Sea of Discontent

I was visiting an old friend in New York when the subject of happiness came up. I had not seen this friend in a while and I knew that though he was usually cheery and curious his life at that moment was not unfolding as he had hoped. I knew his marriage was not always the refuge he would have liked and that he was becoming bored with his job. “I figured out,” he told me, “that happiness isn’t normal.”

I told him he was wrong. I told him that happiness was absolutely normal, that happiness was our natural state of being. He seemed unconvinced.

Several years later I was writing a blog. I typed the last period and sat back. For a moment, I felt that satisfaction that comes when a piece of work feels like something someone else has written that I am delighted to have discovered. For a moment, I was content.

But no sooner had I closed the file than I felt something else stirring in me – a little, glowing coal of dissatisfaction. Somewhere within that finished piece was something unfinished. Somewhere in one sentence was an idea that had surprised me, and that I had used in what I knew was only a germinal form. I could no longer think about that satisfying finished piece. It didn’t need me. As I rose from my desk, it was almost as if I had succeeded not in finishing something, but only in discovering something else that required my attention.

In this way, I think my friend was right. If happiness means never experiencing the discomfort that comes with feeling pulled toward, but not yet knowing where to find, something new and interesting, then I suppose it is most unnatural. So it goes. But if you want to know unhappiness, live for a day with nothing of interest tugging at your attention. Then you are lost in your own home, and the blank page is already full of the emptiness you are living.

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