Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happiness 101

In my Intro to Ethics class, we've finished Aristotle and are on to my favorite, most beloved, Epictetus. In my Philosophy through Literature class, focused on the search for utopia, we've finished Plato's Republic and are on to Thomas More's Utopia, which gave the genre its name. Both classess are going well, I think, as we pursue the questions of what makes for a happy life and what makes for a happy society.

At the philosophy department knitting group, The Knitted Brow, on Wednesday, one graduate student asked me what my own personal secret of happiness is. I've blogged about this before, but I told her some of what I've written about here:

1) I rely on my four Pillars of Happiness: writing, reading, walking, spending time with friends. All are free. All are totally within my control. I can have all of them in my life every single day.

2) I plan five Episodes of Happiness every day. I self-consciously look ahead at my day to make sure that it contains at least five sure-fire stretches of time that will make me happy - and so that I won't fail to notice one when it occurs! Lately one of them each morning is lying in a bed for a few extra minutes, with the window open and a cool breeze blowing, snuggling with my cat, Snickers, who conforms her body to mine so comfortingly. One of them is walking a mile or so in the beauty of the morning before I get on the Skip to go to work. One of them has been reading a few chapters of David Copperfield every evening on my new Kindle, which I love (a topic for another occasion!), but I finished it last night. That means I have to rustle up at least two more each day: today one was lunch with my friend Leah and her adorable second-grade daughter, Sadie, and one was an evening walk with my friend Rowan, as the streetlamps were gleaming on the water of Viele Lake. There were other happy moments, too - reading a friend's manuscript this morning, one wonderful meeting with a student who brought me a stunningly improved second draft of her Aristotle paper, so one of those can count retroactively to round out my list of five.

3) I hold fast to some of my happiness mantras. The one I've been thinking about most lately I found on a calendar Grandpa gave me with art painted by foot-and-mouth artists who have lost the use of their hands but paint beautifully anyway. The quote was: "Be intent on the perfection of the present day." I don't know who said it, but I love it. "Be intent on the perfection of the present day." What can I do to make today just a little bit more satisfying? I need to do more with realizing this goal. Tonight when I ate my microwave-warmed leftovers from last night's dinner with my boys at Chez Thuy, I should have taken it outside on my pretty patio to eat slowly and mindfully, savoring the golden evening, instead of wolfing it down at the table. Oh, well.

It was still a happy day.


  1. Hi, I am from Australia.
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  2. I believe the author of the quote is William Law.