happiness

The Distraction Quandary

Tom Sachs, a New York-based sculptor, gave a interesting TED talk on creativity and standards. In it, he said:

“Authenticity also demands endurance. Do it for a long time – whatever it is. Two years, it’s just an interest. Do something for five years, and it’s a hobby. Do something for 20 years, and you begin to build a sense of mastery and the holes in your position on the thing become too small to be of any consequence.”

The problem is that I’m constantly distracted. Distracted from my book while I’m reading. Distracted by that idea I need to jot down, or text that I’ll forget to send. Distracted from hobby to hobby, focus to focus. From season to season to season.

How do I attain mastery over any single thing when my lens of attention is constantly shifting?

Leonardo Da Vinci, famous for his mastery over so many varied things supposedly uttered these final words before his death:

“I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”

Of course, that is ridiculous. Leonardo was one of mankind’s greatest artists and thinkers – yet he too felt this sense of impending failure. Honestly, I don’t know how to reconcile that contrast. That a man we revere for what he created and gave to the world, himself felt unfulfilled.

For now, as I ponder the quandary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s happiness, I suppose the only thing to do is continue in curiosity. To look every more intently for the beauty the world has to offer, so that I may add to it in whatever small bits I can. And, of course, to take David Sedaris’ advice from his book, Calypso:

“The key of course, is to stay busy.”

Ted Lasso and the Meaning of Life

I already talked about the spirit and impact of Ted Lasso, but I can’t stop thinking about this character. Specifically, the seemingly endless well of optimism and joy that Ted carries with him everywhere he goes.

The idea of happiness is one that I think about a lot – where does it really come from? How do we find it? How can we live a life centered around happiness?

My mom used to always say that your attitude is a choice. “You can choose,” she’d say. “You can choose if you’re going to be angry or upset. You can choose joy or frustration.” I sort of thought this was codswallop. I can’t just choose, I’d think. It’s not that easy mom, you just don’t understand. But I think there is truth there. Of course, you can’t choose what your emotions are, and you certainly can’t choose to pretend to be happy in the midst of sadness or grief or stress – that is neither helpful nor healthy. But I believe there are countless moments in our days and lives when, thinking we have no control, we settle for anger or sadness. But maybe it’s not the emotion we are choosing, but the attitude. The attitude then impacts the emotion.

In a powerful moment near the end of season one, Ted brings up a Walt Whitman quote: “Be curious, not judgmental.” Choose to listen rather than reject. Choose to engage with the world rather than block it out.

Proverbs says something similar:

Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to the words of knowledge (23:12).” and “The beginning of Wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight (4:7).”

So is this curiosity or penchant for learning what gives Ted his optimism?

Maybe happiness just comes naturally when we work our very hardest to give rather than take. In a TED Talk, the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt said:

The more I go after that powerful experience of paying attention, the happier I am. But the more I go after that powerful feeling of getting attention, the unhappier I am. If your creativity is driven by a desire to get attention, you’re never going to be creatively fulfilled.”

Ted works to be actively curious and engaged in those around him. Maybe it’s through his curiosity that he finds things that bring joy. Perhaps in order to be happy, you first have to work to see the happiness around you.

Of course, maybe Ted is just a wildly happy guy, and it’s simply by being happy that he is able to inspire joy and change in those around him. But for those of us with a curmudgeonly bent, we need a stepping stone.

Be curious – you may just stumble onto something that will make you smile.