Life Affirming Words


“The Signature of all Things” is Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough—but there is a passage on page 447 that particularly spoke to me.  The main character, Alma, wrote this in one of her research papers:

“Those who are ill-prepared to endure the battle for survival should perhaps never have attempted living in the first place. The only unforgivable crime is to cut short the experiment of one’s own life before its natural end. To do so is a weakness and a pity—for the experiment of life will cut itself off soon enough, in all our cases, and one may just as well have the courage and curiosity to stay in the battle until one’s eventual demise. Anything less than a fight for endurance is a refusal of the great covenant of life.”

These words may sound a little too “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” but I do think she has chosen the right combination of words to get us through almost anything: courage and curiosity. Speaking for myself, curiosity is the thing that gets me through, around, beyond, and past life’s hardships. My curiosity feeds the courage I need to endure the not so good stuff—so I can enjoy the moments of joy, of which, if a tally were taken, there are many.

Alma’s life is not an easy one, but it is interesting, adventurous, intelligent, and worth reading about. I found the book opened up whole new territories for me—from the scientific to the workings of the mind.

When my bootstraps get a bit worn, I read these words, and they help me (metaphorically) get back up on the horse.

Do you have any words or passages that help you out when the joy of life seems to have taken a vacation without you?

Happy Is as Happy Does

Cover of "The Happiness Project: Or, Why ...

Cover via Amazon

“I never know what I think about something
until I’ve read what I’ve written.”  –William Faulkner

Of late, I have done a little research on that somewhat slippery subject called “happiness”. I am not really sure how I feel about this whole happiness deal, so taking a cue from Mr. Faulkner, after I write this, I will reread it and find out. It seems we all have a set point for happiness, or a happiness meter if you will, and it is not calibrated very high. Moments of happiness are not the hard part: if something good happens—we are generally happy. But sustained happiness takes work.

Scoffing at happiness as a goal is not a very good way to be happy. If you think that it is not a worthy ambition, you are not the only one. Robert Louis Stevenson said that, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” One of the references I used in my happiness research was Gretchen Rubin’s book, “The Happiness Project”. While I would like to claim it as part of my own research, the quote by Stevenson is part of her Happiness Manifesto.  Here are a few other points she makes in her Manifesto that I particularly liked:

• One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.
• The days are long, but the years are short.
• You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
• “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” — G. K. Chesterton
• What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you, and vice versa.
• Outer order contributes to inner calm.
• Happiness comes from …wanting what you have.
• You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.

The other thing Gretchen learned in her search for happiness was to “be Gretchen”, and she found out that being Gretchen involved accepting that while she may not like highbrow music, she does like music; that while not watching television is considered intellectual, she did like watching television; and that if she tried something new and did not like it, she could quit, because it was not true to who “Gretchen” is.

In fact at the very forefront of her “Happiness Project” was the quest “to be Gretchen”. For some reason many of us are afraid to admit who we really are and what we really like and pretend to be more sophistocated than we are . A friend of mine whom I had not spoken to for decades told me that she remembered that I liked sitcoms. I was taken aback. Of all the things she could remember about me, the fact that I liked sitcoms stuck out in her memory? Actually, I was not taken aback–I was, if truth be told, insulted. But then I thought about it. I do like sitcoms. I like clever repartee, a short story that has a beginning, middle and end, and something that takes my mind off the more serious side of life.  So, if I have learned nothing more from The Happiness Project than to accept who I am, even it is does not meet my own supposedly erudite standards, then I have at least taken one step towards happiness.

Gretchen’s book is a journey, but not the sort undertaken by Henry David Thoreau who moved to Walden Pond for a couple of years, or even Elizabeth Gilbert who travelled to Italy, India, and Indonesian and wrote the book, “Eat, Pray, Love” to find their bliss. Gretchen attained happiness without leaving home. In her own words she said: “I wanted to change my life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my kitchen”.

Published in: on August 24, 2011 at 12:44 am  Comments (6)  
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