Embracing individuality has become more of a nuisance in society rather than a declarative freedom. In Andrew Solomon’s,Son, differences have created a huge social divide between strangers, but more importantly amongst families as well. Solomon highlights the idea that family structures are corroborated by a parent’s inability to accept the ‘illnesses’ of their own children and perceive it as a learning experience.
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Andrew Solomon writes of his own personal journey regarding his mother who attempted to alter his sexuality, partially to blind herself from the reality of how others would judge her. Both Solomon and his mother demonstrate an internal struggle due to the uncertainty connected with what an individual expects versus what they actually receive. This internal struggle referred to by Solomon is further examined in Daniel Gilbert’s, Immune to Reality, where Gilbert explains how individuals perceive the world based on their subjective experience of it. He demonstrates how a psychological immune system unconsciously protects humans from trauma and adversities, but how it also prevents them from fully experiencing and processing very difficult events. Amongst the many definitions of happiness discussed by Daniel Gilbert, the idea that happiness is making the best of a bad situation is largely incomplete because it does not encompass the desired effects of genuine and long-lasting happiness. However, through Solomon’s negative experiences and emotions with the lack of acceptance from his mother it is evident that his acceptance towards identity and the support from other like-minded individuals leads to a more sustained happiness.
Daniel Gilbert’s depiction of a psychological immune system as a defense mechanism to make the best of a situation reveals the sense of a short-term enjoyment developed by society. Daniel Gilbert argues that the psychological immune system is an adaptation that helps us cope with things we can not change. However, happiness must not stem from one’s ability to cope because coping with one’s circumstances provides a temporary, forced sense of happiness. Individuals have started to develop a tendency to settle for short-term happiness in scenarios intended to bring enduring happiness, such as a family. Gilbert claims, Another possibility is that we are more likely to look for and find a positive view of the things we’re stuck with than of things we’re not. Friends come and go, and changing candidates is as easy as changing socks. But siblings and presidents are ours, for better or for worse, and there is not much we can do about it once they’ve been born or elected, (Gilbert 138). The inescapability trigger mentioned by Gilbert produces an incomplete sense of happiness and reality because individuals are essentially optimizing their happiness by staying comfortable and designing scenarios that better shape around that comfort. This notion of excusing a sibling’s behavior because of their permanence allows short-term happiness to be produced because individuals are robbing themselves of better treatment by excusing behavior they should be aiming to correct. A psychological immune system only worsens the journey towards happiness because using a certain mindset to force rationalization strips individuals of their humanity because they are void to powerful emotions such as anger or sadness that could potentially lead to greater ones such as compassion. However, once an individual can be fully comfortable with the fact that their mood is uneasy, the more they are able to embrace their humanity through self-analysis. The ability to experience anger such as with a sibling and manifest it into self-compassion and compassion towards others when faced with an adversity is much more effective towards long-lasting happiness than convincing yourself into being happy.
Similarly, Andrew Solomon’s discussion of parents who simply cope with the defects of their children supports the idea that a psychological immune system creates short-term happiness as previously analyzed through the experiments of Daniel Gilbert. Andrew Solomon described a child’s defect as something that permanently becomes a part of the parent and demonstrates how many parents simply cope with such news, which parallels to Gilbert’s idea of an ‘inescapability trigger.’ Parents continue to make the best of their situation in order to achieve happiness as an ultimate goal, rather than allowing it to be something that one can naturally experience through trial and error. Andrew Solomon states,Such parents tend to view aberrance as illness until habituation…enables them to cope with their odd new reality–often by introducing the language of identity, (Solomon 373). If parents who are struggling to accept their children avoided their psychological immune systems by understanding the negativities of life and the ways to go about them, they would be able to achieve a much more compelling sense of happiness. Rather than coping, negative experiences allow individuals to go through a trial and error phase in order to fully correct and understand what is bothering them. This provides them with the opportunity to reach out to others for help, strengthening their bond with themselves and society. In this case, the parents would have developed a better bond with their children and would not have to feel as if there is not much [they] can do about it, (Gilbert 138). Many parents feel disconnected from their children now more than ever when it comes to disabilities because they simply cope with the experiences that are meant to evoke certain emotions necessary to understand oneself. Without the capability to understand the emotions of oneself, it makes it extremely difficult to comprehend the emotions of others. Parents find themselves in a constant cycle of short-lived happiness with their children because they lack the emotional understanding necessary to break down their barriers.
On the other hand, Solomon’s experience with his mother’s discomfort towards his sexuality acts as a counterexample to Daniel Gilbert’s argument of settling because Solomon managed to find long lasting happiness after attempting to alter his personality by finding support from similar individuals. Both Solomon and Gilbert acknowledge the idea of acceptance, however the acceptance of a certain fate and the acceptance of identity are immensely different. Solomon’s mother’s lack of acceptance and the criticism of his classmates essentially contributed to his negative perception of himself and dissatisfaction with the world. Rather than shaping his view more positively, he states, My treatment took only two hours a week for about six months, and it gave me an ease with women’s bodies that was so vital to the subsequent heterosexual experiences I’m glad to have had…but when I was with them, I could never forget that my ‘cure’ was a distilled manifestation of self-loathing, and I have never entirely forgiven the circumstances that disposed me to make the obscene effort, (Solomon 380). Solomon’s lack of a psychological immune system undermines Gilbert’s idea of synthetic happiness generating real happiness. Instead of developing a defense mechanism, Solomon had the ability to experience a psychological process of sublimation and alter parts of himself in an effort to please society.
This eventually allowed him to accept the reality that his mother would never fully understand him instead of settling with her disappointment because of her permanence, as Gilbert previously mentions. Solomon experienced sadness and discomfort by the situation, but the negative experience pushed him to find like-minded individuals who made him more accepting of himself in the long run. This proves that sadness is an evolutionary benefit because it helps strengthen social and internal bonds. This idea of connecting individuals through sympathy, similarities, and talking through negative experiences actually allows individual to resolve their issues to achieve a long term happiness, whereas forcing people to constantly be positive may in fact be detrimental. The pain Solomon felt during his experience amplified his individuality and authenticity because he realized how miserable he felt trying to chase short-term happiness and manifested that suffering into immediate action, which many of the individuals that Gilbert describes fail to do by changing their view of the experience, (Gilbert 138). Attempting to discern sadness ultimately prevents an individual from the conception of their genuine identity and feeling of authentic happiness. Meanwhile avoiding a psychological immune system altogether is more beneficial towards sustaining happiness because the exposure to the harsh reality of distinct perspectives prevents individuals from creating their own distorted views of experiences.
Moreover, Andrew Solomon’s acceptance of his own identity disproves Gilbert’s discussion of happiness through coping with an irrevocable situation. As previously mentioned, Gilbert discusses the coping of circumstances regarding family members simply because they are part of one’s blood and something that they can not change, allowing individuals to succumb to the inescapability trigger. A psychological immune system produces this attitude that acceptance simply means getting over painful situations. However, Solomon directly falsifies Gilbert’s argument because he demonstrates how one’s identity is also theirs for better or for worse and there is not much they can do about it, (Gilbert 138). In this case, the irrevocable situation is the essence of an individual rather than society’s perceptions. Individuals may attempt to ignore or escape from who they truly are, but this creates a sense of dissatisfaction and false happiness that actually causes many individuals to appreciate and live their life authentically as themselves. Solomon was able to apply the idea of acceptance into his inevitable situation of his identity, rather than just simply coping with what he previously thought of himself. Contrary to Gilbert, Solomon demonstrates that acceptance doesn’t mean minimizing the significance of what happened or one’s reaction, but that it is in fact an in depth acknowledgement that brings happiness. Solomon’s experience with his identity allows individuals to view happiness as the ability to accept life for what it is and realize it is not something they must control, as a psychological immune system aims to do. Gilbert’s definition of happiness will only get an individual so far as to feeling contempt, however Solomon’s idea of allowing happiness to become a product through natural experiences will allow individuals to go as far as celebrating themselves and their accomplishments.
Many individuals may resonate with the experiments of Daniel Gilbert and believe that altering their perceptions of experiences may synthesize their happiness, in terms providing real happiness. However, this forced sense of happiness can not be defined as genuine happiness because it is only temporary. Through the representation of a psychological immune system in both the essay of Gilbert and Solomon, it is evident that a psychological immune system only provides short-term happiness because individuals miss out on life experiences meant to create a strong internal connection with oneself. Andrew Solomon points out,This book’s conundrum is that most of the families described here ended up grateful for the experiences they would have done anything to avoid, (Solomon 387). This represents an important rationale as to why immediate action must be taken rather than ignoring the situation altogether. The idea that parents developed happiness in themselves and in their children later on could have been expedited by focusing less on defects as something they must cope with, but rather an opportunity to connect with others and gain knowledge. Convincing oneself against negative experiences is a plausible route to momentary happiness, but Andrew Solomon is a prime example of achieving a durable sense of happiness and living authentically through adversities. Undergoing negative experiences allows genuine happiness to occur because intense emotions such as sadness allows individuals to deeply understand other profound emotions such as beauty. As demonstrated through Andrew Solomon, hardships can provide the unity needed to survive and the acceptance of oneself, allowing genuine happiness to become a product.
Nevertheless, the examination of one’s negative experiences allows an individual to achieve enduring happiness because they become aware as to why and how they felt the way they did. A psychological immune system portrays happiness as a coping mechanism, creating a sense of short-term happiness because individuals are not striving to reach their maximum potential or a state of self-actualization. Natural happiness is an end goal, but it results from the choices one makes and their ability to grow from those choices. Enduring pain, sadness, or annoyance ultimately authorizes individuals to closely connect with themselves and the realistic nature of the world.
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