August 12, 2019
Dear Ren Ruslan,
Here is what I think happiness is and how to get it. First, you can’t find it head on. Despite the Declaration of Independence, happiness cannot be successfully pursued. Rather, live a meaningful life—one that benefits you and others—and happiness will pursue you. So, what is happiness? I’d use terms like contentment, fulfillment, or even that 12-Step favorite, serenity. It’s a feeling of enoughness: The fancy term is satiety. It’s how you feel after good food, good sleep, good sex, even a good workout. Happiness also seems to result from the satisfaction of a job well done. What happiness isn’t is the product of having lots of material things, although the lack of them won’t bring it about either. Amassing ever-increasing wealth and possessions can never produce that feeling of contentment, which is true happiness.
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times….” That’s how Dickens begins his fictionalized account of the French Revolution, The Tale of Two Cities. I suppose one can say the same about any era, since there will always be good and bad things happening. Nevertheless, we’re living now, I’m convinced, in a Dark Age. Yet the good news is, we are on the cusp of a new Renaissance. On that premise, my wife Cedar, her friends Marni and Nancy, and I brainstormed 25 characteristics of this born-again better world: 5 individual and 20 social. I hope you can improve on our phrasing and/or send us some additional characteristics of your own in the comments below.
It must be an allergy. Yet for whatever reason I have difficulty seeing national flags on cars, tee-shirts, hats, lapel pins, running shoes, even flagpoles. This goes for the Red-White-and-Blue, our Grand Old Flag. While helping to unite smaller entities, states or provinces, nationalism often does so at the expense of the larger whole. People wrap themselves in their country’s flags before going off and killing, or being killed by, other people wrapped in their country’s flags.
My brother-in-law Dan Barstow has a number of distinctions: He’s born on the Fourth of July, education director for the International Space Station, a heckuva nice guy, and, most importantly for today’s reflection, he’s a magician. He does amazing tricks with silver rings, even if you’re just a few feet away. He’s been wowing audiences for decades yet still manages to fit into the black robe that transforms him into Merlin. (I guess that’s a trick in itself.)
Back in my days as an academic dean at a state university in Chicago, it was graduation day, and I was handing out diplomas. Inevitably I didn’t know any of the students. The professors did but not me. So, I would try to invent new ways to say congratulations as each student came forward for a handshake and their diploma. Then, up walked a graduate I actually knew. He was one of our security guards and the campus locksmith. He was also a big man, tall and wide. And like me, he was Jewish. (Although if you’ve been reading these blogs, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m an ethnic Jew who’s Christian (Episcopalian) by religion.)
July 3, 2076. An America chastened by the crises of the 21st Century is about to celebrate its Tercentenary. No longer the sole superpower, it has abandoned its role of global policeman to a more mature U.N. and is now using its limited funds for the needs of its people—more Denmark Anno 2019 than the United States of that era. Congress has just enacted a National Maturity Test, better known as the Adult Licensing Act. Unless a citizen passes this multi-phasic exam, he or she may not open a bank account, purchase or drive a motor vehicle, matriculate at a college, apply for a salaried job, buy property, run for office, or even marry.
So, I go to McDonald’s once a week, religiously. Why would such an apparently discerning dude like moi commit such a culinary peccadillo? you might ask. Simple. Boulder’s 10 Tesla Super-chargers are just across the parking lot, and even with their speedier chargers, it still takes at least 40 minutes to fill the Model 3 up. What am I going to do? Sit on the sidewalk? Of course, I could also go to the nearby Starbucks, just another two minutes’ walk. But I’m cheap, and you just can’t beat the 86-cent senior coffee or tea, i.e., why spend two or three bucks more for a marginally better beverage?
The journey of a thousand li begins with a single step. (Chinese saying)
It was a ten-minute interview on local community radio: KGNU to be precise. The actual interview took double that time, but Maeve C., the lovely interviewer from Dublin, Ireland, did a good job afterwards of whittling my remarks down to the allotted ten minutes. Plus, we shot the breeze for another half hour on finishing up. Such are the temptations of wisdom.
“Marco!... Polo!” Kids in a pool. One yells “Marco!” Another answers, “Polo!” After the fifth iteration, I’m wondering why I decided to go swimming that afternoon. After the tenth, I begin to entertain homicidal thoughts. Yet this dumbest of games honors one of the West’s greatest human beings. Why do I say that?
Happy (Pentecost) Sunday, the day in the Christian Church (all varieties) celebrating the sending down of the Holy Spirit to Jesus's Apostles. From my perspective, that Spirit, which I prefer to call the Great Life Force, is available to everyone of any religion or none. Moreover, it's been around since the Beginning, not just as of a few thousand years ago to a small group of my Jewish ancestors. But like electricity, if you have no conception of what it is or that it exists, aren't wired for it in your house, or even if you are, don't know where the light switches are or how to use them, then that Force or Spirit may as well not be there.