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A Little Happier: My Favorite Part of Going to the Philharmonic Isn’t the Music.


I have twelve Personal Commandments. These aren't specific resolutions, like make my bed, but the overarching principles by which I try to live my life.

It took me several months to come up with this list, and it has been very useful for me to have them identified clearly in my mind. It's a creative way of distilling core values.

I wrote this list years ago, as part of writing my book The Happiness Project, and I spent a lot of time reflecting on the list in all the years since.

The first commandment remains the most important commandment. It’s the commandment to “Be Gretchen.” I want to accept myself, and expect more from myself. I want to be true to my own interests, values, and nature.

To “Be Gretchen” is the way to build a happier life, but there’s also a sad aspect to it, because it means acknowledging all the people that I will never be, all the possibilities that aren’t part of my nature.

For instance, one thing that makes me a bit sad about myself is that I don’t have much of an ear for music. So many people get so much enjoyment from it, but it’s just not something that (pardon the expression) strikes much of a chord with me.

Sure, I like some songs here and there, but not the way most people do. I never go out of my way to listen to new music, and I very rarely go to any kind of performance or concert.

But from time to time, I do. I was invited to the New York Philharmonic, and I was sitting in beautiful, majestic Lincoln Center.

And I enjoyed the performance, as much for the experience as for the music itself.

And as I listened, it occurred to me that the thing I love most about an orchestra performance isn’t the music. It’s always those few moments before the performance begins, when the musicians are tuning their instruments.

I love this sound, I always have. And on this particular visit to the concert hall, I realized why.

It always fills me with anticipation and excitement. Just as the letters of the alphabet give us all the possibilities of literature, these sounds hold the promise of music. It’s the sound of mastery, of excellence, of beginnings. It’s not music itself, which doesn’t interest me much—it’s the sound of possibility.

And I love that sound, even if I don’t really love music.

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