A friend of mine just sent me an article at WSJ Online by Steve Salerno about the "happiness myth" (December 20, 2007; Wall Street Journal, Thursday, Dec 20 2007 - Page A17). The article is unfortunately no longer accessible, but we can summarize the message as the idea that directing our entire life toward the pursuit of happiness may not be the right strategy, especially at this time of the holiday season.
We once went to an Off Broadway play by Mike Nichols and Elaine May which presented life as a board game on stage with checker-like viz. chess-like squares to be mastered while moving forward up the career ladder from one square to the next. Prior to the start of this theater play, the moderator comes out and tells the audience that the secret to any of the players in this piece winning the game being played is to simply stop on any square and declare "this is it, this is my spot". But of course no one ever stops.
Since each individual is different, the solution of life for each of us is thus also a very individual matter. Looked at objectively, we are a bunch of molecules floating around for a bit in the vast expanse of an infinite universe where our sojourn on earth as a chemically-united composition is pretty ephemeral in terms of the bigger picture of endless time. Our soul may be everlasting, but our physical presence on this earth is severely circumscribed.
Nevertheless, we ARE here now, so the key is to make the best of it. We find that the most important thing in life is health - i.e. a sound mind in a sound body - because if you have that, you are in a position to do anything else that you may want to do. Beyond that, life is a constantly shifting list of priorities and minute-to-minute day-to-day week-to-week month-to-month year-to-year etc. decisions as to what we do with our time. The more good decisions we make on an ever-accumulating basis, the better off we probably are.
One critical element of life was perhaps best expressed by the judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who said that a man must share in the passion and action of his era or risk being judged as not having lived. "Being a part of things" is an essential driving force for many people's lives - although they may not know how best to go about it, and many succumb, e.g., to all kinds of harmful peer group pressures because they think that is what it takes "to belong", which is often not the case.
Happiness is surely something that people pursue to some degree in vain. As the great German thinker Goethe wrote, "everyone runs after happiness, while happiness follows behind".
So maybe picking a Nichols-May square - any square - and claiming it, is the right solution. Putting it another way, it probably doesn't make much difference what you do with your life, but whatever it is, try to do it as best you can.
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