"Happiness can be ignited by doing something small and infinite": What makes me happy right now (2023)

UEIt is a nightmare, a barbaric farce. The city is taken first by the Russians, then by the Ukrainians, then again by the Russians; Foreign forces join the fight, hordes of thugs continue to kill, thousands are slaughtered, and a plague engulfs the survivors. it's Kyiv. It is the year 1918.

A young nobody named Konstantin Paustovsky (fisherman, paramedic, student) has just arrived wanting to write. It is unusual: in the midst of the slaughter, he thinks of happiness. Decades later he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but of course he didn't get it. The happiness he thinks of is always the wrong one.

In Kyiv in 1918, for example, Paustovsky believed that the safest and happiest refuge from the onslaught of disasters beating down his native country was to be found in three things: nature, domestic life, and privacy. It turns out that if heThe Covid pandemic first emerged in AustraliaIn a hut in the middle of "nature" our little family with two people and a dog found refuge for the first time. Needless to say, we didn't live from nature, we didn't look for food, we just lived among the eucalyptus trees. We expected solace amid the chaos in small tasks and intimacy, and we enjoyed the easy rush that comes from not having to shoulder the misfortunes of the wide world. We will "siphon the joys of the earth childishly," in the words of poet John Donne in The Good-Morrow.

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At some point, Donne said, you really have to walk away from something like this. In the 1950s, Americans, who have a constitutional right to "seek happiness," developed a similar formula: vacuuming, baking, and watching television, they sought happiness in united families in decent, wooded homes. hectares. It could be argued that they never fully abandoned these practices and have remained strangely childish in their tastes and behavior to this day.

For a week or 10 days, the intimacy and chores of the Tasmanian wilderness worked well for us. Then suddenly he turned pale. Something was missing. Like Nimbin, he had an unexpectedly melancholy air. We had to rethink. What kind of happiness was possible now? To be honest, after the famines, droughts, floods, and wars that followed the start of the pandemic, the question itself began to seem frivolous.

It is not a new problem, although some recent commentators have enthusiastically declared our suffering "unprecedented." They really are taken for granted. Four hundred years ago, for example, Robert Burton, the author of the monumental anatomy Of Melancholy, regretted the incessant reports of "wars, plagues,,Fires, Floods, Robberies, Murders, Massacres, Meteors, Comets and Omens” that ravage England. By all accounts, however, Burton was a happy fellow: writing his encyclopedic work on every kind of melancholy known to mankind was a brilliant antidote to the disease itself. Art usually is, but let's not forget, it's not for that. Even the Assyrians turned to art two thousand years earlier, if the reliefs in the British Museum are any indication. Despite Assyria's bitterly brutal rule and endless droughts, floods, plagues, and mass murder, some people seem to have been happy for a while: they fall in love, dance, write poetry, and compose music for their flutes and tambourines. There they are in the reliefs. How can it be?

Contentment is often tangible, but contentment is not happiness and can never be complete at times like these. For example, during the London Blitz one can feel rays of happiness, but one can rarely feel content. Now there is nowhere in the world to be truly content while Bangladesh sinks and Brazil turns into a desert. After all, your own well-being and peace of mind always depends on the feelings of other people.

But from time to time, even in the worst of situations, even when we know what to do with the waves of violence and disease that sweep across the planet like a cosmic curse, we can certainly feel happy, even ecstatic. If recent years have taught us anything, it's that happiness and sadness, even misery, can go together. I have a friend in Yogyakarta who couldn't sleep for months during the first wave of Delta Covid because ambulance sirens were taking the dying to hospital. But there was also happiness: a new grandson, a close friendship blossomed, reading at sunset in the Turgenev garden, love, in other words. What other thing? Donne wouldn't have been surprised. Happiness is struck by lightning - the storm only intensifies it. Knowing that we can die very soon means that each moment is unrepeatable.

Now it seems to me more and more that what invites a ray of happiness is a growing need to be creative. I have written and made new friends, which requires the meticulous attention of an artist. When the mind focuses on finding a balance between what it feels deep within itself in the sea of ​​memories, and what it sees, hears, and even smells around it, suddenly there is a glow that has nothing to do with joy. .

When the self behind the eye lights up with a flash of new awareness - of feeling, understanding, determination - what I would call happiness arises. The flash won't last, of course, that would be unbearable, it's getting darker, but so what? There will be an afterglow. Our inner selves are like pieces of music, writes Eva Hoffman in her time study (titled Time)-"patterned representations made of micro-movements, like a gamelan composition." During isolation he took time to polish a virtuoso performance.

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One of the opportunities that the pandemic gave us was to rethink time. After all, one of the keys to a happy life is living time well, instead of getting confused by ideas of immortality or the uselessness of everything. Is not easy. Now I realize that all the things that make us happy happen over time: falling in love, running away from home, finding paradise or creating beauty (gardens, paintings, connections). There is, as Hoffman says, "a right rhythm and scale of lived experience, of being-in-the-world, that we must find for ourselves for our well-being." The kind of grounded existence that has become the norm in recent years has made it easier to find that "right groove," which has opened the door to meaningless happiness, not just fulfillment or pleasure, but something more dynamic: explosions of happiness.

Some people I know found the inner world more trustworthy than the outer world and started flirting with them.Buddhism, adopt rescue dogs and participate in choirs. Dogs and choirs hold promise, I think, while the Buddhist idea of ​​achieving happiness by either quenching desires or embracing not-self has never really appealed to me. In my experience, the essence of life was wanting and getting or miraculously not getting what you wanted. Furthermore, for most of my life I have visited Buddhist strongholds from Dharamsala to Cambodia, but I have not seen in any of them any sign that the secret to happiness has been found: tranquility perhaps, but not happiness. Even now, in the face of cosmic annihilation, I don't see much point in "living in the moment" like a blue bottle or someone with dementia, although it's still a cliché people use. Living in time now seems like a more realistic, rhythmic, and joyful framework for living well, rather than struggling to transcend it in the hope of altruistic immortality.


In fact, in their writings and in their lives, Robert Burton, John Donne, and Eva Hoffman emphasize the happiness that comes from making something small infinite. Burton's obsession with melancholy was almost infinitely enriched by his limitless curiosity about the rest of the world, in everything from Christianity to astrology, astronomy, Latin poetry, and the Peruvian gold mines. Donne put it another way: love for a loved one, he writes in The Good-Morrow, especially when he wakes up with her in the morning, "makes a little room... a place everywhere." And that is what I have learned: to cross the gorges of the Himalayas, or to dance the tango, or to dream of Venice, of course, but also to learn to do it in the privacy of the "little room" where my heart is anchored. , mine "Everywhere". It's almost impossible, but in my experience it's worth a try.

  • Robert Dessaix es autor de Night Letters, Twilight of Love und The Time of Our Lives

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