Delight

Delight

“Delight,” writes Michael Tisserand in his biography of George Herriman, Krazy, “was herriman’s strongest point in a world where most artists had lost it.”
When I was in college there was a spring morning where I went for a run at a local park. I didn’t have a lot going on that day (maybe some classes or work after my run) and I didn’t have to rush home after my workout. The park was up on a hill with a great view of Reno and I was able to sit on the grass and stretch as I cooled down from the run. At the time I was bored, not doing enough to engage with my university or local community, and I had lost a sense of delight with the world around me. As I sat and stretched I thought to myself, “is this really it? Is sitting around stretching after going for a run really all that I am going to do in life? Am I going to be this bored forever?”
It seems to me that as we move through life it is easy to lose our sense of delight. It is easy to become accustomed to the amazing technology of our time, to take something as enjoyable as stretching in park after a run for granted, and to be discontent with lives that by all objective measures are full of enjoyment. Somehow we lose our delight in the marvels of the world, mistaking them as simple, boring, and pedestrian.
George Herriman, Tisserand writes, never lost his sense of delight. His artwork did not turn scornful, sour, or stale. He continued creating comics, continued to brighten the world for others, and never failed to appreciate the position he was in as a cartoon artist.
Keeping delight in our world helps us maintain a sense of presence and helps us approach the world in a grateful manner. If we can be delighted with something as simple as a cup of coffee, a day with good weather, or something funny that a pet does, then we can find something to be happy about and a reason to continue to engage with the world. If we lose our sense of delight, then we risk being overcome with cynicism and selfishness. For Herriman, a man of black and Creole descent passing as a white man in the comics and newspaper industry, perhaps his continually precarious position and the luck and opportunity afforded to him by his light skin color helped him maintain a sense of delight. Perhaps that is what helped him learn to appreciate everything, since he lived a life that so easily could have been denied to him by racism and bigotry.
In my own life I have learned to greatly appreciate the simple moments of stretching in a park after a run, of drinking coffee in the morning, or of walking with my wife and our pup in the evening. These are not exciting moments and are experiences I have almost every day, but by learning to appreciate and find delight in them, I have learned to be more comfortable being who I am and where I am. I have learned to overcome some of my fear of missing out by finding delight in every moment, even if there is nothing remarkable about the moment. I still remember how I felt that day during college, but I look back and appreciate that moment rather than feeling as if my life was not or is not enough.
What do you pay attention to?

What Do You Pay Attention To?

“Your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to,” writes Cal Newport in his book Deep Work. Newport builds on ideas by Winifred Gallagher in her book Rapt in which she discusses where her attention landed and how she tried to approach life and thinking after a difficult cancer diagnosis. What Gallagher found, and what Newport build’s on in the context of focused attention and work, is the importance of what we think about and pay attention to as we move through our lives. Newport includes the following quote from Gallagher in his book:

 

“Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non [an essential condition; a thing that is absolutely necessary] of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.” 

 

Newport explains that many of us make a mistake in thinking about what is important to us and what will bring us happiness. We assume that our context is everything, that we need a big house, a fancy title, a promotion, and a dream spouse to be happy. However, Gallagher’s book suggest that what we really need to feel happy is a shift in attention, away from the big things and desires, and toward the small positive things we enjoy in our life everyday, from a cup of coffee to a nightcap, and the small victories and enjoyable parts of each day. Appreciation and recognition of these small moments can mean more to us in the long run than the big fancy dream goals that we may one day reach.

 

We think it is the big context that matters, but as Newport writes, “Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow has a phrase for this, “What you see is all there is.” What you look at, what you think about, and what you encounter in your life is what your world will become. If you only look at your life and see the negative aspects of where you are, then your world will be awful. If, however, you can look at where you are and see good things around you, then your world will be better. This is what Gallagher learned while battling her cancer diagnosis, and this is what Newport incorporates into a life of focus. Dialing in on the important and positive aspects of life help us avoid feeling that we are not doing enough, are not good enough, and don’t have enough to live a happy and meaningful life.

The Difference Between Appreciation and Flattery

Flattery can be dangerous. It is nice to be flattered, but it can be distorting, can lead one to make rash decisions, and can make you overconfident and close-minded. We all want to be appreciated in our lives for what we do, but we should keep our guard up to recognize when someone is trying to flatter us with praise we don’t deserve.

 

In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie discusses the distinction between genuine praise and insincere flattery. He writes, “The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other is insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.” 

 

Carnegie’s book does not teach you how to manipulate people to like you and it does not provide a bunch of hacks to get people to think you are a great person. It is not a book about becoming famous and important to gain friends. It focuses on what other people need in their lives to feel accepted, to feel valuable, and to feel as though their needs and concerns are being addressed. How to Win Friends and Influence People is about building sincere relationships with the people in our lives.

 

Carnegie’s quote above demonstrates that idea. Flattery might get people to like you, but it is driven by selfish motives and props up people in ways that are harmful to the individual and everyone who depends on them. Flattery is ultimately more about ourselves than about other people. Carnegie encourages us to avoid flattering other people and to avoid being taken in by the flattery of others.

 

His advice is to cultivate real relationships and learn to be honest with the people around us. We should remember the names of our colleagues, learn a little about them, and find ways to engage with them and appreciate them and the quality work they do. We can praise the virtuous qualities of people in our lives without flattering them with undeserved praise. Developing real relationships and showing genuine appreciation of those in our lives will help them to become better people while flattery will create blind-spots and lead to hubris for others, setting them up for a disastrous fall.

Desires

A frustrating thing about humanity is that we get tired of what we have pretty quickly. A new house, a new job, a new car all become part of our normal and fade to the background just a short time after we have them. The newness of the thing and the excitement it makes us feel disappear, and instead of appreciating what we have, it just exists with us as we start to look at other things we want.

 

This is part of the human mind that kept our ancestors striving for more and pushing to live better lives. Part of this mindset drove our evolution and helped get our species to the place we are at today. But in each of our individual lives, we can take this too far. Seneca, in Letters From a Stoic, has some advice with this in mind.

 

“Fix a limit which you will not even desire to pass, should you have the power. At last, then, away with all these treacherous goods! They look better to those who hope for them than to those who have attained them.”

 

We have all seen unnecessary and extravagant uses of money that seem more like showing off than anything else. What Seneca’s advice says, is that we should find a point where the use of money, the consumption of goods, or the continued accumulation of power just seems over the top. At that point of ridiculous extravagance, we should place a marker for ourselves saying no more. Over time, we should work to fit more things on the opposite side of that marker, constantly thinking about the things in our lives that are meaningful, help us live better, help humanity advance, or that just show off. The more we can be content without needing wealth to flaunt, the more we can live a meaningful life that we can enjoy. The limit we set can be at any point, which means it can be extremely extravagant, or it can be very modest. Learning to remember what we have and appreciate the things we have achieved and attained will help us as we place our marker which we do not desire to surpass.

Appreciate Earth

Scott Russell Sanders writes about having a true sense of appreciation for Earth in his letter to James Harmon for Harmon’s book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two. The advice he gives is what he constantly tells his children, and how he tries to live his life. The passage from his letter that I love about the planet is, “Remember that the Earth, with its manifold life, is primary, and we are secondary.  The Earth precedes us and will out last us.” In this quote Sanders is talking about how devastating we can be towards the planet when we live self-centered lifestyles and forget about life outside of ourselves.  Sanders continues, “The Earth has made us possible, and moment by moment it sustains us.”
What I take from this quote is the importance of having a true appreciation for everything on the planet.  Earth has provided us with nature, beautiful mountains, life sustaining rivers, and majestic coasts, but Earth has also given us places to build cities, the materials needed to surround ourselves in sheltered homes, and more.  For Sanders the important idea when we reflect on the Earth is the ability to make considerations about what is good for the planet.  When we only think of ourselves and are unwilling to make sacrifices to that will in the long run benefit the planet, we begin to damage the world we live in.
I don’t think that Sanders is asking us to abandon our well lit homes or get rid of our cars, but he is simply reminding us that we do not control the Earth as much as we like to believe we do.  His quote is more of a call to awareness than a call to action.  What Sanders is hoping we understand is that taking care of the planet, or at least making more decisions with the longterm health of the planet in mind, will help it sustain us for much longer.  The more we begin to appreciate Earth and understand how it provides what we need for life, the more likely we are to begin taking part in actions to clean and protect our planet.