May 11, 2008

The secret of happiness is this...

Souls of Mischief - 93 Till Infinity

Something like a mission statement from Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness. [Also available for free on this Japanese site with a number of strange images and gifs.]

The world is vast and our own powers are limited. If all our happiness is bound up entirely with our personal circumstances it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give. And to demand too much is the surest way of getting even less than is possible. [...] The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.
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Which is all well and good - drinking beer with a stack of books on the balcony, until I was driven to retreat by a couple of mosquitoes I was too lazy / slow / compassionate to kill - but the flaw in the above is the injunction to 'not demand of life more than it has to give'. How to test the limits of this and be confident one isn't holding back not out of timidity, but wisdom?

Another book in the stack is Disputers of the Tao, by A.C. Graham, which I picked up in Shanghai 11 years ago and read, made notes in. Am curious what my old self felt important. Chuang-Tzu [aka Zhuang-Zi] has the idea of 'the untroubled idler', 'interested only in doing nothing', and it's one that's always appealed to me. This is the tension / dilemma - do nothing or work furiously? I did very little for years, but now I lack the balls to be a true idler, or maybe just the resources.

Which brings me to the third leg of this post, something else I read today, entry 38 in Nassim Taleb's online notebook [scroll down].
I am involved in an activity called “glander”, more precisely “glandouiller”. It means “to idle”, though not “to be in a state of idleness” (it is an active verb). Gandouiller denotes enjoyment. [...]Glander is how I write my books, how I brew ideas. Remarkably it best describes the notion of lifting all inhibitions to “tinker intellectually in an undirected stochastic process aiming at capturing some idea that will enrich your corpus”. “Researching” or “thinking” smack of a top-down activity. Newton was my kind of a “glandeur”; In [Dijksterhuis 2004]:
George Spencer Brown has famously said about Sir Isaac Newton that “to arrive at the simplest truth, as Newton knew and practiced, requires years of contemplation. Not activity. Not reasoning. Not calculating. Not busy behavior of any kind. Not reading. Not talking. Not making an effort. Not thinking. Simply bearing in mind what it is that one needs to know.”
My doing nothing is dangerously close to doing nothing. Everyone knows someone who wanted to be an artist of some kind, who was dedicated to their craft and knew they were going to succeed, because perseverance and talent were the keys to success, and they had both. At the very least, they had the former, and success, as Woody Allen promised, is mostly turning up. Everyone knows someone like that. Many people, [most?], have been or remain someone like that. But not many people pay the rent as artists, there's plenty of losers hidden behind each winner. Likewise, my doing nothing is no doubt doing it's part in the complex math of reality to support someone who'll bring something useful back from their lounging.

But that's looking at things only from the standpoint of $ and acclaim. The idea is to live a somewhat stoic life, immune from the highs and lows of fortune. The work of real value is internal, which is in any case where all happiness comes from.

Related post: The myth of 1,000 true fans

1 comment:

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