Last night, for no particular reason, I was seized with the desire to re-read one of the most memorable paragraphs I’ve ever read, which appears in George Orwell’s essay “Reflections on Gandhi,” in A Collection of Essays.
I got out the book and read the paragraph. Then I read the essay, “Charles Dickens.” Then I read the essay, “Raffles and Miss Blandish.”
Now, before my Happiness Project, I would have rejected this impulse. I would have told myself, “It’s good to re-read, of course, but it’s a waste of reading opportunity to re-read so much by one person, at the same time,” or “I have too much work-related reading to do, and those books should take priority.”
One of the main subjects of my Happiness Project is “Books,” and I devoted the month of September to reading, writing, and making books. My resolutions included “Read at whim,” “Re-read,” and “Find more time to read.”
So instead of fighting the impulse to read Orwell, I’m giving in to it. First up, The Road to Wigan Pier. I’ve read it twice before, now can’t wait to start it again.
Similarly, not too long ago, I followed the same approach with St. Therese. There was a period when the only books I wanted to read were about St. Therese, and I allowed myself to read one after another, even though it didn’t seem to make much sense.
It would be nice to have a justification – to believe that my subconscious mind realizes that I should immerse myself in Orwell or St. Therese for some writerly or happiness-related reason. Maybe that’s true. But maybe not. And I’m not requiring myself to have a justification, it’s just enough that I want to read Orwell right now.
Just thinking about it makes me happy.
If you’re wondering what Orwell wrote about Gandhi that started me down this path, here is the paragraph that I looked up:
Nor did he [Gandhi], like most Western pacifists, specialize in avoiding awkward questions. In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: “What about the Jews? Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?” I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question, though I have heard plenty of evasions, usually of the “you’re another” type. But it so happens that Gandhi was asked a somewhat similar question in 1938 and that his answer is on record in Mr. Louis Fischer’s Gandhi and Stalin. According to Mr. Fischer, Gandhi’s view was that the German Jews ought to commit collective suicide, which “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” After the war he justified himself: the Jews had been killed anyway, and might as well have died significantly. One has the impression that this attitude staggered even so warm an admirer as Mr. Fischer, but Gandhi was merely being honest. If you are not prepared to take life, you must often be prepared for lives to be lost in some other way.
At a reader’s suggestion, I went over to check out First30Days. There’s great information there related to happiness, especially on the issue of how to bring about a change in your life. HOW and WHY people are sometimes able to start exercising, start saving, stop eating potato chips, quit smoking, etc., but sometimes not able to stick to change although they wish to, is a very important question.
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