Happy Days: The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times

The new New York Times group blog Happy Days: The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times is off to a good start.

Four people sent me Tim Kreider's post The Referendum, which he defines thusly:

The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt.

The whole post is worth reading, which touches on the topic of regret and how making choices destroys alternative paths. Here's the final graf:

One of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back — Lot’s wife, Orpheus and Eurydice — are lost. Looking to the side instead, to gauge how our companions are faring, is a way of glancing at a safer reflection of what we cannot directly bear, like Perseus seeing the Gorgon safely mirrored in his shield.

My other favorite post on the blog is from Robert Wright, talking about going on a silent meditation retreat. Hardheaded as he is, he returns with new compassion for weeds, among other things. I've heard other transformational tales from other very sane people, which is why doing a silent retreat is on my long term to-do list.

8 comments on “Happy Days: The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times
  • Every reasonably mentally healthy person I know who’s done a silent retreat has emerged vowing that it was a life changing experience. (It is not for the weak, from what I can make out.) On a similar note, have you considered walking the El Camino de Santiago? I’ve heard such glowing things from people who have done this and it strikes me as a very Ben sort of adventure.

  • Second vote for the Camino de Santiago. Takes about a month, and you’ll have about six to eight hours of silence each day with no structure besides walking west at your own pace. You’ll get to work through a lot in your head… (Or how about just walking *anywhere* every day for a month?)

    The Vipassana 10-day meditation that Robert Wright did (if I remember his post correctly) is–on the behavioral/observable level–nearly the opposite of a walk like the Camino. You’ll be silent, in one place, living according to a rigid structure and rules, and receiving 24/10 instruction in a specific technique, but with just as profound effects.

  • I was entertained by Tim Kreider’s post The Referendum, although the experience was a bit like having sex with the woman who reads a book and smokes a cigarette while you’re pounding her– rock my world, baby.

    My perceptive assistant says people with twisted smiles like Kreider’s are either gay or meth heads. And he didn’t even read the part about Gorgons.

  • Ben: Does a silent retreat involve only keeping verbally quiet with the voice as a tool? Or does it involve quietening the mind too, as in generating no words or thoughts at all? (That would be meditation – dhyaan, an integral part of Yoga but not the one that people sweating out in gyms may relate to – which one can do every day; many people do, although others need “scientific” evidence of its connection with real well-being, which is emerging). What kind do you have in mind?

  • The Referendum article reminded me of your post on time orientation. The regret problem seems to affect those who are future-minded and want to maximize their experience.

  • Some good choice of words but the narrative IMHO has been a bit garrulous. If the line of argument is Acts (or Forbearance) destroy Alternatives, and life indeed is a non-repeatable experiment, then I am confused whether Mr.Kreider is repudiating his own lifestyle or is he struggling to vindicate it?

    Who’s Perseus and who’s Gorgon are best left to assumptions. A bit like whether the glass is half-full or half-empty depends on whether you’re drinking or pouring…

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