35: Looking back.

- July 16, 2017 -

Charles Baxter has a wonderful essay, “Regarding Happiness,” in which he tackles the question of how happiness is portrayed in literature.

There are any number of treasures to be uncovered from within its pages, but one that really resonated with me had to do with something which he calls “mindful happiness.” In response to a poem by Czeslaw Milosz, he writes, “A mindful happiness knows, and acknowledges, everything from which it has been excluded or freed.”

How wonderfully simple that happiness is, a happiness which requires nothing of the future and is merely grateful, instead, that the present is not the past. And yet, as simple as it is, how often do we stop to make room for that type of happiness?

. . .

Rather than appreciating the bad from which we have been freed, it seems to me that we’re much more likely to desire the good we have not yet attained.

Consider, for instance, those first few warm days of spring, those blissful and celebratory days which finally arrive just as we’ve started to think they never will. They never fail to fill us with a deep-seated sense of appreciation because, at that point, we’re not yet so distanced from winter’s drudgery as to have forgotten how cumbersome it was, how cold and windy and isolating those long months were. And so, with the remembrance of winter still fresh in our minds, we’re able to recognize the great gift of good weather.

Soon after, though, even with a change as clearly noticeable and immediately beneficial as the transition from winter to spring, this feeling of having happily been excluded — of having been freed — begins to fade, and we start taking that warm weather for granted. Yes, having reached the milestone of spring’s higher temperatures, we then shift our focus to awaiting the next milestone of searing summer days. And, once again, we’re right back to turning our attention to that which has not yet been.

Fortunately, though, as Baxter suggests, one of our primary roadblocks to happiness is also one of the most easily remedied: we’re too quick to forget. We’re quick to forget the circumstances and experiences from which we’ve “been excluded or freed,” and it is this forgetfulness that prevents us from appreciating what we now have.

Perhaps, then, we simply need to spend more time looking back.


Stopping to remember,
– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.