08 June 2008

The Pursuit of Happiness

A lot of friends and acquaintances have had the occasion to ask the perfectly reasonable question of why I wanted to give up a good home in a beautiful city on the Pacific -- where I have nice friends and associates, a decent job which pays well, health insurance and all the trappings of middle class American existence -- in favor of life on the road and an uncertain future.

(They usually don't use highly caffeinated run-on sentences like the foregoing, but you get the idea.)

Part of it is for the same reason that dogs lick themselves (because I can!!), but the overarching reason why is very personal, and has to do with the quest I have been on since I was self-aware enough to think of such things: I want to live a good life and be happy.

That quest has taken me in a lot of different philosophical directions and to a lot of destinations on the Earth. I think of it as kind of a winding path that has trended in the same general direction. There was a period where I thought the key to a good life was self-knowledge and spiritual discipline. I studied Zen under a renowned master and practiced about as diligently as an attention-deficient slacker could. Then, I spent a number of years of my life learning, so that I could earn a decent income - never as an end in itself, but what I saw as a necessary means to an end at a time when I was lurching from job to job in an island economy. Then I entered a period of my life where I sought meaning in being a good partner and supportive boyfriend: again, not as the be-all and end-all, but as an important step I felt I needed to take.

It seems to me that a good life is lived by giving your gifts fully in the service of some greater good. Some people find that good in family: I see that as a noble and appropriate purpose, though one that will not be mine, for biological reasons at least. Others find it in religion, or in a career. I have never been especially religious, though I would say that I am fairly intensely spiritual. And, as far as a career goes, it's hard for me to imagine that I could find lasting satisfaction in a job, at least as the Anglo-American economy is presently constituted. I find the world of work far too reductively focused on abstracts like profit and productivity... and in any regard, the things I think of as valuable (equality, justice etc.) are not really market commodities.

This journey, for me, will be a time to break out of my routine so that I can meditate deeply on what my true gifts are. In addition, I intend to leave myself open to inspiration as to how I can give those gifts in a way that will help create the kind of world I want to see... or, in any case, somewhat slow the slide into barbarism and brutality that I see happening day by day.

I'm trying really hard not to pre-judge the outcome, though it's not like I haven't thought long and hard about these issues. I have the gift of communication - this makes itself manifest in my ability to speak multiple languages and also to explain complicated technical issues to others in an effective way. I am widely-read and curious about the world, and history: I feel I have a pretty good understanding of this historic moment and the underlying trends -- and this understanding is not limited by either an America-centric or a Eurocentric perspective. And above all, I have a real desire for social justice and want to play some small part in creating a world that works for everybody.

It may be that I somehow find a job that pays me to harness my gifts in order to create social change on a massive scale. More likely, I will have to put the pieces together in a more ad-hoc way: a job that supports my values along with some sort of part-time occupation in organizing, speaking writing... who knows.

Jefferson declared the right not to happiness itself, but its pursuit. Aristotle held that a happy life could only be judged so after death; until then, as Solon admonished Croesus, a man could not be called happy, but merely fortunate.

I have been fortunate to have lived a life that has allowed me to learn a little about what brings lasting happiness. I am very fortunate to be in a position where I can actually act on some of the things I have learned.

9 comments:

nanagirl said...

I didn't want to stop reading.

bleeding espresso said...

Way to make me cry when I'm trying to work.

This is simply beautiful; would *you* agree to be a guest blogger and agree to let me republish this? Pretty please?

Too Much Coffee Man said...

Ack! That's intimidating, your blog is so major league. Even if it's, you know, a chick blog.

Michelle, if you want this, it's yours. I'm just not sure if I want to go big-time with the new pseud yet. You can credit "Paul" until I decide...

bleeding espresso said...

How about this? You have until July 14th (I think) to decide how you'd like to be known. But please not a symbol.

Do you really drink too much coffee? Somehow I wouldn't think that. I mean Pinkberry or whatever, but......

Too Much Coffee Man said...

TMCM, for what it's worth, is a comic strip - I was starting to sign blog comments "Crazy Like Whoa" per your suggestion, but I wasn't all that happy with how it looked/read. Too Much Coffee Man came to me when I was - oddly - drinking coffee.

(And I don't know if it's "Too Much" but I do start the day by brewing a 6-cup moka and drinking the whole thing down in an American mug. I'll let the reader decide.)

Anyway, unless I get some new inspiration for something goofy-but-not-too, serious-but-not-too... I'll probably end up "Paul at Crazy Like Whoa." That's about as goofy/serious as I wanna be, anyway...

Mim said...

Wow, great stuff... So are you off on some adventure even as i type this?

Too Much Coffee Man said...

Only if going to work counts as "an adventure."

(Hint: it doesn't.)

The fun begins June 28. But subscribe to my feed for ever more caffeinated pre-trip blogging and musings from other people's couches...

RainforestRobin said...

Well, if you knew more about my life you would know 100% that I not only completely understand what you are doing and why, but I think it is GREAT!!! I applaud you. Bring on the LIFE, bring on the ADVENTURE, bring on the risk takers and people of great spirit. Those who reach out and grab Life even if they are scared, put down, misunderstood, or not understood AT ALL! GOOD FOR YOU!! This is thrilling to read and know! YES!

Boots in the Oven said...

That kicks so much ass. Good for you. We had so many people freak out at us when we announced we'd be moving to Italy, and that was only for a year - so I can imagine some of the conversations you've been having with friends and associates!