Ask Dr. Ellis
Question: I am still looking for the Secret of It All, and am having a difficult time finding it. Can you tell me what it is?
Dr. Ellis answers: No, I can't tell you what it is, for there probably isn't any Secret of It All; and if there were one, it would change under different environmental conditions. But since different conditions continually exist, there is no general Secret of It All, no matter what are the conditions. Alfred Korzybski said this in Science and Sanity, the bible of general semantics. We live dangerously if we say that something always, under all circumstances, exists. There are too many exceptions to this fictional rule.
What about "all things change"? Is this the "secret" of change? Probably, yes; but it really means "under usual conditions all things change." In a vacuum, they remain unchanging forever. But in a non-vacuum—that is, real life—climate, moisture, human interference, and hell knows what else seem to change even the rocks and the hills. So there!
Of course, conditions usually change, too. Especially the weather—but also living things like plants and animals. Just try to keep them from not changing!
If there were a "Secret of It All" under all conditions at all times, you would have to find it under "good" conditions and then guarantee their continuance.
Robert Harper and I discovered in 1961 in A Guide to Rational Living that most people felt happier when they had a vital absorbing interest—drawing, painting, writing, reading ancient manuscripts, playing sports, etc. Most, but not all people—since a vital interest in, say, chess may in time become boring, and one person's vital interests may not work for someone else.
How to find your own vital interests? Try many possibilities, to see which thrill you. Then another—and another. Change it when it no longer works. After a lapse, try it again. A vacation from it may spark it again. Or a modification. If regular chess tends to bore you, try blindfolded chess—or bridge. Experiment, experiment—what have you got to lose?
Vital absorbing interests are your preferences, not your musts. You don't have to adore baseball—or anything else—just because many others to. You, again, can like baseball with some people some of the time—and loathe it when you are tired, hungry, or play poorly.
You can like success at a game or venture without needing it. If you absolutely must win at ping pong, you will be anxious about losing. Then you may hate it—and hate yourself. You also may make yourself anxious about your anxiety and about showing it to others. Then you have two problems for the price of one.
Is there no way out? No, not if we insist on finding the "Secret of It All" for all times and conditions. A mystical outlook says that it exists; but a scientific, realistic outlook seriously doubts that it does. Let us look for our own vital absorbing interests and see what we can do to enjoy them. Isn't that enough?