How are you? I am doing okay, or I am a wreck, depending on who you are, and how you are doing. Use whatever calculus amuses you.
Today I’d like to talk to you about an idea that I haven’t written about before, but which is like the ideas I talk about in my book The Happiness Myth.
The idea is simple and has been noted by others in various ways.
The idea is this. People feel at home doing things that they watched their parents do when they were growing up. The occupations you and I, dear bleader, have chosen for our days and weeks and years fit this criteria to an astounding degree though most of us have not noticed it.
The world has millions of occupations. Billions of ways to spend your day, your week, your year, but most people do the same things over and over. If I invented paint shoes and put them on you, how much world would get covered in paint? For most of us, it would be four or five pathways getting endless coats of paint.
It seems daily repetitions are a part of being human. As lamentable as it may seem at first glance to be in such repetition, I think that to do the deepest loving and thinking, we have to let our lives become routine and trance-like.
Ruts need breaking, sure, but I think if it doesn’t feel like a rut, then repetition, routine, and ritual are the best normal conditions for love, thought, and creation.
What I want to talk to you about here is not that we do things over and over, but precisely what it is we choose to do, over and over.
Whether you love or hate your parents, you probably think that you operate pretty independently of them. I say that because psychology is so out of favor these days that some of its best truths are not part of the modern conversation.
The thing is, if your folks never gardened, you don’t much either. If you spend your spare time fixing electronics at home, and your parents didn’t, ask yourself if they did something that looked a lot like it. Did they sit at the kitchen table for hours with a set of tools and a bunch of items? Or were they always out skiing? Skiers who deny a patrimony of skiing still likely had parents who went outside and did stuff a lot.
Was one of them at his or her desk all day? Are you at your desk all day? Did they have parties for their big life events and now do you? Did they take a lot of walks or not so much? You?
We think we branch off, and we do. We do. We go in some opposing direct, so as to exist. But we are still the same wood, same bark, same berries.
They were lawyers, we are outlaws, or vice versa. Still, our basic behavior is a simple copy of theirs, because when we do things that feel, to our bodies, like the way our parents acted when we were growing up, we feel at home.
We can do other things, the things they never did, but we do not feel at home. Most of the time, as we get older, though we liberate ourselves from some of our inherited craziness, we also get weary of fighting against what feels right. So though we used to go listen to music in parks with hundreds of other people, and we did like it, we who were not raised doing it don’t much do it anymore.
Granted, this is a perfect madwoman or poet thesis, because one proves it through the clatter of recognition and anyone who denies it may easily be said to be resisting the sometimes emotional catastrophe that noticing these things can be for some people. The more you hate the idea now, the more interested I am in what you think of it three months from now, when you have had some time to be alone with it.
If your parents did piecework in the living room/ dining room area of your little immigrant apartment, even if they didn’t like it, there is a good chance you now do, which is to say that you like to sit with other people and fuss away at something separately yet together.
There are people with the attitude, “At least I’m out doing things” (which I saw on a T-shirt once) and other people who feel a little discomfort unless they are at home or at work. Which are you and do you feel guilty you are not more like the other?
We feel so incredibly responsible for the choices we make. She wishes she would take more walks, or, let’s face it, even one walk. He wishes he could chat without bragging. They wish they could get themselves to do some gardening. We wish we could get out there and enjoy life’s rich bounty. We all miss the fact that our tendencies are profoundly determined by what we saw at our house when we were growing up.
I say these things in part because I want to let us off the hook concerning the demands we put on ourselves these days.
Also, I say them because if there is even a little clatter of recognition it feels so good. I love how it feels to break trance. Just love it. So I’m offering it, here, in the form of this epistle. You don’t have to stop doing the stuff you are repeating. In fact, I encourage you to follow the desire straight into the desire. Once you realize what behavior you are copying, try copying it even more closely! Find out about it. That’s how you break trance, go in, not out.
Good work staying alive since last week, most of you. Stick with it and I shall return to encourage you again.
PS. For more of this sort of thing, with more historical context, see my book The Happiness Myth (Harper One: 2007).
PPS. The strawberry above was delicious.