I recently observed a toddler watching a video on an iPad. The video was of game-play footage, a computer-game that someone recorded themselves playing, and posted on YouTube. For about five minutes, the toddler tapped on various objects all over the screen. It was apparent the toddler believed himself controlling the onscreen character with all this tapping. And a lot of the time, the character seemed to follow the toddler’s finger around. The toddler sat there contentedly playing until the character went in a direction the toddler didn’t expect, resulting in the toddler closing the video.
This seems a decent metaphor for life. If life meets our expectations, we’re fine, we feel in control — but when events fall outside of our expectations, we’re confused, frustrated. But like the toddler, we never had control in the first place. That the toddler was so easily drawn into the illusion of control, makes it seem as though this pseudo-control is an inherent facet of life. And by observing ourselves, we can see that after every unexpected outcome proves our lack of control, we fall back into the pattern of believing we do have control. And if we clearly lack any external control, we start to believe in wishes and magic, seeking some semblance of influence on life.
What people tend to define as a happy life, is one that follows their expectations. But of course, that outlook lends itself to highs and lows, as life regularly deviates from expectations. The more consistent path to happiness, is to realize that we’re not playing a game, but watching one. As the character makes his way through the obstacle course, we can watch with interest: what will happen next, will he make it this time?! We can be unconcerned over outcomes, we already know he dies at the end, we just want to see how his life plays out. And as his life is revealed before us, his audience, we can enjoy the spectacle unfold.