On answering letters and trying to be happy
In A Man Without A Country, Kurt Vonnegut told a 4-page story about why when he had a letter to mail he went to the trouble of walking to a stationery store to buy an envelope and then to the post office to mail it. He did it because it was something to do.
How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different.
I’m back on my bike after two weeks down with COVID and, like Vonnegut, I find myself making up errands just so I can take a 5-mile ride. On Saturday, I rode over to a postal box to drop off a bunch of answered mail, even though I could’ve just left it in my own mailbox.
I’m not, however, good at answering email anymore. There’s simply far too much of it.
I do try to read everything. Often people write to me with what feel like impossible questions, questions that would take a whole book to answer. Sometimes I stick such questions in my Notes app so I can think about them for a while, but then I forget to write back.
One of them this week was: “Can you refer me to some advice/stuff on being happier as a person?”
This one made me laugh out loud, not at the writer, but at myself and how hopelessly ill-equipped I am to answer the question. (I do not think of myself as a happy person.)
I was reminded of something Bob Dylan said when he was asked if he was happy:
“Oh, man, I’ve never even thought about that,” Dylan said, laughing. “Happiness is not on my list of priorities. I just deal with day-to-day things. If I’m happy, I’m happy – and if I’m not, I don’t know the difference.” He fell silent for a few moments and stared at his hands. “You know,” he said, “these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It’s not happiness or unhappiness, it’s either blessed or unblessed.”
I have found that happiness is like running on the hedonic treadmill. The more you chase after it, the further it gets away from you. (And the more exhausted you make yourself.)
I feel that I’m less likely to catch happiness than to have it sneak up on me when I’m not expecting it.
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