A Little Happier: A Mystery—In Order to Find Something Precious, We Must Possess It Already.

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

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? It’s a mystery.

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 book 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:

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.

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 musician Charlie Parker:

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

From poet 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.

This idea has a lot of significance for a happiness project. Those who would find happiness must carry happiness within them.

What do you think? Do you agree?

Quote From the Podcast

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.
Samuel Johnson

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