There are two ways to read this quote.
Lincoln might be telling us to “accentuate the positive.” That managing our emotions and deciding to be happy will make us feel happy. In which case, this quote is kind of ironic, given that poor Abe struggled with depression. Seems like there’s a little self-loathing mixed into the words.
I’m not one to quote chapter and verse often (ever), but this tidbit is too wise to ignore.
I am taking it entirely out of context here so if you want to tell me where it fits into Scripture, please feel free.
But aside from all that—yes, yes, yes.
And I’m not talking about that tangled web we weave when we lie to other people. That’s a whole other mess. I’m talking about the lies we tell ourselves—the most powerful, potent, and difficult to address lies.
Lies like, “I’m happy.”
Or, “I have a great job that I love.”
Or, “If I had a different relationship, I would be happy.”
Or, “If I do things this way, I can keep everyone happy.”
Or, “I’m OK as long as you’re OK.”
Lies, lies, lies.
This is the title of a self-help classic I read in 1987, when it first came out. I don’t remember much about the book, but the title stuck with me because it’s such a useful concept.
Now I’m reading a helpful book called The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher G. Germer that, at least what I’ve read so far, puts a yoga-esque, Buddhist-ish, new millennium-like spin on a similar concept.
The gist of both books is to feel what you feel. You can’t run or hide from emotions and so you might as well just have them. Accept them. Let them course through your body. And don’t hate them. Emotions aren’t bad or good. They just are. They might be comfortable and uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable never killed anyone.
This is a lyric from a ditty by Jenny Lewis, and it has has taken my brain hostage. This little quote, the song’s hook, is on a tape loop in my head.
Lewis is singing about a stuck, mutually exploitive relationship, but I keep finding different shades of nuance in this quote.
You are what you love, and not what loves you back.
In a way, it’s a torch song. I’ll love him forever even if he never loves back, because he is part of my soul. It gives a little nobility to unrequited love.
You are what you love, and not what loves you back.
What attracts you? Who do you fall for when you fall in love? That person is mirror of your needs and self image, whether or not the love is reciprocated.
Nice to hear the secret of life boiled down to crap, eh?
I don’t know the quote’s context except that it came from a book called The Importance of Living. And according to one review of the book, “Lin Yutang’s ideal is the ‘scamp’ – an amiable loafer who wanders through life, learning, loving, living. ”
And sure, I can see this as a credo for that sort of carefree fellow. Actually, I think Dean Martin has said something similar. And he was nothing if not a scamp.
It’s refreshing attitude. So simple. So free from angst and navel gazing and rumination. Happiness is a warm..never mind.
Jeanne Calment died in 1997 at the age of 122 years, 164 days. I haven’t found the original source for this oft-quoted quote, though one website claims she said it about living to be 120.
Whether or not living Calment’s way can help us live to an overripe old age, this quote makes me happy.
“I took pleasure when I could.” That’s easy enough. You look for it, embrace it, and enjoy it when it is available to you. Life is difficult, so don’t ever run from pleasure if you don’t have to. Things are bound to suck again, soon enough.
But the rest of the quote intrigues me more. Clearly, morally, and without regret. These seem such fine words for a life well-lived, so simple and unfussy. They are like cold, crisp, clean water.
But what do they mean, really?
Lamott first said this in her fabulous book about the writer’s life, Bird by Bird. She then elaborated in a tweet, which read, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
Haha. And cool. As a writer, I love this, even though it’s easier said than done. I saw writer Melissa Bank speak a number of years ago, and one thing she said that stuck with me is that if you’re going to write about people you know, you have to be prepared to lose them from your life.
Even if you write fiction, people are likely to parse everything you write for whiffs of autobiography, which is annoying. “I write fiction, not crypto-autobiography,” John Cheever once said.
But I am oddly grateful for the permission Lamott grants writers in her tweet. If it happened to you it is yours to tell and the courageous writer will do so when a story needs to be told, for whatever reason.
But there’s something appealing about the shorter quote, too, in a different way.
It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. — Denis Waitley
This one twangs me in all the right ways.
One of the hurdles to becoming a writer is identifying yourself as a writer.
“I’m a writer.”
It sounds so pretentious.
But until you can identify yourself as a writer, you’re just a hobbyist. A dabbler. A person with a day job who writes for fun. (Or frustration. Or both. That’s the writing life.)
But the moment you own your ambition and say, “I’m a writer,” you become a writer with a day job. And the moment you take yourself seriously enough to call yourself a writer, you are going to take the writing more seriously in order to live up to the title. And when you start taking the work seriously, rewards are more likely to follow.
This is a curious quote, and certainly counter to common wisdom, which tells us that connections and community are the road to bliss while solitude and silence lead to serial killing.
Of course, I’m being facetious. As an introvert, I’m all for staying quietly in one’s room, and I find solitude not only pleasant, but necessary. Staying quietly in my room is easy. But has that inoculated me from unhappiness? Of course not.
Granted, Pascal is not saying that solitude prevents unhappiness, only that the inability to be alone is the cause of unhappiness. And not just a cause, the sole cause.
That’s big talk. I don’t buy it.