How About Finding Contentment in "Good" Times as Well as in Bad

515506645_9bd380b1c4.jpg

I have been finding good stuff to write about in the "Happy Days" blog of the New York Times. The latest entry was another story about how someone was able to flourish without all the bells and whistles of typical consumerist fare. Pico Iyer, the author of that article, titled "The Joy of Less," is a writer who left New York more than twenty years ago for a much reduced way of life in Japan.

. . . I still live in the vicinity of Kyoto, in a two-room apartment that makes my old monastic cell look almost luxurious by comparison. I have no bicycle, no car, no television I can understand, no media — and the days seem to stretch into eternities, and I can’t think of a single thing I lack.

I’m no Buddhist monk, and I can’t say I’m in love with renunciation in itself, or traveling an hour or more to print out an article I’ve written, or missing out on the N.B.A. Finals. But at some point, I decided that, for me at least, happiness arose out of all I didn’t want or need, not all I did.

Iyer is honest is saying that his way is peculiar to him and not something that would work for everybody.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend my life to most people — and my heart goes out to those who have recently been condemned to a simplicity they never needed or wanted. But I’m not sure how much outward details or accomplishments ever really make us happy deep down. The millionaires I know seem desperate to become multimillionaires, and spend more time with their lawyers and their bankers than with their friends (whose motivations they are no longer sure of). And I remember how, in the corporate world, I always knew there was some higher position I could attain, which meant that, like Zeno’s arrow, I was guaranteed never to arrive and always to remain dissatisfied.

He sounds like someone who took the Taoist philosopher, Zhuang Zhou (Zhuangzi) very seriously. Zhuang is said to have written, "Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness."

For some unknown reason, the blog's subtitle, "The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times," caught my eye today. Why did it take the financial collapse to make the Times write about what is perhaps the most important facet of people's lives? I use the word, flourish, rather than happiness or contentment because I think it is more encompassing of the constellation of sensibilities that make up being. And also because happiness has become reified and associated with the banality from which Iyer set out to escape. We will know that we are on the right path to sustainability when stories like this replace tales of murder and blight. Newspapers like the Times can, if they really take themselves seriously, start writing about what really matters all the time.

|