Higher Living Reflections

The Art of…Whatever

“Unhappiness is always to feel oneself imprisoned in one’s own skin, in one’s own brain.” – Jacques Lusseyran, founder of a WW II resistance group, survivor of Buchenwald, and blind from age of eight.

I was taken in by a good friend’s animated description and detailing of angling. He was coolly passionate during the telling. I learned much, from the sport’s complications and the skillset needed for a successful catch to the ethics of fishing. But more so, I was captivated by his passion. He was talking about one of his deep loves. He loves to fish and is damn good at it. And he’s not blushed to talk about it.

“Fishing,” he proclaimed as he summarized, “is an art.”

That statement said it all for me, for I had recently composed and posted my essay, “The Art of Happiness,” in which I referenced the work, The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard C. Cutler. In my friend’s case, angling is an art like happiness being an art. They both take effort, which begins with showing up. And for my friend, the first leads to the second.

Art is far more than a visual depiction on canvas or some other medium. It extends beyond literal, physical creations to doings like fishing, cooking, woodworking, writing, and teaching. It includes the development of one’s frame of mind or perspective and encompasses the breadth of human creative endeavors. The art of…You name it.

Though they are correlated to one another and both are states of the mind, happiness is different from contentment, which is stationary, a place of rest. Happiness, on the other hand, is active. It requires participation. It is, the Dalai Lama said, not a simple thing and has many levels. So while happiness might be a warm puppy, it’s complicated. And like magic, it oftentimes takes work.

“In Buddhism,” the Dalai Lama continued, “there is reference to the four factors of fulfillment or happiness: wealth, worldly satisfaction, spirituality, and enlightenment. Together they embrace the totality of an individual’s quest for happiness.”

Happiness is then a quest like the search for the Holy Grail. And let’s not forget that the pursuit of happiness is a bedrock of the American ethos. So what’s your Holy Grail?

Think of when you are happiest. Think of what you are doing at that time whether it is a solo experience or being with others. Consider all the aspects of arriving at and being in that state of mind. And think if during doing whatever your pursuit was you were focused on the outcome, having an expectation. Or was your joy correlated primarily to the act you were performing.

Polls, however, suggest that collectively we are an unhappy, anxious people. We can recite the litany of reasons why many, if not most, are feeling unhappy, but it really comes down to a few simple debilitating things: attachment, expectations, and resistance among them. First, we want to possess stuff and other people. If we don’t get the stuff or the other person’s affection or approval or they fail to fulfill or live up our expectations, we suffer. And second, we’re fearful of truly following our bliss as Joseph Campbell urged us to do. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield, for example, encapsulates the struggle artists face when composing or creating their pieces. For writers, a debilitating sense often arises from their mind: writer’s block. But Pressfield calls BS on the notion. He calls it resistance.

“Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, who was a master of irony, is one of my favorite short stories. In it, a young couple, who deeply loved each other, were possessors of something material which brought them great pride. But because of their deep love, both were willing to give up, to sacrifice their most prized worldly possession. And accordingly, each had an expectation of how the other would receive and appreciate their sacrifice. But the result was not what either anticipated. And thus they were given the greatest gift they could receive.

I posit that happiness is invariably intertwined with creative acts. Dr. Cutler states that the Dalai Lama’s prescription for achieving happiness—and I hold interferes with one developing their natural creativity—is based on the idea that negative states of mind are not intrinsic to our nature. Instead, they are “transient obstacles that obstruct the expression of our underlying natural state of joy and happiness.” In other words, we self-sabotage our pursuit of joy through a variety of ways: psychologically, culturally, or religiously.

The holiday season is a period dedicated to joy, but soon enough, the season ends. What then? Statistics show the suicide rate spikes afterward.

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, and by extension to others, is developing your happiness state of mind. You have the right to be happy, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, and to pursue talents that have lain fallow or dormant perhaps since childhood. In the end it’s a matter of choice, which often begins with us getting out of our own way.

Click here to read “Gift of the Magi.”

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  • Laurel McHargue
    December 21, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    Wonderful! I just read “Gift of The Magi” (had to after reading your piece), and what a lesson! I always learn something from you and your writing, Jerry. You are a gift.

  • Nancy Oswald
    December 21, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you, Jerry. Your piece was wonderful and well-timed for me.
    Have a wonderful holiday season.

  • Glenn Blanco
    December 27, 2022 at 6:34 pm

    The Gift of the Magi has always been one of my favorites as well. Jerry, perhaps you can help with trying to separate an art from a science. I have heard fishing is a science as much as art. Maybe there is no separation between an art or a science. When I was teaching, I always thought that was an art. Today, with the emphasis on testing and norms, it seems more a science.