The Triumph of Experience

Great last words, JMH’s in Happiness Myth (which we close today in HAP 101): “there are other ways to see things.” Always, other ways. That’s history.

For the lifelong student of happiness, there are other books to read and write. Other historical manias and moments to ponder. Other forms of happiness to pursue. Other worries about how we may be getting it right or wrong. Other things towards which to turn one’s attention.

Hecht thus takes her place in the grand and growing tradition of American rut-busting iconoclasts, behind the likes of HDT

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves… The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!

and WJ:

“Ever not quite!”—this seems to wring the very last panting word out of rationalistic philosophy’s mouth. It is fit to be pluralism’s heraldic device. There is no complete generalization, no total point of view, no all-pervasive unity, but everywhere some residual resistance to verbalization, formulation, discursification, some genius of reality that escapes from the pressure of the logical finger, that says “hands off,” and claims its privacy, and means to be left to its own life. In every moment of immediate experience is somewhat absolutely original and novel… Let my last word, then, speaking in the name of intellectual philosophy, be [this]: “There is no conclusion. What has concluded, that we might conclude in regard to it? There are no fortunes to be told, and there is no advice to be given—Farewell!” –A Pluralist Mystic

There is no conclusion, no final word on how to be happy. On how to be. Experience triumphs not when it gets the last and final word, but when we open ourselves to the practical and personal wisdom of its next instructive deliverance. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, the mind must walk its path. Life is a highway.

In other contexts, experience triumphs when we take it seriously and don’t attempt to reduce it to something smaller and more compact. In medical contexts (which, as I said, I’m thinking hard about in anticipation of next semester’s Bioethics class and next month’s talk to the pre-med students who’ve invited me to speak to them about “Experience, Happiness, and Medical Materialism”) that means healers who treat entire persons, not just bundled symptoms and physio-mental malfunctions. 

Taking experience seriously in every context involves humility, compassion, receptivity, and openness.  It doesn’t claim to know more than can be known in advance,of one’s own or another’s experience of life. It doesn’t automatically “discredit states of mind for which we have antipathy.” It’s non-reductive.


Hecht’s parting practical advice: first, free yourself of the conviction that you already know exactly how to be happy. That’s the “myth of knowing.”
Then, in this less certain state, start sketching out your happiness lists. Start with writing things you actually do; then make additions to each list, noting what you might like to add to your gallery of daily-happiness-type pleasures…

Never sign off on those lists. Stay on your toes, keep your books open,
do some experiments… Talk to neighbors… Inspire a young person… When someone says that “they” have now got [happiness] figured out, you may say aloud or in your head, “No, they probably don’t.”

Once again, another of our authors insists, there are no deep universal secrets to share. But here are some intra-mundane happiness-inducing activities, possibly not yet rehearsed by us all, well worth considering:
…being loving to your spouse, nurturing your children, tending to your extended family, nurturing friendships, helping local strangers, helping strangers far away, caring for animals, engaging in fine art and the arts of living (poetry, prose, painting, sculpture, music, dance, architecture, cooking, entertaining, gardening, decor), risking both being in the world and keeping apart, doing philosophy, learning the art of traveling and the art of staying home, planning for the future of humanity, and increasing the world’s knowledge.

After all that, can she and we still credibly complain that “people are shouting too many philosophies of health and happiness at us?” I think so. I don’t hear much shouting in this book.

So, sotto voce, just a couple more suggestions:
Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

Oh, and don’t miss too many reunions. Take your own subjective, idiosyncratic experience seriously. Smile, like Mr. Prine, at stuff nobody else smiles at. It’s perfectly legal.

via Blogger http://jposopher.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-triumph-of-experience.html

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