Do You Accept These Paradoxes of Happiness?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Do you accept these paradoxes of happiness?

I love a paradox. G  K. Chesterton wrote that “Paradox has been defined as ‘Truth standing on her head to get attention,'” and I find that an idea expressed in a paradox captures my attention with particular force.

Here are some of my favorites:

We should be selfish, if only for selfless reasons. On a related note…

Being a little selfish helps me to be selfless. We must have treats.

Discipline brings freedom. As an Upholder, I believe this with all my heart, but Rebels will disagree.

Accept yourself, and expect more of yourself. 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.”

Keep an empty shelf, and keep a junk drawer. Want to see my empty shelf? You can see it here, at 6:40.

Take yourself less seriously—and take yourself more seriously.

Go slow to go fast.

Think about yourself so you can forget yourself. 

You can be generous by taking. I love the story a friend told me that reminded me of this point. Also this story.

The days are long, but the years are short. Of everything I’ve ever written, this little video I made, The Years Are Short, is the thing that resonates most with people.

What are some of your favorite paradoxes? Happiness related, or otherwise.

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  • peninith1

    I’ve been really riveted by a teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist teacher) in the past day. “Your suffering will be less if you learn how to suffer”–one of the suggestions was ‘don’t make up a story about it.’ As an inveterate journal-keeper, I have lately come to notice that it is BETTER not to write down my irritations and bitter thoughts, because if I let them, they do float downstream and go away. The present moment may be enraging, but ten minutes from now, things may be fine. So if I don’t ‘make up a story’ to characterize my situation as a caregiver to an aged parent, I handle it better by just being with whatever moment comes.

    I realized some time ago that ‘ruminating’ about problems or endlessly discussing my issues with close friends was not always very productive. In fact, it sometimes made ‘my story’ become a hard and immovable construct about an essentially fluid situation.

    So what of the idea that the ‘unexamined life is not worth living’? Well, hmmm, it seems that only be being deeply aware of ‘the story’ while ‘not telling the story’ do I make any progress. A profound paradox, but one that is helping me to live a more serene life.

    • The premise of suffering will be less if you learn to suffer is very similar to what Brené Brown terms “lean into the pain” and really this makes sense. The more you address the pain, challenge or problem, the faster a resolution arrives. Many people tend to avoid pain and have many strategies of avoidance, myself included.

      Once there is awareness about the pain and the avoidance strategies, life becomes more calm.

      Your point about an unexamined life is also interesting. It is my view that we are all here, alive today, to share our talents, wisdom and love to make the world a better place. Not everyone takes the time to understand their talents and to share their wisdom.

      Thank you for sharing your perspective. It is good to make connections. 🙂

  • Anne Stockwell

    Great post, Gretchen.

  • Randee Bulla

    One of the mantras that has helped me the most when training and competing in running or triathlon events is…”Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” It’s interesting how embracing how uncomfortable you are and going with it really helps make it more comfortable. Odd, but works for most of the athletes I train with.

    • Randee Bulla

      I forgot to say that this also is effective for me at work. When I am deciding if I should do something because it will be outside of my comfort zone, I remind myself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and have confidence in my abilities. It’s led me down a much better path and I’ve really enjoyed most of the projects I’ve done under this mantra.

      • peninith1

        I am a quilter, and one of the watchwords of advancing skills in my craft is ‘if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.’ You have to practice!

  • BKF

    I liked the video showing your “memorandum box” and the lovely, wooden cogs, empty shelf etc. I am impressed by your empty kitchen counters. Thanks, Gretchen. Two of my favorite quotes are “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” (Mahatma Gandhi) and “Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.” (Albert Einstein)

    On a lighter note- “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.”
    (Jon Stewart) and “It’s weird not to be weird.” (John Lennon)

  • Robyn

    Promise less to deliver more

  • Molly

    I definitely accept them! This is one of the greatest insights I got from your first book and blog. Love this topic!

  • Dear Gretchen, I just wanted to say thanks for your website I think The Happiness Project and this entire site is amazing. I’m a freelance small blog analyst and I write reviews on small blogs I find amazing. Feel free to check out my review of and I hope you enjoy it 🙂 Thanks for helping me since I’m recently going through a difficult time finding happiness and sometimes just hearing what you already know is reassuring and so necessary to remember the basic, important stuff in life. Cheers!

  • ant

    Some opinions may need to be considered twice or more, ‘course when it comes to real life I should take some examples in life to explain them. In general, they are so cool, and I love it.

  • Suebob

    My pastor loves paradox so much she calls herself a “para-dork.” You can see her in action here: