We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
I hate studies of happiness because 1) I think happiness is fleeting 2) Everybody's happiness is different 3) I think good cheer and happiness come from within and from a clean conscience - not from without and, 4) I don't think life is or should be all about happiness anyway: I think it is meant to be made of sterner stuff than that...but that's me.
Therefore, I believe that "the good life" is not a one-size-fits-all shoe. For some, it's about being half in the bag on a mountaintop. For some, it's struggling with impossible math problems; for some, it's exerting minimal effort. For some, it's about having good relationships, but many folks don't give a darn about that. "Happiness" is a useless concept and, to me, a "good life" means nothing more than an honorable, responsible Christian life, with minimal jail time, and some golf and tennis and a good man in it but, again, that's just me.
Last fall, I spent about a month in the file room of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, hoping to learn the secrets of the good life. The project is one of the longest-running—and probably the most exhaustive—longitudinal studies of mental and physical well-being in history. Begun in 1937 as a study of healthy, well-adjusted Harvard sophomores (all male), it has followed its subjects for more than 70 years.
The study had produced a stream of suggestive correlations. The men were able to cope with problems better as they aged. The ones who suffered from depression by 50 were much more likely to die by 63. The men with close relationships with their siblings were much healthier in old age than those without them.
But it's the baffling variety of their lives that strikes one the most. It is as if we all contain a multitude of characters and patterns of behavior, and these characters and patterns are bidden by cues we don't even hear. They take center stage in consciousness and decision-making in ways we can't even fathom. The man who is careful and meticulous in one stage of life is unrecognizable in another context.
Shenk's treatment is superb because he weaves in the life of George Vaillant, the man who for 42 years has overseen this work. Vaillant's overall conclusion is familiar and profound. Relationships are the key to happiness. "Happiness is love. Full Stop," he says in a video.
In his professional life, he has lived out that creed. He has been an admired and beloved colleague and mentor. But the story is more problematic at home. When he was 10, his father, an apparently happy and accomplished man, went out by the pool of their Main Line home and shot himself. His mother shrouded the episode. They never attended a memorial service nor saw the house again.
He has been through three marriages and returned to his second wife. His children tell Shenk of a "civil war" at home and describe long periods when they wouldn't speak to him. His oldest friend says he has a problem with intimacy.
Even when we know something, it is hard to make it so. Reading this essay, I had the same sense I had while reading Christopher Buckley's description of his parents in the New York Times Magazine not long ago. There is a complexity to human affairs before which science and analysis simply stands mute.
Ed: Related, see some of our previous posts on the topic:
The complexity to human affairs translates into human nature. If anything can figure out that complexity, it is science and analysis. Something our politicians could use if they had the sense. Whoever wrote that .... "...simply stands mute." is not very insightful.
Can you imagine being WFB's kid? That would be like being mentally waterboarded your whole life.
Maybe he means 'if only' science and analysis would buzz off. That is, leave human nature to figure itself out. hmmm. Not such a good idea, methinks.
I'm thinking WFB treated his kid/s like morons and bored them to death telling them why they were morons whenever they had an original thought. The man was unable to treat anyone as an equal, and I know there are many who would say he had no equal. They would be wrong. What a loathsome man.
I'm thinking ELC means science and analysis should just shut up, and let life go on. But I think that misguided. Isn't 'Know Thyself' a pretty big deal in more than one religion? It's a quest in which we have no real choice. Just more tools with which to confuse ourselves.
Loathsome may or may not be a stretch. But I'm quite sure I wouldn't have personally cared for the man in person. His inability to consider others as equal in some fashion or another very off-putting.
I figure 'know thyself' is not something many religions promote. They want the person to identify themselves through their belief and whatever dogma guides their religion. As for it being a quest we have no choice in, I'll disagree. You've met people who have no desire to wonder about who they are, to understand what motivates them, content to skate through life like a little block of wood on ice. I doubt you find those people entertaining at all. It's curiosity - the gift of gifts. Metacognition..... What are you without it?
Okay... perhaps most religions don't promote 'know thyself'. But then those only look for chickens who will follow the flock. And not for the independent minded who have made the choice to believe with mind in hand.
I do know the folks you describe... interested only in the next day's entertainment. But most I know do think about their purpose here. As do I.
One of the more engaging things Christopher Buckley has written is his memoir of his father, William, and his effect on Christopher's life. It's called "My Old Man and the Sea," and young Buckley gave it as a speech at the annual meeting of our country's Movers and Shakers in The Bohemian Grove [I think that's the name] on the West Coast. I suspect you can still Google it and find it on the 'Net. I did several times last summer and was charmed each time.
Those of you who are sailors, as my husband and I were, will enjoy Christopher's comment that Buckley Senior "always crowded on too much sail -- great men always do."
Anyway, TomC and others of you who have gone to the sea in boats, will enjoy Christopher Buckley's essay/obituary/memoir, I think.