I’ve always loved paradoxes and koans
, and was very struck by an observation by physicist Niels Bohr: “There are trivial truths and great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.”
This is very true in the area of happiness, and in particular, I’ve noticed it with my resolutions. In many cases, my most important resolutions come paired with the opposite resolutions, and yet both are important to my happiness.
This tension was beautifully illustrated in a novel I love, Vikram Chandra’s mesmerizing Sacred Games. “Sartaj was thinking about how uncanny an animal this life was, that you had to seize it and let go of it at the same time, that you had to enjoy but also plan, live every minute and die every moment.”
Of everything I’ve ever written, I think this short paradox—The days are long, but the years are short—resonates most with people. (Watch the one-minute video here.)
I want to Be Gretchen and accept myself, but I also want to perfect my nature (as this entire project demonstrates). I want to think about myself so I can forget myself. I want to work on my own happiness so I can make other people happier.
I want to lighten up and not take myself so seriously—but I also want to take myself more seriously.
I want to spend my time efficiently and not waste it, but I also want to wander, to play, to fail, to read at whim.
I want to be free from envy and fear of the future, and live fully in the present moment—but not lose my ambition.
Control and mastery are key elements of happiness; so are novelty and challenge.
Everything matters, and nothing matters. As Samuel Butler wrote in his Notebooks, “Everything matters more than we think it does, and, at the same time, nothing matters so much as we think it does. The merest spark may set all Europe in a blaze, but though all Europe be set in a blaze twenty times over, the world will wag itself right again.”
Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happier.
Somewhere, keep an empty shelf; somewhere, keep a junk drawer.
Flawed can be more perfect than perfection. In Japanese, there is a beautiful term, wabi-sabi, which describes the special beauty of the imperfect, the incomplete, and the transient. Superficially similar, but actually different in meaning (as I understand it), is the phrase from software development, Worse is better.
Go slow to go fast.
Do it now. Wait.
A few years ago, my one-word theme for the year was Bigger. My sister chose Smaller.
Have you found any paradoxes that have been important to your happiness? Contrary resolutions that you try to follow in both directions?
I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in—no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.
My friend Jonathan Fields has a terrific new venture, the Good Life Project—"serve aspire transcend."
Volunteer as a Super-Fan, and from time to time, I'll ask for your help—nothing too onerous, I promise! Also, around the publication of Happier at Home, I'll have some fun things to offer, as well. Email me here.