How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned;
- Eloisa to Abelard, by Alexander Pope
Wouldn’t it be the perfect scenario to have a selective memory, where you could choose to erase certain things and retain just the joyful memories? How wonderful would it be to dissociate oneself from feelings of despair and experience true bliss—the eternal sunshine!!
Perhaps I’ve harboured similar thoughts before and I may even have written a couple of posts around the subject about it. The idea isn’t new after all. As a matter of fact, our brain does tend to work that way, retaining only what feels important and is pleasing to the senses, while pushing away the bitter, acrid experiences to slowly mellow over time. Personally, I think the idea is just short of a neuroscience breakthrough when someone will finally succeed at unlocking the mysteries of the realms under the cranium and invent something that can erase old memories and perhaps create new ones (remember Total Recall?).
As crazy as it may sound, but I actually debated with myself on the topic today. Here are the excerpts:
”Erasing memories could be a blessing in disguise. It would serve as healing therapy for people who are traumatized by the memories of their past and need to seek psychiatric help. A simple switch could potentially help them get rid of any mental illness and pick up the pieces of their lives on a more positive note.”
”But then that would also mean that the pursuit of happiness would be lost to mankind. You could be living in a ditch, feeding yourself on filth and the false interpretation of what happiness is all about. A pig in a sty feels happy to be rolling in the dirt. Is that happiness in true sense? Won’t the ability to build a false memory rob mankind the pleasure of all achievement? Wouldn’t it spell the demise of all human endeavor as we know it?”
”What is happiness in any case? Isn’t it our perception of one event in our life being better than the others? Isn’t happiness always just a function of relative comparison? Who in this life knows absolute happiness? A yogi spending a lifetime in isolation may see his reclusion as happiness while a king rolling in a life of luxuries and indulgence may consider that to be happiness. Being able to manufacture happy memories and ridding the mind of what views as suffering could be a great leveler. Think of all the possibilities in a world where everyone is content and at peace.”
”Peace is a myth. There has never been true peace and harmony in this world since the beginning of time. Animals kill each other for food, survival and extending their species. Humans do that for more trivial and superficial reasons. Suffering brings out one’s true self. When you remove suffering from existence, you are also at risk of eradicating virtues of true companionship, camaraderie, resilience and accomplishment. What good is a species when it no longer pursues a forward path and is rendered stagnant in its course?”
”But what if our progress is only rendered slow by all the unhappiness in our head that bogs us down? Once everyone in this world feels happy inside, mankind would look to achieve greatness and achieve self-actualization goals. Maybe we will stop being so selfish in our dealings and learn to assimilate with others and accept them as our own. Internal happiness could actually be infectious and spread causing the entire human population to surge towards a global revamp.”
”If misery, woes and human suffering were a hindrance, evolution would have sorted it out and we would have developed some sort of antibodies to fight the chemical imbalances in our brains that cause depression. Life can’t be all about living in the Garden of Eden. We suffer and as a result, remember the suffering as a motivation to work towards a greater good. Missing out on the trials and tribulations of life would mean that we will no longer be able to cherish happiness as a gift. Once you make it a way of life, it will lose all its charm. Mankind will then be reduced to monotonous, mindless droids whiling away time in mindless indulgences or living in isolation. It is the suffering that helps us sustain the balance of life. It keeps people in check, it allows for opportunities to find motivation to attain goals in a life that would otherwise feel meaningless.”
”So, human agony and pain is essential for our sanity otherwise we wouldn’t know what to do with all the happiness? Somehow, that doesn’t sound right at all. But then again, this debate, like most others, will end in a stalemate considering there’s no way every living being can experience only happiness and no pain at all.”
I ended this conversation in my head at this point. I guess, I agree that chronic happiness would cause unacceptable dullness. The story of human evolution, revolves around a pursuit of happiness and it is a pursuit that should never end. Perhaps the lesson here is to not try and wipe out the hurt, anguish and sadness but embrace it instead, just as you would accept well-being and good fortune.
Inspired from the movie ‘Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind’ and the poem by Alexander Pope.