Happiness I: Parable of the hired hand

Daikons from the garden.

I am one of the happiest adults I know. Grumpy, true, but anyone paying attention to the world around us should be barking mad at times.

I also realize that I have been graced with the pedigree that allows me to swim through this cultural sea oblivious to the flotsam.

To talk of one’s happiness is bad enough, to advise others on how to achieve it infuriating–feel free to stop reading right here. Still, if one teaches children in a public school (and I do), and believes “the pursuit of happiness” is a civic duty (for democracies cannot thrive if we pursue merely money and pleasure), well, that’s reason enough for this post.

Stars upon thars, and none upon yars….

Back in my doctor days when I occasionally hung out with the upper middle class sort, I was invited to a pool party by one of my attending physician supervisors. Not going was not really an option, so on a rare day off my clan piled into an ancient Ford LTD station wagon and headed to the gilded hills.

Her home was beautiful, the pool large and inviting, and she had several beautiful gardens. I was far more interested in the plants than the pool, and while chatting, she made it clear she had a gardener. (Why anyone would have a gardener escapes me, but I listened politely while looking for an escape.)

She became wistful “My gardener seems so happy–must be nice to be so simple not to have to worry about things.”

She was envious of her gardener’s life (or at least the one she imagined he lived), the same gardener who likely could not afford to bring his children to his employer’s pediatric practice.

I thought of suggesting to her that she might want to get her hands into the dirt herself, mammals that we are, but that was not her point, of course.

She simply did not have the time.
She is still practicing medicine, and I am not.

So what is the lesson for my lambs? “Pursue your dreams” is impossible for most humans their age–their dreams are the dreams of their parents, and they know little else.

Kneading bread is a manual labor of love.

But they know this much–the person in front of them day after day prefers teaching over medicine. And he seems happy–not because he became a teacher, but because he loves what he does.

You are not a “job title” or a “profession” or “unemployed.” You are, for hours a day, whatever you are doing during those hours. That’s how it works, at least among the mortal.

But she did have a wonderful garden.

November dusk

It’s November and even the mid-day shadows grow long–the sun slips over the horizon before 5 PM now.

It’s near dark when I walk home, crossing our town green, as I do several hundred times a year.

There’s mystery in the shadows. Our ancestors saw spirits, and so will you if you lurk outside during dusk. The animals are aware of you, and so, I suspect, are the trees.

Sweet potatoes from the garden, November 2017.

As winter looms, I watch the light change under my feet. (I look down a bit more now that I am getting older–the roots of the sycamore are determined to get me.)

But here is where words fail–when you walk at dusk over the fallen leaves, when it’s not quite light enough to see colors yet not so dark you cannot sense the colors, the edges of each leaf appear to glow as long as you keep moving.

No doubt there is some neuro-evolutionary advantage to this, some physiological explanation, some modern means of dispelling any reference to magic.

But there it is.

(Science ruins magic again….)

“Nothing is enough”

Clams raked from local waters, given freely to anyone with a rake and some time.

We had stumbled on a locals pub in Galway, away from the center of town, and we were still clumsily feeling our way in Ireland.

A waiter sensed our confusion, and took phenomenal care of us as we bumbled through the pub. A local pub has local people with local habits.

We wanted to tip, but did not know how much–people who work in pubs are not servants, and tipping in pubs is generally not done. So we asked, and she told us:

Nothing is enough.

And, of course, nothing is enough, and nothing is enough.

We need some things, true–decent food, clean water, safe shelter, and people we love. But most things we think we need are more than enough.

What we think we need defines who we are.
What we think we need separates humans from the other mammals.

Nonmember harvest

It’s OK to want more than you need; most of us do, and our culture’s economy depends on you doing just that.

Beyond our basic needs, knowing nothing is enough will, depending on how you read it, make life wonderful or make you miserable.

Sometimes knowing nothing is enough is enough to give you the world.