“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”
Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning
So what is happiness? How do we know it? Why does it seem elusive? How do we hold onto it, assuming we snag it? Is it by its very nature fleeting and inconstant, or can some kind of steady state be achieved? Today, the always-giving Muse Machine kicks off a series of usually but not always succinct statements of happiness drawn from both the famed and the not-so. Enjoy, and feel free to submit your own take for republication here.
TAKE ONE from George Sand, novelist (1804-1876)
One is happy as a result of one’s own efforts once one knows the necessary ingredients of happiness: simple tastes, a certain degree of courage, self denial to a point, love of work, and above all, a clear conscience.
Okay, it’s National Poetry Month again, when we recognize that barely-recognized but noble genre.
Quick: Name three living American poets!
Okay…two? One… ?
Now, exclude the former poets laureate Robert Pinsky and Billy Collins. (Yes, America has a poet laureate.)
Uh. . . does Robert Bly count? Is Stanley Elkin still alive?
Oh, well. . . Summon the muse with a list of booze-related poems here. Some fine stuff in the list, but it somehow ignores what may be the grandest poetry/booze mashup (sour mashup?) ever written, Housman’s “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff,” with such immortal lines as
|Oh many a peer of England brews
|Livelier liquor than the Muse,
|And malt does more than Milton can
|To justify God’s ways to man.
|Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
|For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Here’s a link to this great poem. I’ll have more to say about “Terence” in my forthcoming memoir of poetic tippling, tentatively titled Down in Lovely Muck.
Those eerie coincidences which intrigued me last year continue.
I was out walking the other day, cheerfully striding along listening to the doves and the cardinals and the whistle of the wind through the trees when I was aurally assaulted by a car blasting those chest-shaking, heart-grabbing ghetto-bass tones. For a moment, truthfully, I couldn’t even think. I had been turned into a human echo chamber. My thoughts were gone; only his &*&%$%^#) noise ruled my brain. Then, before I could recover and find a large rock, the car was gone.
And of course I walked into the house, turned on NPR, and there was author George Prochnik being interviewed about his new book, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise. I read a review of the book on Amazon, and was not at all surprised to find this nugget:
Early on in his voyage Prochnik spends some time with a cop who is frequently called upon to intervene in domestic disputes. When he arrives he usually finds that the unhappy home is a raging cacophony of radios, TV’s, music all playing simultaneously–layer upon layer of mad noise used to prevent silence from arbitrating between the combatants. The cop tells Prochnik that he merely asks the subjects to turn off the appliances and the near-homicidal atmosphere dissolves almost at once. They had, he says, been arguing with noise itself rather than with each other.
It’s true, isn’t it? That’s why I’m always perplexed by all the people who use Starbucks as an office or a reading room. I don’t think I could even read a newspaper article, much less an essay or book of any complexity, with all those layers of noise prying at my attention.
Schopenhauer said that ” the amount of noise which anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity.” Maybe I’m smart after all.