Happy Like God

by Judith Rich on June 1, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days on the northern CA coast at a timeless place called Sea Ranch. On my return, I ran across this article in the New York Times  and thought it perfect to share here as it so aptly names my experience being with the ocean and the sense of peace it evoked.  Enjoy this…..

Happy Like God

Gordon M. Grant for The New York Times

What is happiness? How does one get a grip on this most elusive, intractable and perhaps unanswerable of questions?

I teach philosophy for a living, so let me begin with a philosophical answer. For the philosophers of Antiquity, notably Aristotle, it was assumed that the goal of the philosophical life — the good life, moreover — was happiness and that the latter could be defined as the bios theoretikos, the solitary life of contemplation. Today, few people would seem to subscribe to this view. Our lives are filled with the endless distractions of cell phones, car alarms, commuter woes and the traffic in Bangalore. The rhythm of modern life is punctuated by beeps, bleeps and a generalized attention deficit disorder.

But is the idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation really so ridiculous? Might there not be something in it? I am reminded of the following extraordinary passage from Rousseau’s final book and his third (count them — he still beats Obama 3-to-2) autobiography, “Reveries of a Solitary Walker”:

If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul. (emphases mine)

This is as close to a description of happiness as I can imagine. Rousseau is describing the experience of floating in a little rowing boat on the Lake of Bienne close to Neuchâtel in his native Switzerland. He particularly loved visiting the Île Saint Pierre, where he used to enjoy going for exploratory walks when the weather was fine and he could indulge in the great passion of his last years: botany. He would walk with a copy of Linneaus under his arm, happily identifying plants in areas of the deserted island that he had divided for this purpose into small squares.

Our lives are filled with endless distractions, but is the idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation really so ridiculous?

Read more……

I hope you’ll find your place here, at the well, a place where your soul can rest, in the space between the inhale and exhale.

Blessings on the path,


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Arithrianos aka Samuel Bonney June 1, 2009 at 1:03 PM

The happiness of Rousseau is not the same as an ignoring of reality, it is a deepening connection beyond the shallow discursive realm. This seems very similar to Dzgochen meditation, where the only “goal” is noticing and letting go. I define happiness in terms of lack of poverty mentality, in other words when all egos needs have been abandoned, not when they have been “met”, since egos needs are based on egos need to exist,and since that ain’t happening EVER, the proliferation of egos need will never end until you cut the root of belief in a separate EGO, separate from any”thing”. Contemplative happiness is the opposite of poverty, it is abundance mentality, the recognition that everything needed is already here. Anyway that’s my take.

Big Fan of Waldo June 2, 2009 at 12:53 PM

It’s also my experience that proximity to water makes contemplation and letting-go a lot easier. Which seems perfectly natural. I sure envy Rousseau for being able to achieve that ‘feeling of existence’ that the article refers to even in ‘frenetic environments’. Actually I wonder whether Rousseau would be prepared to hold on to that statement in today’s typical office surroundings.

Concerning the solitary aspect, I agree that being able to be happy alone is key to being able to be happy with others. And if ‘experiencing calm in the face of things and of oneself’ is being godlike, well then, being happy is being godlike – nothing hybristic about experiencing calm in the face of things and of oneself. It’s hard work to get there, but well worth the effort. Too bad that such states don’t last, as the article points out as well. This must somehow be related to the effortless effort that is so characteristic for such states.

Daniel Sanchez June 5, 2009 at 3:39 PM

I’m no philosopher. And don’t know much about the Ocean. But what I do know is that, as I sit in Awe of what God has created all that is Beautiful I am Happy just as he has created all this Magnificent things I’m reminded that also he created me . Beautiful, Amazing, Handsome. And that makes me Happy. I’m reminded of a scripture:

You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16: 11

Judith Rich June 5, 2009 at 9:21 PM

Indeed, Daniel!
Wonderful to see you here. You beautiful, amazing, handsome man! I miss your smiling face.
Thanks for taking the time to share here. We have your seat ready whenever you want to come back.
Much love,

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