Backing Up Happiness

I just found another essay that echoes An Ode to Phones. The author, Glenn Gillen, owned many possessions (CDs, DVDs, etc.), but moved his life to the cloud as the necessary tools became available.

The most accessible section of the essay:

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, while talking to a friend about the risk of crime and property theft in San Francisco, that I appreciated the magnitude of what had happened.

10 years ago, someone breaking into my house didn’t just carry a huge emotional impact, but significant upfront and ongoing financial ones too. TVs, home theatre systems, computers. Thousands of dollars of equipment and potentially months of effort to acquire replacements and set everything up again. Not to mention the sentimental things like photos that could never be replaced. But today the financial impact is $999 to replace a Macbook Air and 30mins-60mins to set it up. All the “irreplaceable” music, photos, and software is back exactly as it was in the time it takes to eat lunch.

Taking something that seemed to have a high negative impact, and making it near negligible, has been liberating. And so I’m constantly looking at how to take it further.

Gillen’s article made me think about things that are harder to back up than data. Especially emotional states.The wonders of the cloud aside, robbery will still have a sizable impact on your mental health.

Some of that impact is reasonable. If you get robbed once, it makes sense to worry that you’ll be robbed again in the future, and to feel angry about your lost possessions.

Still, it would be nice to have a reliable system for restoring some of the useful pleasant mental “possessions” you lost when the robbery happened: Your trusting nature, for instance, or the happiness you got from going on vacation before the robbery ruined those memories.

The first system that comes to mind is a series of messages from your Past Self to your Present Self, reminding Present Self of all the good things people have done for you, and of the fact that most pain can be overcome with time and care.

Past Self can’t predict that you’ll be robbed, of course. But when you read their description of a surprise birthday party, or an exam you aced, you may feel better about your missing laptop. Good things have come to you before, and they will come again, because you are clever and competent and people care about you.

Or, as I put it in the notes I write to my Future Self, “TWOTE”: Things Went Okay in The End.

In other words, journaling is kind of like version control for your state of mind. That’s one of the main reasons I do it.


Postscript: My girlfriend read this, then pointed out that I’ve just found a new way to express the cliche: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

My contribution: For people with weak-to-average memories, like myself, a journal provides convenient evidence of things that happened and were worth smiling about.

Leave a Reply