I just typed “winder” instead of “window.” Twice.
More happiness homework:
Though this book didn’t hold many solutions and Gore poses many questions for which there are no easy answers, I liked it. Gore’s thesis can be summed up with this passage, from the introduction:
“…how many of us can hear the truths that keep insisting themselves to us? How many of us can listen? How many of us can act on our moments of clear vision? Our desires have been patronized and pathologized for so long it takes serious courage to acknowledge that they even exist.”
Or possibly with this conclusion, from the last chapter:
“In nature, with our friends or children, working or reading, we are happy when we are engaged with our lives. We are happy when we’re following threads of thought and activity we’re curious about–unconcerned with where those threads will lead.”
The writing was tighter and more journalistic in the beginning but more lyrical and personal towards the end. Gore writes beautifully, with terrific insight. Example:
“Parenting, the source of daily heartbreaks and annoyances, has for me become a body of memory and experience that provides a sense of purpose that seems to cradle my general contentment.”
In fact, many of my favorite passages (and much of the book) were related to mothering, though I am not a mother. Gore’s observations just seemed so spot-on, and a little radical. Like this:
“Motherhood is spiritual highs and deep lows, and the institution of motherhood is a locked cage.”
“Motherhood has taught me that the opposite of happiness isn’t struggle. It isn’t even depression. The opposite of happiness is fear and obedience.”
Gore structures the book by interweaving her own personal story, as well as the stories of many other women–past and present, canonical and anonymous. She has a nice way of tidily wrapping up a personal narrative with a clever one-liner.
“When the desire…whispered in my ear, I tried to ignore it. I told myself the quiet voice was fear in disguise…I wanted to feel the way they did, the way I understood I was supposed to feel…Maybe the only thing harder than facing an honest desire is denying it.”
“It’s funny the way the right decision only seems obvious once you’ve made it.”
(Ugh, story of my LIFE).
I really liked that she drew on so many diverse experiences and scientific studies. In fact, many of my favorite passages came from someone other than Gore. The book was largely inspired my Marion Milner’s A Life of One’s Own, and I especially liked this quote (from Milner):
“Often when I felt that certain that I had discovered the little mental act which produced the change, I walked on air, exulting that I had found the key to my garden of delight and could slip through the door whenever I wished. But most often, when I came again the place seemed different, the door overgrown with thorns and my key stuck in the lock. It was as if the first time I had said ‘abracadabra’ the door had opened, but the next time I must use a different word.”
Story of ALL our lives, eh? I also really liked this quote, by Brenda Ueland, from her book If You Want to Write:
“…you should feel while writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten–happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead on after another.”
And, of course, while I was reading, as with nearly everything I experience in my life, I tried to apply it to myself, to see where the parallels ran, see what I could learn and where I had room to grow. In an effort to define happiness, to have some sort of common ground as a starting point, Gore borrows a definition from Masan Emoto’s The Hidden Messages in Water, a proposition that really grabbed my attention:
“…but do you have a sense of peace in your heart, a feeling of security about your future, and a feeling of anticipation when you wake up in the morning? If we can call this happiness, then would you say that at this moment you are happy?”
I can’t honestly say that I have any of those things, overall. I do have a feeling of anticipation here in France, because I’m excited to get up and practice French and learn new things every day. And I have some vague ideas beginning to take shape in regards to my future, but nothing I could call secure. I have a mild contentment back home in Salt Lake, in my little apartment with all my little habits and possessions, but no real sense of peace. Not yet. It’s more of a burning desire, an insistent urge, for something else–I don’t know what yet–but something, something different and new. What I have is an itch, a tingle, a hunch. My story reads something more like this (from Gore):
“We ran away, went off to college, moved into the city to find work, to find love. But away from our families and communities we wept, isolated and lonely facing the world as it is. Wide-eyed, we took it all in.”