Today I spent nearly the entire afternoon sitting in the shade under the wisteria arbor, listening to a LibriVox recording of Moll Flanders, knitting various pieces, and reveling in the rare opportunity to do exactly as I pleased.
Yet I know that if I let too many days pass this way -- long lunches followed by a nap and knitting -- I'll soon feel restless. The voices in my head, perhaps some remnant of Puritan duty, will scold me for enjoying myself too much, as if there should be a limit to pleasure. Should there be?-- when my pleasure consists of such simple, honest things, like books and music and fiber and food and, lastly, bicycles? Where is the wrong in these things? Where else should my duty lie, in these fallow moments, if not in seeking such pleasures, the better now than later, when more somber responsibilities might indeed call?
I began this web-log to write about the things that make me happy; to write about my avid and eager search for happiness in the face of external burdens that, at times, made life almost unbearable this spring. Yet, now relieved of some of these concerns, I feel almost guilty in taking my pleasure today, as if I only deserved it when there was real hardship in other areas of my life.
Perhaps the guilt that I feel is the only truly Puritan part of this dilemma, for ancient philosophers had something to say on the matter of happiness as well. Aristotle, for example, believed that though the end of life was happiness, happiness did not come from the possession of material goods (as is so often presumed), but from living a life of virtue, and practicing moderation in all things. This notion is sometimes referred to as "the good life," and was a principal concern of Thomas Jefferson as well, who made sure to write it into the Declaration of Independence, changing John Locke's right to "life, liberty, and property" into the inalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."Gautama Buddha talked more of ending suffering than of finding happiness, but what is the path to enlightenment if not a middle road between the two, another way of stating Aristotle's principle of moderation?
I already know that I am not after money or property in my pursuit of the good life. I also know that, having seen more than my share of suffering in these short 25 years, and having emerged from my sorrows mostly unscathed, I wish to help others out of theirs. But still I am searching for that "happy medium" in my own life, a way to balance the good with the bad, the joy with the pain, and to not err too much towards excess in any direction. Thus, this space, these words. Avid happiness, happy life: A V I D A L E G R I A.