Tag Archives: quotations

Do You Find It Hard To Imagine That an Important Place Continues, After You Leave?

“I didn’t entirely like this glossy new surface, because it made the school look like a museum, and that’s exactly what it was to me, and what I did not want it to be. In the deep, tacit way in which feeling becomes stronger than thought, I had always felt that the Devon School came into existence the day I entered it, was vibrantly real while I was a student there, and then blinked out like a candle the day I left.”

— John Knowles, A Separate Peace

One of my children’s literature reading groups is reading A Separate Peace, and I certainly know the feeling described here — that it’s hard to imagine these institutions, that we experience so intensely, continuing on their way once we’re gone.

I get this feeling a lot when I go back to Yale Law School. Many things are the same, many things are different…and it’s hard to imagine that it’s all happening, while I’m far away.

For You, Does Abstaining Give Mastery Over a Pleasure–Or Not?

“It is not abstinence from pleasures that is best, but mastery over them without even being worsted. ”

— Aristippus, quoted in A History of Ancient Philosophy

This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Samuel Johnson: “All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.”

This issue comes up a lot with the Strategy of Abstaining, when Abstainers and Moderators debate their approach to resisting a strong temptation.

Moderators argue, “Why abstain, why be so absolute, why give up a pleasure altogether?” But for Abstainers — and I say this as an Abstainer myself — abstaining is the way to gain mastery over pleasures. It’s easier to abstain, and it’s a relief.  “Abstinence from a pleasure” not for the sake of abstaining, but because it’s easier.

Are you an Abstainer or a Moderator? Take this Quiz.

In Better Than Before, I have a whole chapter dedicated to the Strategy of Abstaining — but as always, I must emphasize, this is not a strategy that works for everyone! It doesn’t work for Moderators!

And most of us are a mix of both.

How about you? How do you best master your pleasures?

Feel Hurried Because You Have No Time, or Because You’re Wasting Your Life?

“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.”

–Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition

Agree, disagree? This quotation reminds me of one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood: Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastation. I have to remind myself of this often.

Do You Have the Habit of Having Habits? Or Do You Fight Habits?

“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.”

–Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance

How do you feel about habits? Do you fight against them?

One thing that surprised me as I was writing Better Than Before is how much people differ in their attitude towards habits. I love habits and embrace them — perhaps that’s my Upholder nature — but I understand better, now, why other people dread and resist them. And although I love habits, I see more clearly now how they speed time and deaden experience.

Like technology, money, ambition, and caffeine, habit is a good servant but a bad master.

 

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?