Hacking is a word in vogue.
A quick hack of my own recent memory banks and I retrieve the following current usages: 'Hacking Happiness', 'Hack Schooling', 'Lifehacker', 'Parent Hacks', 'Wisdom Hackers', and (this one is my favourite) 'What would Jesus Hack' (taken from the title of a recent Economist article).
In my experience, whenever a term starts to be thrown about willy-nilly like this, something fishy is going on in the underlying culture. It indicates a need to pause, to find the source of this fishiness.
The dictionary definitions of 'hack' are a) 'to cut with rough or heavy blows' as in 'I hacked the padlock off' or 'Wayne Rooney hacked down that poor defender' b) 'to gain unauthorized access to data in a system or computer'. I am sure that cutting happiness or life or school with rough or heavy blows is not the intended meaning here. So I assume from the above recent usages of the term 'hacking' the following implication: what I am about to read, hear, learn, is going to give me unauthorized access to data in a system; these 'hacks' will give me a shortcut to the end goal.
There is something alluringly illicit about the idea of hacking into some secret code. When I hear terms like hacking happiness I can feel my Dopamine receptors salivating like a Pavlovian Dog as the bell promising instant and clandestine reward rings around my brain.
And this I think is the problem. Can we really 'hack' happiness, life, parenting, wisdom etc? Or is the word just being used as a marketing ploy to get me to click and buy?
When the Budhha was asked how long humankind is on the spiritual journey of reincarnation, he said to imagine a mountain six miles wide, six miles high, and six miles long. Every hundred years a bird flies over the mountain with a silk scarf trailing in its beak. The time it takes for the silk scarf to wear the mountain down to nothing, that is the length of the spiritual journey.
Well that just seems like an intolerably long time to the modern, attention-defeated mind. 'Surely', this mind says, 'we can just get minor problems like 'suffering' resolved a little sooner?' Those lazy birds with the scarves must have been very angry.
The promise of hacking happiness or wisdom or life is deceptive and likely to lead to more suffering. If we are impatient or in a hurry to work out life, wisdom, parenting or happiness, if we are craving that moment when we can throw our hands up in the air and say 'I've got it', then we can guarantee will be ever more disappointed when life, in its inimitable fashion, throws up new challenges that make us feel like 'we never even had it in the first place'. Mastering life and such things takes time, discipline, patience, and sustained motivation. But this journey of a thousand miles may not sound quite so appealing. Does it sound appealing to you?
So, the next time you are being promised a hack to something based on life as opposed to computer games, be aware.
I leave you with this beautiful quote from an article about productivity that took four years to write: "There is more than one kind of thought. There are thoughts you cannot complete within a month, or a fiscal quarter, just as there are thoughts that can occupy less than a vacation period, a weekend, or a smoke break. Like the spectrum of photonic behavior, thoughts come in a nearly infinite range of lengths and frequencies, and always move at the exact pace of human life, wherever they are in the universe. Some thoughts are long, they can take years to think, or a lifetime. Some thoughts take many lifetimes, and we hand them off to the next generation like the batons in a relay race. Some of these are the best of thoughts, even if they can be the least productive. Lifetimes along, they shift the whole world, like a secret lever built and placed by the loving imaginations of thousands of unproductive stargazers."