Monday, August 30, 2010

About Face - Maybe


Two buzzards doing their wobbly circle flight-dance above the Potomac.

For a long time I've held a grudge against Thomas Jefferson for that "pursuit of happiness" idea he inserted into the Declaration of Independence. I love all the ideas about independence, liberty and so forth, but happiness? I've believed for a long time that chasing after happiness is like forever running after a carrot that is so close, and yet so far away. My own life's experiences of happiness have always been fleeting. I've preferred to pursue states of being that are perhaps slightly longer-lasting, such as satisfaction with work well done, the contentment of a lazy afternoon reading the New York Times, or the pleasure of climbing into bed when the sheets are crisp and freshly laundered.

One recent publishing trend has centered around books about happiness. (Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis, Darrin McMahon's Happiness: A History, Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness, for instance.) You should have seen my eyes roll around when I saw the book titles. I can be such a cynic sometimes, for heaven's sake.

Just yesterday, though, I started reading the Dalai Lama's book, The Art of Happiness which is really giving me pause for thought. Honestly there's nothing I love more than learning something I don't already know, or when an entrenched thought form gets uprooted. I love finding out I've been totally wrong about something. It's such a revelation!

The thing is, I trust the Dalai Lama. If he says it's a human birthright - the pursuit of happiness - then, well, maybe I'm going to have to apologize to old Thomas Jefferson. Maybe Thom was on to something after all. Because the Dalai Lama, in spite of everything, seems like a pretty happy guy. He seems lighthearted, good humored. This is exactly what I'm aiming for as I head into my "golden years." I might have to revise all my assumptions about this.

The pursuit of happiness ... Hmmmm ....


Very cool looking thistles, aren't they? Prickly little dudes, but cool looking.

21 comments:

Barbara said...

In our meditation group (which you once helped found), we are currently reading Barry Magid's "Ending the Pursuit of Happiness," an interesting contrast of Buddhism and psychoanalysis. You would love this book.

ellen abbott said...

I think it makes sense to be a human birthright. Life - self explanatory; liberty - the ability to live your life owned by no one; and pursuit of happiness - the goal to which you point your life and liberty, the ability to follow your heart, to choose your own life's direction.

Jo Floyd Lucas said...

First of all, I love, love, love all your posts since your retreat! From the new banner at the top of Gold Puppy to the photos from Tanglewood, everything seems to shine with a healthy new perspectives on life. I'm glad to have returned from my own mini retreat with the same sense of renewal.

Your friend, Ellen, couldn't have said it any better. "the goal to which you point your life and liberty..."

What better pursuit could there be, living our lives with the intent to seek happiness, fulfillment, and love?

Oh Yeah.

Reya Mellicker said...

Ah, the ability to follow my own heart? Thanks Ellen. That makes perfect sense to me.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes Jo I'm feeling calm and whole since the retreat. I must remember to get the hell outta Dodge more often!

Everton Terrace said...

I think finding "satisfaction with work well done, the contentment of a lazy afternoon reading the New York Times, or the pleasure of climbing into bed when the sheets are crisp and freshly laundered" IS the pursuit of happiness. I believe satisfaction and contentment, especially in the little things in your life is the key to real happiness and continuing to notice these things is your pursuit.

NanU said...

Perhaps the annoyance with old Thom was in the expectations of happiness. All those things you mentioned would be included in some form of happiness, perfectly attainable. It's the frenzied pursuit of Happiness in big, neon, permanent, letters that doesn't lead anywhere but to frustration. I haven't read any of those books either, though I've been thinking of looking into the Dalai Lama's works. Putting it on my list.

Linda Sue said...

There are people who have everything . no reason to not be happy, but the "everything" creates anxiety or gluttony- so they are never quite happy...I know this- I have just eaten an entire bag of home baked oat cookies...happy temporarily with every bite. Now anxious about the amount of sugar ingested...
When my son was little the "Dolly llama's" book was one of his faves...

Meri said...

Have you seen 10 Questions to Ask the Dalai Lama? It will teach you the sheer happiness of hearing laughter so infectious it might spread virally across the globe.

Elizabeth said...

I believe everything the Dalai Lama says. He seems so freaking KIND!!!

I think I told you that in his spare time he said he likes tinkering with old cars and watches.

A totally admirable fellow.

As an Englishperson/professional cynic, I always rather poo-hooed Americans' (to me ) unnatural exuberance (and smiling showing TEETH!)

Pursing happiness seems a bit like the Madhatter's tea party
"Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today....."

The trouble is you never quite know when you are happy because you are busy BEING it not pondering it....
love you

Deborah said...

Happiness is not always readily apparent. It is often fleeting or momentary. More often it resembles your
notes on satisfaction--that beautiful piece on your sidebar.

It may be more difficult for you to recognize or squash it Into the word, "happiness.". You provide so much of it to us, your readers and friends with thought provoking commentary and stunning photography.

Maybe science would serve you better here with endorphins or perhaps a mood ring some cloud formation. An unexpectedly cool and drier day in horrible hot and humid August.

Love you so

Hecate said...

Missing the thistles, but see some Queen Anne's lace seeds.

steven said...

reya before i read your post today i thought you were going to write about appearances - you know "face" as a concretization of your presentation of self. and then i read this and thought in some ways being happy is about "face" it's about appearing to people to be in a good space, to be good all around. even to yourself. especially to yourself. see, i wish they'd written the pursuit of goodness instead of the pursuit of happiness. and maybe as ellen the wise suggests - it's a place to point your life and liberty, a starting point. happiness, then goodness. steven

Nancy said...

That is one of my husband's favorite books. I think he's read it twice. This from a guy that has always been agnostic and entrenched in the sciences.

As for happiness - it's a state of mind.

Reya Mellicker said...

Maybe I mistake bliss for happiness, you think? I love those moments of supreme bliss, flying high on the feeling.

Expectations of happiness, eh, Nancy? Good to think about.

All of you are so smart, thoughtful, helpful. I'm so HAPPY to know each and every one of you!

Dan Gurney said...

A book called The Geography of Bliss concludes that happiness arises in large part from the reliability of our network of friends and fellow travelers.

Steven mentions the Pursuit of Goodness. As we become more kind and compassionate we become more happy simultaneously. Becoming more good, we become more happy.

"If you want to be happy, practice compassion. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion."

--the Dalai Lama

Reya Mellicker said...

Dan you are really smart. Thank you. Practicing ... yes I am!

Angela said...

Maybe I have it in my genes. When I was a tiny little girl, I used to jump up and down and shout: Life is going BEAUTIFUL!
And I still feel the same way. In spite of all the sadness I see and feel, and the strange decisions people take (me included, sometimes) and the murderous TV series which - what? should inspire us? - I still LOVE LIFE. And yes, I am compassionate, but not to be "helpful" or "lending a hand" but because I want to spread my own joy.
Just look out at the wind in the trees and the clouds (I know you have an eye for them) flying, isn`t the world just BEAUTIFUL?

Reya Mellicker said...

Angela you are always such an inspiration to me. Your life force is brilliant!

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

I read your Tuesday's post before this one and like your idea of just opening DL's book to a spot rather than reading from cover to cover. Many times we just happen upon 'enlightenment' or have an 'epiphany'; we just have to be still enough/receptive enough to accept it.
I truly believe "happiness is a practice". One must find happiness from within and not look to others to make it happen. Not always, but many times we can choose our prolonged feelings if not our immediate ones.

I suppose both TJ and DL are right. We may need to pursue our understanding of happiness and then practice it. It is making choices of practicing happiness over sullenness, letting go of guilt and anger, choosing serenity over chaos. Oh well, I'm no sage.

Kerry said...

That word "pursuit" is a tricky one. It suggests that happiness is elusive, or perhaps something to be hunted down, like an escaped pet or a hunted rabbit. And all the time it is a condition found within oneself, one that you decide to embrace, or not embrace.

My husband once met the Dalai Lama, and indeed he seemed to be happy. Unassuming and happy, nice.