The Happy Idiot and the Tortured Soul

A man I once knew intimately had a particular question he liked to ask:

Would you rather be a happy idiot or a tortured genius?

This became the question I asked on dates, my little test to see if someone was worth my time.

Because, to me, this is a question not about what you are but how you want to live. The trick is in the adjective.

Do you want to be happy, or tortured?

Do you care more about the names other people call you, or how you feel on the inside?

Me? I’ll choose happy idiot, all the time.

The more I study the Wisdom Tradition of Christianity, the more I’m awakened to the realization that living a full and vibrant life is not about acquiring prestige, material goods, or accolades. Instead, it is about a constant “dying to self.” It is about the how and not about the what. 

Would you rather have a ton of money and lots of people who look up to you, but feel miserable inside?

Or would you rather have no one know your name, enough money to get by, and wake up every morning feeling eternally blessed and happy?

The problem with much organized religion, specifically Christianity, is that it has failed to be the salve for our tortured souls, and instead is often the cause of our suffering. Many Christian traditions teach kids from an early age, You are bad. You are wrong. Something is terribly broken in you. It is only through this man who died on a cross that you are saved and can potentially go to heaven. Now say the following words….

And so we are brainwashed in our vulnerable, impressionable minds, that there is something fundamentally unfixable and broken within us, that we don’t deserve to be happy, that life is about duty and obligation and listening to those guys.

Oy vey!

Original sin is original suffering, that’s all. We are born into this human life suffering. It was really nice and warm and perfect in that womb, but we had to come alive, and with that was an awareness of just how strange and difficult it is to be human. And so our job in this life is not to beat ourselves up and tell ourselves we’re bad and do all the right things to get into Heaven when we die. Our job is to free ourselves from the bondage of our minds. Our job is to heal and love, and create a world full of love, so that there is no barrier between the earthy existence and the heavenly one.

Unfortunately, what Christianity has done instead is elevate woundedness to suggest that we must be addicted and attached to our wounds, to our pain. It points an ugly finger and says, You deserve pain. You deserve suffering.

No. Oh, oh, oh, no.

You deserve happiness.

Only, happiness may not be what you think it is. This is where surrender comes in.

Long-term happiness is not “achieved” through acquiring things, or acquiring followers, or through aligning with the status quo. Of course plenty of things can make us happy in the short-term, but we all know that fades. (How long does that new-car smell last, for instance?) And so if we keep grasping at external things to make us happy, we are simply chasing the wind.

True happiness relies on letting go. And that doesn’t mean you have to sell all your things and walk barefoot on the grass. (Though walking barefoot is so lovely!) It means that you recognize those things are just things that can pass away at any moment, and they no longer have so much power over you. Your power comes from within, in the act of surrender, in your warrior heart. And the biggest thing many of us need to give up is the damaging belief we grew up with.

You are not worthy. You are broken and bad. You are unlovable.

You are not nothing.

Oh, honey. That is just not true.

You are everything.

If you can let go of that damaging, hard-hitting belief that says you are not special, that you are not lovable, that you are not deserving of goodness, then you can finally begin to live a full life.

You don’t earn heaven by acquiring good deeds. You are heaven. You just need to brush all that dirt off that got in the way of seeing the real you.


Be a humble, wide-eyed, happy idiot.

Say it with me now.

I am beautiful. I am special. I am here for a reason. I have so much to offer.

That’s right.


I told you you were glorious.


“My heart”by is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Categories: spirituality and faith

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2 replies

  1. Happy Idiot, Tortured Soul got me thinking hard right out the gate. Who wants to be an idiot? Not so attractive. Who wants to be a genius? Attractive! But then who wants to be tortured vs who wants to be happy? More thinking? It may be stereotypical thinking, but almost all folks I’ve known with Downs Syndrome seem to live in a relatively happy state of mind. Some of the folks I’ve know whom I would consider genius have in fact had tortured minds. Starting with a really smart, extremely talented artist friend from high school who took his own life just a few years after graduating. More thinking. I finally decided to put my Gold coin playing piece on becoming a happy idiot. If I’m happy, who cares what others think? If I’m happy even if my body is suffering, so what then!? I was delighted and reassured that the author had herself reached a similar conclusion. Not that this should matter. If I become or am a true happy idiot I would be equally content no matter what her or anyone’s opinion was. Right. But if it comes to politics and voting I’m not so sure I’d be voting for another idiot, happy or not.


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