“It is quite impossible to unite happiness with a yearning for what we don’t have. Happiness has all that it wants, and resembling the well-fed, there shouldn’t be any hunger or thirst.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.24.17
My house is littered with objects that brought me joy. Brought. Now many of them simply sit around collecting dust, taking up space or reminding me of money wasted. Is that fair? Must a thing consistently bring joy for it to have value? Some are memory catalysts, awakening experiences and in turn bringing us joy. This is a crisis I encounter anytime I travel. There may be a shirt, magnet, cup, or some artifact I want because it serves as a reminder of the good time(s). Inevitably I don’t buy anything because I can’t justify the object as being more valuable than the memory. It’s why I take so many pictures. Those are free and they capture the where more than any t-shirt can.
Being present, that is where we find our happiness. Toad the Wet Sprocket wrote this beautiful song called “Throw it All Away”.
‘Cause there ain’t nothing you can buy
And there is nothing you can save
To fill the whole inside your heart
So throw it all away
Won’t fill the whole inside your heart
Epictetus is very clear that beauty, and happiness, are found in making the right choices. Materialism feeds materialism. It requires us to seek outward for our desired state. But when interest in that thing disappears we are left with the pursuit of another thing. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of positing happiness being tied future gains. If we’re making the right choices we are content with the now.
Over the past three days I attended two showings of a musical called Back in the Boondocks. It was put on by the CrossRoad UMC Arts Academy. The premise of the story is that of a family living in Louisiana. It details their struggles with relationships, alcoholism, friendship, death and faith. Musically the backdrop is solely Country with songs by the likes of Miranda Lambert (Kerosene), Joe Nichols (The Shape I’m In), The Band Perry (If I Die Young), Craig Morgan (Bonfire) and Little Big Town (Boondocks).
As someone who is not a big Country Music fan (yet I feel I am becoming a very selective one as each day passes), and a seasoned agnostic, the existential message disclosed by the production was something to which anyone could relate. For me it was summed up simply as this: we should not be looking for happiness, we should be looking for peace. This production was sharing how that could be found in Christianity and the crowds who I saw it with grasped that to thunderous applause. I saw the message as expanding beyond any one faith or belief system. Encountering, as well all surely have, individuals who do not hold the same life view as we and he who are at peace it serves not to remind us that we are necessarily wrong in our beliefs but that maybe we have gotten a bit off track.
There is one character who loses her farm after her brother signs it over to her seemingly ex-husband in good faith. Then there is that same brother who struggles with returning to Nashville in an effort to revive a successful singing career which he walked away from when his wife died in a tour bus accident. Amidst the messages of forgiveness and repentance I was more hit by the problem of attachment. Of holding on too tightly to something for fear of being without it. Such a crime assumes that beyond the now is not any better. How can we be so arrogant and naive?
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