Happiness is an Interpretation

Seth Knapp | @iamsethknapp

George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak company, and one of the greatest inventors in American history, took his own life on March 14, 1932 with a single gunshot wound to the heart.

On November 11, 1887, Adolf Fischer, a German immigrant, and pro labor union advocate was hung to death after being wrongly accused as a conspirator in the notorious Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. His last words cut through the crowd of onlookers like a knife, “Hurrah for Anarchy! Today is the happiest moment of my life.”

We are so used to the autonomous response of vision that we forget to realize that what we are seeing is an interpretation, that is a by product of our nervous system.  Rather we tend to view the world in a way that what we are seeing is what it actually is. However, this is far from the case.  We aren’t looking through the windshield of the world and seeing it as it actually is, our brains are interpreting what we are seeing and this interpretation can manifest in many different ways.

Think of someone with terrible anxiety.  Do you think they see a happy crowd at a music festival the same way an eager festival goer does?

Think of a starving homeless person.  Do you think they view leftover bread from a bakery the same way someone does who is well fed and can afford to eat as they wish?

To the person dealing with crippling anxiety, they can view that crowd as the cause of another debilitating attack rather than an enjoyable escape from reality.

To the starving homeless person, that bread could symbolize a lifeline rather than garbage.

So what was it that made one of the most successful people in the world want to take their own life, while a poor, but just man, wrongly accused of a crime to proclaim that the moment right before his wrongful death was the “happiest moment of his life”?

It’s our interpretation of the world.

Eastman gave so much to the world and was just as well known for his philanthropic efforts as he was for his inventions.  He accomplished so much in his lifetime, so to many it would make no sense why he would take his life.  The missing piece of this story is that for the last two years of his life, Eastman dealt with a spinal disorder that caused horrible pain.

Before taking his life, Eastman left a note that read, “To my friends: My work here is done. Why wait?”

And how on Earth could the wrongly accused, poor, seemingly unaccomplished Fischer die happier than ever?

Well let’s gain a bit more perspective on Fischer’s life.  He was a German immigrant living in the dirty city that is nineteenth century Chicago.  The city is run by a handful of very wealthy, aristocratic families that have the ability to treat others, including you and your family however they see fit.  You are part of a small newspaper and movement advocating for social justice for workers and their subsequent rights that were being exploited.

Despite your best efforts and intentions, your essays go nowhere.  Suddenly, one night a riot breaks out in Haymarket Square between some factory workers and the local police, and even though you were not involved, you are rounded up and framed for the crimes committed in the riot because you were known as an “anarchist”.  (All 8 convicted members applied for clemency except for Fischer).  Suddenly your name, and subsequent cause is all over the papers.  You begin to realize that decades from now, this incident will be immortalized in history and text books.  Your cause that prior to this had been going nowhere, now had a platform, you were even being called by some “The Haymarket Martyr”.  With this platform and new spotlight, you are able to pave the way for social justice reforms for workers in your death, the same reforms you had devoted your entire life to.

As you stand there about to be hung to death, you are surely nervous, but you can’t help but to think how this “stroke of luck” was the catalyst that helped spark all of the change and reform you were so committed to.  As you think about what you are about to accomplish in death you can’t help but to feel as though this is the “happiest moment in your life”.

For Eastman, he was in so much pain, and eventually interpreted his reality as being complete, which gave him the peace of mind to not prolong things and to take his own life.

On the other hand, the poor, unsuccessful, Fischer interpreted what many would consider the worst moment of their lives as his happiest moment because the moment he died, he would become a martyr and accomplish more for his cause in his death than he ever could in his existence.

The mission of a “hacker” is to make the most out of the least.  So we find ways to become more productive, save money, be more lean, however, we can often forget about our most powerful tool for hacking….our ability to perceive any situation and any reality however we choose to perceive it; meaning we can make the most or least out of whatever we want.

If you’d like to read more about hacking the brain CLICK HERE to read Think Like a Kid



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