Why There Is No Happily Ever After – Free Ebook

What most of us long for above all else is
‘security’, the sense that we are – at

last – safe on the earth. We pin our hopes
for security on a shifting array of targets:

a happy relationship, a house, children, a
good profession, public respect, a certain

sum of money… When these are ours, we fervently
believe, we will finally be at peace. We may

mock the term ‘happily ever after,’ synonymous
as it is with naive children’s literature

but in practice, we do indeed tend to live
as if we could one day, somewhere over the

horizon, reach a place of rest, satisfaction
and safety. It’s therefore worth trying

to understand why happiness ‘ever after’
should be congenitally so impossible. It isn’t

that we can’t ever have a good relationship,
a house or a pension. We may well have all

this – and more. It’s simply that these
won’t be able to deliver what we hope for

from them. We will still worry in the arms
of a kind and interesting partner, we will

still fret in a well-appointed kitchen, our
terrors won’t cease whatever income we have.

It sounds implausible – especially when
these goods are still far out of our grasp

– but we should trust this fundamental truth
in order to make an honest peace with the

forbidding facts of the human condition. We
can never properly be secure, because so long

as we are alive, we will be alert to danger
and in some way at risk. The only people with

full security are the dead; the only people
who can be truly at peace are under the ground;

cemeteries are the only definitively calm
places around. There is a certain nobility

in coming to accept this fact – and the
unending nature of worry in our lives. We

should both recognise the intensity of our
desire for a happy endpoint and at the same

time acknowledge the inbuilt reasons why it
cannot be ours. We should give up on The Arrival

Fallacy, the conviction that there might be
such a thing as a destination, in the sense

of a stable position beyond which we will
no longer suffer, crave and dread. The feeling

that there must be such a point of arrival
begins in childhood, with a longing for certain

toys; then the destination shifts, perhaps
to love, or career. Other popular destinations

include Children and Family, Fame; Retirement
or (even) After the Novel is Published. It

isn’t that these places don’t exist. It’s
just that they aren’t places that we can

pull up at, settle in, feel adequately sheltered
by and never want to leave again. None of

these zones will afford us a sense that we
have properly arrived. We will soon enough

discover threats and restlessness anew. One
response is to imagine that we may be craving

the wrong things, that we should look elsewhere,
perhaps to something more esoteric or high-minded:

philosophy or beauty, community or Art. But
that is just as illusory. It doesn’t matter

what goals we have: they will never be enough.
Life is a process of replacing one anxiety

and one desire with another. No goal spares
us renewed goal seeking. The only stable element

in our lives is craving: the only destination
is the journey. What are the implications

of fully accepting the Arrival Fallacy? We
may still have ambitions, but we’ll have

a certain ironic detachment about what is
likely to happen when we fulfill them. We’ll

know the itch will start up again soon enough.
Knowing the Arrival Fallacy, we’ll be subject

to illusion, but at least aware of the fact.
When we watch others striving, we may experience

slightly less envy. It may look as if certain
others have reached ‘there’. But we know

they are still longing and worrying in the
mansions of the rich and the suites of CEOs.

We should naturally try to give the journey
more attention: we should look out of the

window and appreciate the view whenever we
can. But we should also understand why this

can only ever be a partial solution. Our longing
is too powerful a force. The greatest wisdom

we’re capable of is to know why true wisdom
won’t be fully possible – and instead

pride ourselves on having at least a slight
oversight on our madness. We can accept the

ceaselessness of certain anxieties and rather
than aim for a yogic calm state, serenely

accept that we will never be definitely calm.
Our goal should not be to banish anxiety but

to learn to manage, live well around and – when
we can – heartily laugh at, our anxious

longing state.

Our calm book can educate us in the art of remaining calm.

Not through slow breathing or special teas but through thinking.

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