I love the novels of J.P. Marquand, and over the weekend, I re-read The Late George Apley. (I love to re-read.) I thought I remembered that it touched on the issue of happiness, and it does. The novel is terrific — funny, poignant, and very thought-provoking.
The first, and most important, of my Twelve Personal Commandments is to Be Gretchen. Why is it so hard to know myself? and to act in accordance with my own nature, my interests, my values? It would seem that nothing would be easier and more obvious — and yet it’s very, very challenging.
The novel describes the life of the late George Apley — a man who does not manage to “Be George,” and instead allows himself to be pushed by his parents and others away from the choices he wants to make, and who in turn tries to push his children into choices they don’t want to make. With very clear happiness consequences.
One point made very clearly by the novel: just because people truly love you, and are very well-intentioned, doesn’t mean that you should follow their direction. In the end, though people can be helpful, only you can know what’s right for you.
I was reminded of Christopher Alexander’s observation: “It is hard, so terribly hard, to please yourself. Far from being the easy thing that it sounds like, it is almost the hardest thing in the world, because we are not always comfortable with that true self that lies deep within us.”
My description might make the book sound like a long lecture, when in fact, it’s very enjoyable. And a good reminder of the importance of self-knowledge.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.