Tag Archives: quotations

Agree? In Order to Find Something, You Must Possess It Already

I often become preoccupied with an idea, and take great pleasure in seeing that idea appear over and over.

One of the ideas that I’ve traced for years is the paradoxical idea — to put it in the most simple terms — that in order to find something, you must possess it already. What exactly does this mean? A koan.

I became preoccupied with this idea after reading a line from Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson. It had great significance for my happiness project, and in fact, I used it as an epigraph for the The Happiness Project. Boswell quotes Johnson remarking:

“As the Spanish proverb says, ‘He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him, so it is with travelling, –a man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge.’”

In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil writes:

“Nothing can have a destination which is not its origin.”

From Stephen Spender:

“Travel is an art which has to be created by the traveler.”

Put another way, by Cavafy, in the poem “Ithaka”:

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon — you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Put another way, by Thoreau, in his journal entry from August 30, 1856:

“It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brains and bowels, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess of Concord, i.e. than I import into it.”

How about you? Do you have an idea that you look for, everywhere you go? And do you agree that you can only find what you possess already?

Which Kind of Collector Are You: Aim to Complete, or Yearn to Possess?

“Collectors are basically of two kinds; those who aim at completing a series, and those who long to possess things that have bewitched them. The former, of whom stamp and coin collectors are the obvious examples, enjoy the pleasures of a limited aim, and its comforting certainties. The latter may suffer ups and downs, changes of heart and deceptions, but they have several great advantages. They never know when some new love will inflame them; they learn a great deal more about themselves from their possessions; and in the end they are surrounded by old friends, with long love stories which they must try hard not to tell their friends.”

–Kenneth Clarke, Another Part of the Wood

In both The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, I write about collections — the happiness that they give some people, and why, and my own desire to enjoy that kind of satisfaction.

Do you collect anything — if so, what do you collect? Are you the first kind, or the second kind?

“Humor Is…the Right Way To Exist Among the Contradictions, Paradoxes, and Absurdities of Life”

“Humor is the antidote to overthinking. It’s a way of saying that life is paradoxical. Humor contains contradictions; it does not resolve them but revels in them. It says that the right way to exist among the contradictions, paradoxes, and absurdities of life is to cope with them through laughter.”

— Bob Mankoff, How About Never: Is Never Good For You?

Bob Mankoff is the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, and this memoir is a fascinating, funny read about how he became a cartoonist, and about the world of New Yorker cartoons. I love New Yorker cartoons — how about you? I also love paradoxes.

“Oddly, Though, Lists Are Reassuring.”

“Oddly, though, lists are reassuring. We become aware of this if we scrupulously follow a recipe, which is essentially a list of ingredients and actions; but if we give this ‘list’ too much importance, we leave no room for the imagination.”

—Jean-Claude Ellena, The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur

I’m obsessed with the delights of the sense of smell, which led me to a much greater interest in perfume. Jean-Claude Ellena is one of the major figures in the creation of perfume. The Diary of a Nose is his book about his process.

I’m very attracted to any kind of list, particularly to-do lists. They can be freeing, but also constraining — like so many things.

“I Wear the Chain I Forged in Life…Of My Own Free Will I Wore It.”

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

— Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol

Habits are a chain we forge in life–a chain that can pull us down, or lift us up.

A nice marriage of the theme of habits and the holidays! I’m impressed I pulled that off.