I wanted to be glad and happy with my eyes fully open, without fooling myself in the belief that we lived in a pink world: to be happy to be alive in the full knowledge of all misery, our own included.
When we talk about happiness, it seems to me we ultimately have to speak of it in this light. If happiness at its best means anything, it is the ability to feel joy at least as much despite what we know as because of it, and to do that in a way that is illuminated and not merely naïve.
A slender line separates this point of view from being a mere chucklehead with rose-colored goggles on. If that line consists of anything, it may well be the wisdom — one hard-won, or one given by grace if you're lucky enough to win that lottery — that even within misery there is something valuable and workable, if only we have it within ourselves to look for it and seize it with both hands.
Knowing this isn't hard; it's enacting it that's the real bear. How, exactly, does one go about being happy both because of and in spite of all that happens, and without taking on the attitude of a holy fool? (God love the ones who are like that, but that's a condition best left to being blessed with as a happy accident, not something you can really strive for.)
Some of what motivated me to start studying Zen Buddhism was to find an answer for that, and while I think the study has helped, it hasn't supplied me with a packaged answer that I just needed to add water to and heat up to be useful. No such stock answer would work for anyone, of course, but there prevails an attitude — not always conscious, not always admitted — that such a thing is possible, that one does not need to engage in a lifelong process but can simply engage in a single, eschatological behavior to enact it.
It takes no particularly deep thought to see why this idea appeals to people. It persists, I suppose, because human society is largely organized along the lines of finding concrete and definitive solutions to worldly problems. Even in our belief systems we're not taught how to be comfortable with doubt — if anything, that's where we're taught to be most uncomfortable with it. The skeptic, the learned man who cannot commit himself to a definitive Yes or No because he knows that is a dishonest reading of a thorny truth, the thinker who cannot bring himself to flatter his audience — there's a reason people like that are never in fashion. We don't want them, and we don't want to be them. But really, we're getting to a point where we have no choice, where the alternative is to be led cheerfully by the nose off one kind of cliff or another.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind