Do You Embrace These Contradictions? They’re Important for Happiness.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: 9 contradictions to embrace for greater happiness.

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?

  • Tempella Guernsey

    10. The more I learn the less I know. So true!

  • Dan @

    The middle path – two extremes to bring you back to the center

  • Number 9 reminds me of the lyrics from a Cowboy Junkies song, “And the hours, well, I don’t mind how they creep on by like an old love of mine, it’s the years that simply disappear that are doing me in.”

  • peninith1

    5. I think the things we don’t pay attention to have a way of coming to clamor for our attention. Trying to become more conscious of my body and how I am treating it seems to be a way to keep my body from falling into various kinds of disarray. Good thought to be going on with!

  • melissahellwig

    The study of tantra philosophy of yoga (not what most immediately think) states that duality is inherent (happy/sad, day/night, masculine/feminine) but our role is to find and practice the awareness of the mid-point, the “chit-ananda” – the supreme joy the universe is aspiring to all the time. This can most easily be practiced by physical action/meditation > walking, yoga, volunteering, cleaning, chanting, anything which turns off the brain’s monkey mind. “Trying” is often the monkey mind. We are human “beings” not human “doings”. Back to your article, I like the one “keep this ticket”. 🙂

  • reminds me of an urdu ghazal(an old form of poetry) which loosely translates as:
    Bury me so I can breathe…

  • Liz

    One of my (other) favorite bloggers will write, “I contain multitudes” (from Whitman) whenever she expresses a contradiction about herself.

    I remind myself of that when I see my own contradictions. Because I like to think I’m rational and consistent, but I’m not!

  • Esme

    So far, this week has been a hard one for me. Yesterday, while commuting back home, I was wondering what to have for supper. I considered junk food, for I was seeking comfort. And than, I realised that I needed to really take care of myself : eating well, spleeping well, going to my Pilates class. All of this required a certain effort, but in the end, that was what I truly needed. So I did all of this and felt… better. What you crave for is not necessarily what you need.

  • Cara F

    #9 really resonates with me. Every since I read it in “The Happiness Project”, I think about it constantly. I just recently became a stay at home mom with my 4 and 2 year old, and find myself thinking “I can’t wait until naptime so I can have time to myself”, or “I can’t wait until they are in school so I can have several hours of time to get things done”. But then I stop myself, and think about that mantra, and it reminds me that these precious days with my kids will soon be gone, and I need to ENJOY them while I can. One day I know I will look back on these days and think of them as some of my best – I just have to remember that. So thank you, Gretchen, for bringing me one of the most important philosophies I use in my day to day life.

    • Veronique

      Cara I quit left a teaching job I really loved 15 years ago because I wanted to be home with my only child. We had so munch fun! Yes there were times when i was desperate for quiet and alone time (my son is a non-stop talker even as a young adult) I would remind myself that these times were precious and would be gone in the blink of an eye. There were days when he was whiny and cranky and I thought they would never end but in a few weeks he is moving out to start school. Despite the fact I lived mindfully, took time with him and cherished all those moments it still feels as though it went too fast.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that this strikes a chord with you.

  • Carly

    Recent reading has had me thinking about the concept of Yin and Yang, and the interconnectedness between the two. You cannot have shadow without light, for example. Traditional Chinese medicine asserts that an imbalance results in illness – you need both in equal measure.

  • Allison Squires

    No. 1 is tough to comprehend and even tougher in practice, for me.

  • Catherine

    Here’s another one: Appreciate the little things, but don’t sweat the small stuff.

  • Olivia

    Here’s one I just thought of: I crave structure but I also resent structure.

  • Margaret

    I think my biggest challenges relates to #5…taking care of myself, yet giving to others. I find such pleasure in caring for and doing for others, but then, I have to remember to do for myself too…I have trouble knowing which is needed when…

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  • Judith

    I love the “Take myself less seriously—and take myself more seriously.” Makes so much sense. Both are really hard. I also love this because it accentuates the difference between selfishness and self-respect.