Friday, March 6, 2009

The Edge

There's an interesting piece in today's New York Times, an op-ed by Judith Warner. The article describes the potential blandness of mindfulness therapy and wonders if it's precisely our dark humor and sense of the absurd that make us human. Here's a link:

I explore a similar possibility in Against Happiness: an urge for total contentment can result in an inhuman aloofness while an embrace of our emotional turbulence, frequently nostalgic or anxious, sometimes even angry or bitter, is essential to a fully lived, fully engaged life.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What Is Enough?

I've been thinking a lot about Thoreau lately. His book Walden is, among other things, a profound meditation on that ever-shifting and terribly vague line between wants and needs. The distinction is of course far from simple; in fact, it's probably impossible to establish it once and for all. Obviously, we need food and shelter to survive, as Thoreau makes clear. But is that all we need to live a fulfilling life? One might argue, for instance, that friendship or artistic expression is as much a need as a want--a human need, perhaps, an abiding requirement that separates us from animals.

Wherever we draw the line between needs and wants, we are more likely to brood over this all-important division in times of loss, when we feel bereft on material or psychological levels. Obviously, we never want to lose our beloved objects or our feelings of well-being. But it is perhaps precisely an experience of loss that could grant us a surprising gain: an answer to the question, at least for the moment, of what is enough.

Such is yet another way that sorrow--maybe in the form of nostalgia or regret--can, if seen in a certain light, instruct and inspire.

Anyway, here's an interesting take on bankruptcy and wisdom from Stanley Fish: