…be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.
"Gooseberries" contemplates the idea that perhaps it is the self-limiting philosophies of the sort that Tolstoy implicitly prescribed for Pahom that are the real cardinal sin. That perhaps the only arena fit for the human mind is the entire world. And perhaps, Bond villains that we are, even the world is not enough.
Venkatesh Rao, from “The Gooseberry Fallacy”
As an avowed skeptic of self-help books, I recently read Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. In it, he discusses how conventional (and shoddy) self-help tips purport to teach us how to reach our own defined goals, while psychologists contend that an enormous prerequisite for happiness comes from cultivating comfort with uncertainty (John Keats called this “negative capability,” Plato’s somewhat-similar term is “metaxis”) instead of fighting for closure and definitive answers. I thought of this while reading Rao’s post—he uses short stories from Lev Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov to make a case similar to Burkeman, arguing that we should “embrace ambiguity and uncertainty in a fundamental way, and choose life over death, even when you don’t know what that life might hold for you.”
I love that I’m not the only one rereading “Gooseberries” these days.
…apparently a happy man only feels so because the unhappy bear their burden in silence, but for which happiness would be impossible. It is a general hypnosis. Every happy man should have some one with a little hammer at his door to knock and remind him that there are unhappy people, and that, however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show its claws, and some misfortune will befall him – illness, poverty, loss, and then no one will see or hear him, just as he now neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer, and the happy go on living, just a little fluttered with the petty cares of every day, like an aspen-tree in the wind – and everything is all right.
Anton Chekhov with a reminder of unhappiness to temper (and sweeten) the blessings we celebrate today. From the same story
, “do not cease to do good!”