Thinking more this morning of life-changes, and dipping into Matthieu Ricard’s 2004 “Habits of Happiness” TED Talk, where he says some of us believe only in “remembering the past, imagining the future, never the present.” I don’t know anyone who really says that, but many of us act as though we believe it most of the time. That was Kierkegaard’s point, when he complained of the mania of busy-ness. We don’t stop to smell the roses often enough, to slow down, to forget the clock and the to-do list and just inhabit the moment attentively.
Others, though, “say happiness is right now; it’s the quality of the freshness of the present moment.”
They’re missing out, too. But on what?
Ricard quotes Henri Bergson, “All the great thinkers of humanity have left happiness vague so that each of them could define their own terms.” Smart. When I find a way to articulate what’s wrong with pure presence, to the exclusion of past and future – especially future – I’ll finally have defined happiness my way and identified my happiness project – which, btw, Gretchen Rubin rightly said we all should undertake. There is no single Project, just so many projects. Most of them have been allowed to gather dust.
We noted in Bioethics, contrary to the conventional wisdom, that many older people are also happier than at any earlier stage of life. Slower, sure. But steadier too, those who’ve kept themselves mentally engaged, active, and curious. There are genes for that of course, but you don’t have to have won the genetic lottery to develop your happiness skills.
Among them: a capacity for attentive presence, a reminiscent fondness for the past of pleasant memory, and an active interest in what William James called our most vital question
. “What is this world going to be? What is life eventually to make of itself?” Happy people take delight in imagining the future, caring about it, building it – or at least not impeding or derailing it.
My current cosmic leisure-reading looks forward and back, while pondering life in all its dimensions. The big picture is not an enemy of meaningful presence, and may even be one of its conditions.
“On this day in 1675
, England’s King Charles II commissioned the Royal Greenwich Observatory
, the center of time and space on Earth…” And its the birthday of Horace Mann, who said we should all “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
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