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What Samuel Johnson, Thoreau, and Charlie Parker Were All Talking About.

What Samuel Johnson, Thoreau, and Charlie Parker Were All Talking About.


Often I become preoccupied with a particular idea, and take a very great pleasure in seeing that idea appear over and over.

I keep extensive notes on many ideas, most of which I never have time to write about, but which have captivated my interest for years. Sometimes they do turn into book – like Profane Waste. What a joy it was to write that book! And to express what I’d been thinking about for so long.

One of the ideas that I’ve traced for years now is the paradoxical idea -- to put it in the most simple terms -- that in order to find something, you must possess it already. What exactly does this mean? A koan.

I became preoccupied with this idea after reading a line from Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson. It had great significance for my happiness project, and in fact, I used it as an epigraph for the The Happiness Project. Boswell quotes Johnson remarking:

“As the Spanish proverb says, ‘He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him, so it is with travelling, –a man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge.’”

Put another way, by Thoreau, in his journal entry from August 30, 1856:

“It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brains and bowels, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess of Concord, i.e. than I import into it."

From Luke 17: 20-21:

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Put another way, by Cavafy, in the poem “Ithaka”:

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon -- you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

From Charlie Parker:

“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”

From Stephen Spender:

“Travel is an art which has to be created by the traveler.”

From Oscar Wilde:

“Great passions are for the great of soul, and great events can be seen only by those who are on level with them.”

One of the small pleasures of my life is finding new examples of this thought expressed by different minds. It has a lot of significance for a happiness project; one of the unhappy truths about happiness is that it’s much easier to find happiness if you’re already happy, or as the researchers put it, one of the best predictors of whether you're happy now is how happy you've been in the past. He who would find the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him. A mystery.

* I was very pleased to be included in this useful list, 50 best blogs for practicing positive psychology. Lots of good resources there.

* Are you reading The Happiness Project with a group? I've prepared a one-page discussion guide for book groups, as well as a guide tailored for church groups, spirituality book group, and the like. If you'd like either discussion guide (or both), email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com.

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