Tag Archives: Happiness

Marginalia, no.346

I believe that happiness wears out in the effort made to recapture it; that nothing is more fatal to happiness than the remembrance of happiness.

~ André Gide, The Immoralist

If the “effort made to recapture it” involves, say, rearranging the furniture, wearing the same clothes, and repeating the same words and gestures, then, yes. But to merely remember a happy moment takes no effort at all. Joys are like children: you don’t wear away your affection by thinking of them or love one less for having another.

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Marginalia, no.319

The power of improvisation, the power of variations on themes, the power of doing what you have already done but with a somewhat different inflection or intonation or intensity – this is happiness within tradition.

~ Jed Perl, Antoine’s Alphabet

Not improvisation itself, or variation or difference, but the power of these, whether exercised or withheld. That’s what Perl’s phrasing implies. He’s talking about art, but I think this is something like the happiness available to us in our daily lives – lives which are traditions that day to day become ourselves. The novel and unexpected may sometimes be a pleasure but rarely more of a pleasure than the miraculously consistent, like the sun that rises every morning.

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Marginalia, no.293

Possession of virtue seems actually compatible with being asleep, or with lifelong inactivity, and, further, with the greatest sufferings and misfortunes; but a man who was living so no one would call happy, unless he were maintaining a thesis at all costs.

~ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

The ambiguity (in English translation) of the pronoun in that final clause is delightful. Is “he” the person who insists that the narcoleptic is happy, or is “he” the virtuous narcoleptic himself? Maintaining a thesis at all costs will often give a satisfactory thrill. “You see what I must endure?” asks the whining longsufferer who never acts to improve his situation. Misery is sometimes converted to happiness by the alchemy of being proven right.

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Marginalia, no.272

Human Felicity is produc’d not so much by great Pieces of good Fortune that seldom happen, as by little Advantages that occur every Day. Thus if you teach a poor Man to shave himself and keep his Razor in order, you may contribute more to the Happiness of his Life than in giving him 1000 Guineas. The Money may be soon spent, the Regret only remaining of having foolishly consum’d it. But in the other Case he escapes the frequent Vexation of waiting for Barbers, & of their sometimes dirty Fingers, offensive Breaths and dull Razors.

~ Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography

A friend of mine recently visited a newfangled, old-fashioned barbershop in the city of San Francisco where he was seated in a barber’s chair, a hot towel was wrapped around his face, and he was shaved with a straight-edge razor, like Elmer Fudd in a Warner Brothers cartoon. “It’s a sort of man-spa,” he said. Nowadays, you see, we hand over our thousand guineas to subject ourselves to the dirty fingers and offensive breaths of the barber, and consider it luxury. This is perhaps necessary, however, and contributes to the general felicity of our fellow citizens, because spending money on things we could have done for ourselves, or done without, is almost the sole basis of our economy.

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Marginalia, no.221

… as if to be caught happy in a world of misery was for an honest man the most despicable of crimes.

~ Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

It may have been stolen from others but I can feel no guilt for my own happiness. Martin Gardner once wrote (in a sort of Chestertonian ecstasy) that “all the evils of the world are a small price to pay for the privilege of existing.” The phrase is perhaps miscalculated; Gardner can’t very well pay for evils suffered by others, even if he wanted to. Still, loot is for spending. An honest thief never thinks twice.

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