The Headless Horseman Of Mass Media: Information Everywhere, Philosophy Nowhere

Did you ever notice that we’re surrounded by information but hardly ever come across an idea in the mass media that might help us lead sane and happy lives? Oh, not the usual self-help drivel about how to lose weight or enjoy sex, but answers to the really big questions, like what to think about when you wake up in the morning and how to drink water out of a plastic bottle without burping.

Try this experiment. Next time you go up to your favorite newsstand, scan all the overwrought front pages and smiley cover stories and try to find at least one suggestion that addresses the biggest questions your have about life. We’re not kidding around here. We’re talking about the big slam-dunk ideas that can actually help you get along with a commendable degree of rationality and happiness.

Of course, you’d think everybody would know enough about such mental resources by the age of sixteen or so, but, judging by the amount of craziness and misery in the world, even among supposedly intelligent people, apparently very few folks ever do marshal their defenses against life’s tribulations and their inspirations toward its delights.

For instance, how about Spalding Gray, whose recent successful foray into New York’s East River, shocked and depressed us all? What was he thinking? Or, going back a way to another misguided riverine escapade, take Robert Schumann, one of the brightest and most generous composers who ever lived. The distracted soul became so frantic and depressed, even with a cute and accomplished wife like Clara, that he walked into the Rhine in the middle of February and, having accidentally survived, begged to spend his last days in an insane asylum.

Obviously, there’s a real need here for some handiwork. So, to help make up for the pervasive vapidity of the usual media and not wanting anything untoward to happen to you, precious reader, but actually wishing you perpetual joy, we herewith present twelve ways to help jaunt through life sane and happy, at least, most of the time.

1. Believe you were born to be sane and happy. It helps you think better of what’s behind it all.

2. To be sane and happy, do great things, because it’s fun, helpful, and makes you feel good about yourself. It’s also generally, but not always, rewarding to be considerate and, if you can afford it, generous.

3. Let other people believe anything they want to and just be happy that they have something that helps them get through this frequently challenging life, unless what they believe is likely to hurt somebody else, especially you. Then just clear out. You can find better friends. If they’re part of your family, wait till they figure out how to love you on their own.

4. Take good care of your life and whatever “made it” will take good care of you, if it takes good care of anybody, providing, of course, it’s sane and happy enough for you to be concerned about, and we do hope and trust it is. Otherwise, why do birds sing, even if some of them, especially the caw-caw choir, obviously never went to music school?

5. Be nice to everybody who isn’t entirely despicable, because everybody else is at least as fragile and uncertain as you are, no matter how big his or her mouth is or how inconsiderate and selfish he or she can be.

6. Remember Philosophy 101 and big Ari’s two generally neglected chestnuts. One: happiness is more likely to come your way if you guide your life “according to reason,” instead of hearkening to the plenteous varieties of idiocy that are somehow still afoot in the world. Two: be guided by The Golden Mean, that is, avoid excess of any kind, primarily because it’s likely to get you into excessive trouble.

Notice, for example, how many people mess up their relationships because they don’t know that the quest for more and more generally leads to less and less, since that inconsiderate rampage negates the value of the individual, who happens to be the only person you can hug and kiss. Also notice how many celebrities are twisting on the agonizing spit of neediness, apparently unaware that infinite need can know no satisfaction.

7. Always keep the wholeness of your life in mind and never let a detail subordinate it and drive you completely to distraction, even when the detail is the person you love, telling you, “I just decided my happiness depends on kissing you goodbye.” Times like these are ideal to remember what your grandmother taught you: count your blessings.

8. Curse without feeling guilty. It’s an outlet that never hurt anybody. And what are words really but just sounds in the air? Never forget: the most forbidden word of all rhymes with luck.

9. Actually, don’t feel guilty about anything, unless you’re so perverse you actually hurt somebody else or, on rare occasions, yourself. Then you should feel really guilty, unless, of course, the other person was trying to hurt you. Then you should feel terrific for beating him or her off and he or she is the one who should feel really guilty.

To free yourself from guilt, we advise the following half-original remedy: See your superego, which may, unfortunately, be parked on your flattened ego, as an agglomeration of internal objects that represent the most influential people in your past. Pretend they’re in a jury box, observing you. They are probably not smiling and saying, “Do whatever you want to, sweetie. We love you and just want you to be happy.” No, they are probably frowning and wagging their fingers, sternly advising, “Don’t do that.” Or “How could you do that?”

Now, here’s the original part of the remedy: one by one turn these oppressive adjudicators upside down and bounce them on their heads.

This innovative tactic helps you realize they’re now just in your mind and therefore they’re within your control. You’ve “internalized them,” like Freud’s perpetually unhappy sons internalized the primal father, along with all of his troublesome rules, and, as Siggy tells us, now this stern but deceased terror is more powerful than ever, because he’s in their minds, even watching their most embarrassing thoughts.

As you no doubt know, helping most guilt-ridden people find a little space where they can breathe free is based on prying their garbage-truck-size superegos off their egos.

One easy way to kick the primal father in the butt is to realize that being able to think of every alternative is the very dynamic that let’s you decide, nobly or ignobly, what you’d actually like to do.

Who knows? With a little persistent head-bouncing, one day you may be able to dismiss the entire jury.

10. Enjoy sex and alcohol. You were born to enjoy the first, and you need to enjoy the second.

Amazing how many people take responsibility for the fact that they have normal desires. Relax. You didn’t design the setup. Your job is just to live with it. Obviously, nature believed in pleasure more than any moralizer you’re likely to come across, at least, when he or she is speaking in public.

Second, ever notice how people who don’t drink are usually really uptight and frequently get pale about the age of 40, lock up, and eventually stroke out. Your body needs a nice, reliable way to relax, especially in a workaday world that’s all set up to stress out even The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, and the thing booze has over pills is that it tastes good.

Just don’t get drunk, because you’ll feel sick and maybe get arrested for DWI or kill some innocent person or other drunk who’s driving toward you.

11. Don’t worry about when the sun is going to burn out. You have more immediate concerns.

12. If you become overly concerned about what may await you when the curtain comes down on your life, remember how many problems you had before you were born. If still concerned, consult sane and happy hint number seven, sentence two.

Bonus idea. We said only twelve but we have another big idea, alluded to, for comic effect, at the start, that we can’t resist sharing for good luck.

13. How to drink out of plastic bottles.

Surprisingly, there is a way to drink water out of a plastic bottle without inhaling so much air you have to burp revoltingly three or four times. Astonishingly enough, there is also a way to drink soda out of a big plastic bottle without the bubbly getting flatter as the bottle gets emptier.

When you drink right out of a bottle of water, especially Poland Spring, which, as you may have noticed, has an orifice so tiny you almost think the company doesn’t actually want you to drink it, just buy it. Place the rim on your lower lip so that the upper part of the curve is still exposed to the air. Then you can pour it down, instead of sucking on it like a desperate baby dealing with a retentive nipple.

With big bottles of soda, each time you pour a glass, squeeze it until there’s very little air in it and then put the cap on tightly. Now, there’s hardly any space for the fizz to evaporate into. Admittedly, the flattened, bent thing will look odd in your refrigerator but at least the bubbly stuff will stay tangy.

Unfortunately, this resourceful trick doesn’t work with champagne, because it obviously doesn’t come in plastic bottles, at least, not yet.

We assume that now you’re ready to face life, prepared for any eventuality, which, if experience is any indication, will contain the usual confoundedly unpredictable mix of devastations and delights, which, if you really think about it, is the main thing that makes life mind-teasingly interesting.

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