The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is… that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.
There is a part of the North American ethos–”the pursuit of happiness”–has a diabolical subtext…
:::happiness is the endgame:::
Most of our films, novels, and pop-mythology centers around a “protagonist” that is looking to be happy. Pro = positive. Agonist = one who agonizes. A higher hero is someone who agonizes under the weight of some mythic discipline, because, for him, there is no alternative. His endgame is to be part of the re-creation of the world. Happiness is the indicator that he’s on the right track.
Obsession with happiness can often obliterate and confound our vision–set us adrift, and send us freewheeling into the depths of grouchy navel-gazing.
Something happened to our operating software moved to Colombia. Most people–especially the poorer folk–rarely talk about happiness. But they smile, inwardly and outwardly, and seem at ease with the life, the world, the cosmos. We had a doorman named Jairo, who was nascently brilliant. He’d zip around Edificio Laureles and find something, constantly, to do…as a portero, a doorman, a gatekeeper, a man (who could), sit around and lock and unlock doors.
He fixed old phones and blenders, polished the stairs–he also taught me Spanish by listening to the words I was trying to say, and “shadowing” (echoing) my words in proper, Colombian Spanish. This is high-level listening and speaking. Jairo had every reason to rage, rage, against the constructs of his existence (I am a brilliant doorman, and the world sucks because it cannot see my raging talent!).
But he was happy. He showed me pictures of his daughters, which were on his antique 1mg cameraphone. He’d find the flowers that grew like weeds and decorate the building. He seemed truly interested in that we lived in the Coffee Axis of the cocaine capital of the western world. He, like many Colombians, had this downbeat-but-caffeinated contentment in the company of subtropical heliconias, blue morpho butterflies, cloud forests, and banana-tree smattered coffee plantations.
I have thought long and hard about the secret of guys like Jairo, and I think one of them is the very idea that they don’t focus on happiness too much. They focus on discipline–may focus on obedience to a higher power. This keeps them out of the center of the universe, and keeps them relatively free from los siete piensamentos mortales (the seven deadly ways of thinking). [We lived by "Our Lady of the Coffee" church, so I think their "high power" percolated with coffee, Mary, and the Catholic trinity...no matter. They knew nature was "for them, but not about them."]
Moments of happiness–even hours (!)–are the result of discipline and obedience. Discipline and obedience implies that our lives have significance. Pleasure alone provides no platform of significance. We become very powerful in our discipline. In the cases of moral outliers like Joan of Arc, Mohatmas Ghandi, et al, we usually see a “long obedience in the same direction.”
Happiness is a pleasant reminder that our projects, whether great or “small,” are echoing joyfully through the cosmos.