Follow the white rabbit : A take on happiness

The white rabbit is a snake Remember "the Matrix" ? That single green sentence on a black screen that changes everything for Neo : "Follow the white rabbit". A couple of minutes later a girl shows up with a white rabbit tattoo on her shoulder. Neo decides to join her and her gang for a party. That's where he meets Trinity, who leads him to Morpheus ('God of dreams' in the Greek mythology btw) ... And he becomes a messiah ... Obviously the allusion to Alice's 'white rabbit' is interesting. In 'Alice in Wonderland', Alice follows the small white mammal and ends up in a new world.

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One might even see an interesting parallel between Adam and Eve's snake and that white rabbit. Eve takes the apple, tastes it with Adam and here they are in a new world. And the question is, just as much for Eve, Adam,Neo and Alice : Are they more or less happy in that new world ? Consider the following

Now you know...

I need to put a name on this and I believe most adequate would be : "The village stranger syndrom". In 'Children on their birthdays', Truman Capote describes how a newcomer, Miss Lily Jane Bobbit, a 10 year old kid that dresses overly well and dances the valse, changes the lives of all the children of the village. Billy Bob is suddenly lovesick, but more importantly the other village girls, Billy Bob's 'exes', grow sadder and more isolated by the day. They realize there's 'something else' out there. And that newness acts like a mirror to a child.


Mirror stage - when a child understands that the image reflected by a mirror is himself - is a concept developed by Lacan. Only the importance of this event in a person's life is strongly understated:

The dual relationship (relation duelle) refers not only to the relation between the Ego and the body, which is always characterized by illusions of similarity and reciprocity, but also to the relation between the Imaginary and the Real. The visual identity given from the mirror supplies imaginary "wholeness" to the experience of a fragmentary real. See Lacan's paper, "The Mirror Stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience", the first of his Écrits.


Blablabla aside : What happens when a child sees 'himself' for the first time and develops an understanding of the image and the self for the first time, is no less than a schism : 'I am'. In other terms:

This contrast, Lacan hypothesized, is first felt by the infant as a rivalry with its own image, because the wholeness of the image threatens it with fragmentation; thus the mirror stage gives rise to an aggressive tension between the subject and the image. To resolve this aggressive tension, the subject identifies with the image: this primary identification with the counterpart is what forms the Ego.

"L'enfer c'est les autres"

The child will spend his entire life trying to repair that schism (Thanks to Nic Watz here :) for the insight). However, there's an argument to be made that others are also mirrors in our lives. Sartre famously wrote "Hell is other people" in 'Huis-Clos'. Just like Miss Lilly Jane Bobbit, they make us realize that 'we are'. They are the mirrors of our happiness. They suddenly set rulers and benchmarks for us to 'measure' and realize how happy we really are.


It suddenly dawns on us that we are not alone and that our self-worth is relative. If Neo hadn't known about the white rabbit, if he hadn't looked around for Morpheus, he would've been convinced that all there is to the world is the matrix. That would've been all he needed. That is where he would've built his happiness. Only that white rabbit, very much like adam and eve's snake, led him to see what else is possible.

According to Barry Shwartz, happiness thrives in a fish bowl : When no one interferes with your vision of happiness, when no strangers come to the village. The fish bowl breaks, surprisingly, when plunged in the ocean. The fish realizes it's been living in a dream, that the world is bigger, that other things could be. And its taste of happiness is never more the same. It's like a kid who tastes ice cream for the first time. Nothing will ever taste the same again.

Anti-fragile happiness

So how do you make sure nobody breaks your fish bowl ? Do you try and prevent it by any means possible ? do you seclude yourself and live on a mountain top ? You'll never see people with better bodies than yours and feel frustrated, people richer than you and feel miserable and unsuccessful, see people who can handle stress better than you and feel like a wreck, people who can have fun or attract boys / girls better than you and feel like a loser. But then, you might see however some monks who can reach higher planes of consciousness than you and meditate better and that my friend - when you've left your life for this - sucks :)


So maybe the solution is not to prevent the fishbowl from breaking. What about making it bulletproof then ? Practically unbreakable. Or better yet : Anti-fragile. NN Taleb's latest book is called 'Anti-fragile'. He describes these things and systems as 'things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish'. Spoiler: Don't expect a set of X happiness recommendations in the lines to follow :)


So how do you make your happiness anti-fragile ? By breaking it yourself and surviving the mess. Over and over and over. Does that mean looking at a magazine cover model and not care ? Imagine you were taller. Picture yourself richer and think whether that would make you happier. See yourself with an extra 10 centimeters. Are you happier ? Break the bowl again and again.


Please note

This is not a case for low expectations. I'm not arguing for contempt. Be as EFFING ambitious as you can be. But keep in mind:

  1. We are all abashed by a perverse paradigm today saying : We are all 'equal'. Meaning you have no excuse not to be a billionaire. Everyone can be a success. look at the youtube videos with a billion views. What are you waiting for ? Yadiyadiya
  2. But that's not true. We aren't equal and it's not possible for all of us to reach the same highs as the odds are simply not the same for us all. Realising this helps us re-establish our expectations. Not lower them but set them right. Set our own. Not ones influenced by village strangers. Creating our own right-sized fish bowl. Not the smallest one, nor someone else's.
  3. And to do that, it's essential to realize that no one's opinion or no one other than oneself should influence or be able to influence one's happiness. One needs to be absolutely self-minded, in-negotiably free spirited. Never try to please any one. Never try to live up to anyone's expectations.

You can control a system of which processes and targets you are the sole master. You cannot control one where your targets are fixed by others.