Showing posts tagged happiness

The very best in all of us

JEFFREY: So what—there’s no God? It’s all just random, luck of the draw, bad luck of the draw?

FATHER DAN:  Darling, my darling—have you ever been to a picnic? And someone blows up a balloon, and everyone starts tossing it around? And the balloon drifts and it catches the light, and it’s always just about to touch the ground, but someone always gets there just in time, to tap it back up. The balloon—that’s God. The very best in all of us. The kindness. The heavy petting. The eleven o’clock numbers.  

JEFFREY: But what about the bad stuff? When the balloon does hit the ground, when it bursts?

FATHER DAN:  Who cares? Evil bores me. It’s one-note. It doesn’t sing. Of course life sucks; it always will—so why not make the most of it? How dare you not lunge for any shred of happiness?

— from Jeffrey by Paul Rudnick

(Image: Pascal Lamorisse in Paris, a scene from The Red Balloon, 1956, written and directed by Albert Lamorisse. Thank you, The Vinyl Bridge.)

“How to be happy? Big question. I still think Freud got it right. Good health. Interesting work. Satisfying personal relationships. It’s worth checking every now and then to see how you score on all three.”

Ian McEwan (“I’m only 66 – my notebook is still full of ideas”)

Because of how you go

Trying to get clear on this, I asked, “You have been to hell, Ketut?”
He smiled. Of course he’s been there.
“What’s it like in hell?”
“Same like in heaven,” he said.
He saw my confusion and tried to explain. “Universe is a circle, Liss.”
I still wasn’t sure I understood.
He said. “To up, to down—all same, at end.”
I remembered an old Christian mystic notion: As above, so below. So I asked. “Then how can you tell the difference between heaven and hell?”
“Because of how you go. Heaven, you go up, through seven happy places. Hell, you go down, through seven sad places. This is why it better for you to go up, Liss.” He laughed.
I asked, “You mean, you might as well spend your life going upward, through the happy places, since heaven and hell—the destinations—are the same thing anyway?”
“Same-same,” he said. “Same in end, so better to be happy on journey.”
I said, “So, if heaven is love, then hell is …”
“Love, too,” he said.
I sat with that one for a while, trying to make the math work.
Ketut laughed again, slapped my knee affectionately with his hand.
“Always so difficult for young people to understand this!”

— from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin Books, 2006)

(Photo: Thank you, Sarah and Reading Wanderer.)

“Do I have an original thought in my head? My bald head. Maybe if I were happier, my hair wouldn’t be falling out. Life is short. I need to make the most of it. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m a walking cliché. I really need to go to the doctor and have my leg checked. There’s something wrong. A bump. The dentist called again. I’m way overdue. If I stop putting things off, I would be happier. All I do is sit on my fat ass. If my ass wasn’t fat, I would be happier. I wouldn’t have to wear these shirts with the tails out all the time. Like that’s fooling anyone. Fat ass. I should start jogging again. Five miles a day. Really do it this time. Maybe rock climbing. I need to turn my life around. What do I need to do? I need to fall in love. I need to have a girlfriend. I need to read more, improve myself. What if I learned Russian or something? Or took up an instrument? I could speak Chinese. I’d be the screenwriter who speaks Chinese and plays the oboe. That would be cool. I should get my hair cut short. Stop trying to fool myself and everyone else into thinking I have a full head of hair. How pathetic is that? Just be real. Confident. Isn’t that what women are attracted to? Men don’t have to be attractive. But that’s not true. Especially these days. Almost as much pressure on men as there is on women these days. Why should I be made to feel I have to apologize for my existence? Maybe it’s my brain chemistry. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me. Bad chemistry. All my problems and anxiety can be reduced to a chemical imbalance or some kind of misfiring synapses. I need to get help for that. But I’ll still be ugly though. Nothing’s gonna change that.”

— from Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by Spike Jonze

Enjoyments, affections, and hopes

“Time was, with most of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and every one around the Christmas fire; and made the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.”

— from “What Christmas Is as We Grow Older” by Charles Dickens (quoted in “A Note to the Reader,” in Christmas Classics from The Modern Library, Random House, 1997)

(Photograph by dabacahin.)


Hope and peace to you—dear friends, kind followers, fellow stumblers!

Hans Christian Andersen: “Had I but rejoiced when I had reason to do so!”

“Now, then, I shall really enjoy life,” said [the Fir Tree], exultingly, and spread out his branches; but, alas! they were all withered and yellow. It was in a corner that he lay, among weeds and nettles. The golden star of tinsel was still on the top of the Tree, and glittered in the sunshine.

In the courtyard some of the merry children were playing who had danced at Christmas round the Fir Tree, and were so glad at the sight of him. One of the youngest ran and tore off the golden star.

“Only look what is still on the ugly old Christmas tree!” said he, trampling on the branches, so that they all cracked beneath his feet.

And the Tree beheld all the beauty of the flowers, and the freshness in the garden; he beheld himself, and wished he had remained in his dark corner in the loft; he thought of his first youth in the wood, of the merry Christmas Eve, and of the little Mice who had listened with so much pleasure to the story of Klumpy-Dumpy.

“It’s over—it’s past!” said the poor Tree. “Had I but rejoiced when I had reason to do so! But now it’s past, it’s past!”

— from “The Fir Tree,” in Christmas Classics from The Modern Library

Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986)
“[George Falconer] in A Single Man is a stoic, a very back-to-the-wall character. … I really admire the sort of person that George is: It isn’t me at all. Here is somebody who really has nothing to support him except a kind of gradually waning animal vitality, and yet he fights, like a badger, and goes on demanding, fighting for happiness. That attitude I think rather magnificent. If I were in George’s place, I would think about killing myself because I’m less than George. George is heroic.”
— from The Paris Review interview, The Art of Fiction No. 49, by W. I. Scobie
(Photograph by Florence Homolka. Thank you,

Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986)

“[George Falconer] in A Single Man is a stoic, a very back-to-the-wall character. … I really admire the sort of person that George is: It isn’t me at all. Here is somebody who really has nothing to support him except a kind of gradually waning animal vitality, and yet he fights, like a badger, and goes on demanding, fighting for happiness. That attitude I think rather magnificent. If I were in George’s place, I would think about killing myself because I’m less than George. George is heroic.”

— from The Paris Review interview, The Art of Fiction No. 49, by W. I. Scobie

(Photograph by Florence Homolka. Thank you,

Muriel Barbery on summer rain

Do you know what a summer rain is?

To start with, pure beauty striking the summer sky, awe-filled respect absconding with your heart, a feeling of insignificance at the very heart of the sublime, so fragile and swollen with the majesty of things, trapped, ravished, amazed by the bounty of the world.

And then, you pace up and down a corridor and suddenly enter a room full of light. Another dimension, a certainty just given birth. The body is no longer a prison, your spirit roams the clouds, you possess the power of water, happy days are in store, in this new birth.

Just as teardrops, when they are large and round and compassionate, can leave a long strand washed clean of discord, the summer rain as it washes away the motionless dust can bring to a person’s soul something like endless breathing.

That is the way a summer rain can take hold in you—like a new heart, beating in time with another’s.

— from The Elegance of the Hedgehog (translated from the French by Alison Anderson)

“I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of ‘having nothing to do.’ I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone.”

Yoshida Kenkō, Essays in Idleness (translated by Donald Keene)

(Photograph by Drastic Dodge. Thank you, drasticdodge.)

(Reblogged from drasticdodge)

Sei Shōnagon: “Things that make one happy”

Getting hold of a lot of stories none of which one has read before.

Or finding Vol. 2 of a story one is in a great state of excitement about, but was previously only able to secure the first volume. However, one is often disappointed.

To pick up a letter that someone has torn up and thrown away, and find that one can fit the pieces together well enough to make sense.

When one has had a very upsetting dream and is sure it means that something disagreeable is going to happen, it is delightful to be told by the interpreter that it does not signify anything in particular.

— from The Pillow Book (translated by Arthur Waley)

“Realize, Allen, that if all the world were green, there would be no such thing as the color green. Similarly, men cannot know what it is to be together without otherwise knowing what it is to be apart. If all the world were love, then, how could love exist? This is why we turn away from each other on moments of great happiness and closeness. How can we know happiness and closeness without contrasting them, like lights?”

Jack Kerouac, letter to Allen Ginsberg (September 1948)

Getting along

If there’s anyone who’d really know what Robin the Frog meant when he sang about “somewhere else instead,” it would be Christopher McCandless. Or perhaps I am just misrepresenting my case here, as usual. Perhaps I imagine too much—or not enough. But I know what it’s like to want to just disappear. To go somewhere very far. To be no one in a place where I don’t have to meet or please anyone.

Looking back on her brief career as a high school teacher, a friend once told me that she was “not there” at all. She was somewhere else instead. Perhaps she meant that she kept hoping or working to get out of that job. And she did. I don’t know if she’s happy now. Or if she has attained the level or depth of happiness that her younger self thought was possible or necessary. The last time I talked to her, three years ago via Facebook, she sounded fine—in another country, with a husband and three kids plus the itch to keep getting her work published. She sounded settled.

McCandless didn’t want to settle—settle down anywhere or settle for anything. Unless it was the wilderness of his dreams. He had walked out on his life, not informing his family of his whereabouts. He believed he could give up everything to “commune with nature,” as my settled friend used to tease me about my own antisocial tendencies. He followed his bliss or whatever vision or cliché of fulfillment, self-awareness, or life-changing adventure he was going for.

Both Jon Krakauer, the author of Into the Wild, and Emile Hirsch, the actor who played McCandless (in the memorable film written and directed by Sean Penn), caution us against making judgments about the young man who lived his dream and died of starvation alone in the wilderness. Was McCandless merely stupid, irresponsible, arrogant, and suicidal? Was there any way we could understand what he was up to? Could we no longer remember the last time we experienced what Krakauer calls “a similar agitation of the soul”?

I’ve walked out on my life many times in many ways, causing much trouble for my family, friends, and coworkers. In my younger years, I found it easy to quit or to get lost. To dissociate from so-called ties or from my so-called self. My soul’s agitation led me to very interesting places. I was there when I needed to be there. I think I still have it in me to go somewhere else instead any time I please. But it’s not so easy now. Friends invite me to go with them someplace, to travel, and my first questions are: Do they have toilets there? Where’s the nearest hospital?  

Have I, too, settled? And so what if I no longer have the energy or itch to run away?

Robin would have told Chris: “Hey, pal, why don’t you stay and sit here with me for a while? The view isn’t breathtaking, but it won’t kill us, either.” Perhaps Chris would give the little frog some time or the benefit of the doubt. Then he’d smile and tell Robin: “I know what you’re getting at. I’d be glad to be there, too. But, as you know, there’s also something to be said for somewhere else instead.” And they’d sit and talk a little more. Sometimes they’d just be quiet. I think they’d get along.

Christopher McCandless reading Tolstoy

On July 2, McCandless finished reading Tolstoy’s “Family Happiness,” having marked several passages that moved him:

He was right in saying that the only certain happiness in life is to live for others. …

I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor—such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps—what more can the heart of a man desire?

— from Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Make a life for yourself

In the heat of an argument, my mother once told me, “Someday you can go to a therapist and tell him all about how your terrible mother ruined your life. But it will be your ruined life you’re talking about. So make a life for yourself in which you can feel happy, and in which you can love and be loved, because that’s what’s actually important.” You can love someone but not accept him; you can accept someone but not love him. I wrongly felt the flaws in my parents’ acceptance as deficits in their love. Now, I think their primary experience was of having a child who spoke a language they’d never thought of studying.

— from Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

(Photo: Thank you,

I believe … that we all of us have not only the right to be happy no matter what but also a kind of sacred commission to be happy—in the sense of being free to breathe and move, in the sense of being able to bless our own lives, even the sad times … . Then by drawing on all those times we have had, we can sometimes speak and live a saving word to the saving of others. I have come to believe that to be happy inside ourselves—to live less and less as the years go by in the dungeon of the Little Ease and more and more in the still chapel where beyond all understanding there is peace—is in the long run the best we can do both for ourselves and for the people closest to us. If we do it right, maybe they can be helped to be a little stronger through our strength, maybe even a little happier through our happiness.
Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets