I love Secrets of Adulthood, fables, teaching stories, koans, and paradoxes–or anything that smacks of paradox. For instance, I get a big kick out of the page of my bank statement that reads, “This page intentionally left blank.” No, it’s not blank. It has that notice printed on it!
As I’ve worked on my happiness project, I’ve been struck by the contradictions I kept confronting. The opposite of a profound truth is also true, and I often find myself trying to embrace both sides of an idea:
1. Accept myself, and expect more of myself.
2. Use my time efficiently, yet make time to play, to wander, to read at whim, to fail.
3. Take myself less seriously—and take myself more seriously.
4. Someplace, keep an empty shelf, and someplace, keep a junk drawer. If you want to see my empty shelf with your own eyes, watch here at minute 6:41–some people are dubious about whether I actually have one.
5. Think about myself so I can forget myself.
6. Paying close attention to something sometimes helps me to ignore it. (Like cravings.)
7. Often it takes discipline to take pleasure.
8. If I want to keep going, I must allow myself to stop.
9. The days are long, but the years are short. Of everything I’ve ever written, I think this one-minute video resonates most with people.
Often, the search for happiness means embracing both sides of the contradiction.
Take, for example, Item #1 above–certainly one of the central challenges of life. W. H. Auden articulates beautifully this tension: “Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”
Which ones particularly resonate with you? What am I leaving out?