From The Situationist:
[P]eople feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur. Most of us aren’t losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don’t know whether it will fall or not — and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about.
I know this is true for me. When I know what’s what, I can deal. But when there is uncertainty, I try to figure out every possibility and plan accordingly. Rehearsing, considering, anticipating, casting my mind for every possible outcome. Repeat until the future unfolds. I can tell you that this process is exhausting. And that’s the reason I’ve been practising bringing myself back to the present moment.
This is why Buddhist monks have monasteries I suppose. It’s easier to meditate and practise mindfulness when uncertainty is reduced to basics. Take away sex, take away romantic love, take away employment, take away kids, take away finding and maintaining your own home, take away many forms of entertainment and hobbies–it simplifies things. Even then it takes years of daily practice and work to attain some consistent peace in the moment and with the moment.
Daniel Gilbert, who wrote Stumbling on Happiness, in looking at neuroscience and psychology, says that our imaginations are repetitive and inaccurate in conjuring up what we need to be happy or how we’ll react to what we think would just be disastrous. Studies find that happiness comes and goes and, once basic needs are met, doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with anything in particular.
Or maybe the Buddha was right: attainable happiness is in the full awareness of being alive. Or, more recently, Joshua Heschel, who said that just to live is holy, just to be a blessing.