 USD. This database doesn’t only include name, address and the usual data of each Indian. It includes their biometric data – fingerprints and iris scans. Just think. If your card data gets exposed, you can still change the card or your PIN. How do I change fingerprints? If bank/website leaks my data, I can stop using their service. How do I unsubscribe from government?
I won’t go into details of what was happening during those 3.5 hours. If you are a fan of Franz Kafka and would like to experience how his heroes feel, just apply for Indian visa. Downside: lost time + one of the less competent governments will have your full fingerprint set.
Remembering my loving-kindness assignment, with each kafaesque instruction or rejection, I tried wishing that person happiness. Even though I was civil enough to start each of my objections with “I know it’s not rule you decide about, but…”, on emotional level I could not make myself feel kindness.
After a few attempts I just started pity them – these people waste their talents and energy on useless activities, every day.
But pity was not the feeling I was going after. With appeals on emotions failing, I asked the rational part of the brain to help. Why are they doing this? Probably not because they’re malicious and enjoy torturing people. This job is probably one of the best options they have to support their families, or their dreams. This organization hasn’t even come up with the requirements and they know if they don’t follow them, High Commission of India will just reject those applications.
I started noticing how patient they are even when a lot of people complained how silly the rules are. None of them seem to derive happiness from the situation. It was suddenly easy to wish them happiness.
I don’t think I would feel this way towards people who harm others “just because it’s their job”. I’m not even enlightened enough to feel loving-kindness towards those officials who came up with all these ridiculous rules. I still wish them to dream each night about waiting in queues, filling forms, being rejected for stupid reasons. But this exercise changed my feelings towards the employees of the visa center. I calmed down, which made me happier, which made me act kinder to them and then to others as well.
This week’s experiment was hard, but the result is a very definite “Hell Yes!”. I will keep using it, especially in those edgy situations. It might take more than 10 seconds, but the effect is profound. Meng, Tim, thank you for teaching me.
- It made me not only feel happier, but also act kinder
- It made me think how different people need different things to be happy
- It made me think about what things make me happy
- On the edge, it can require a lot of effort. But that’s expected – difficult situations rarely have easy solutions.
- It made me feel stupid after I realized my bad feelings were totally unnecessary. And who likes the cognitive dissonance between our usual picture “I am smart and mature person” and the actual reality?
- It didn’t make me stop complaining about the visa experience. I still hate the fact that people have to go through that. There’s long path to enlightenment…
Judgement: Hell yes!