Monday, February 04, 2008

For starters, learn how to cook.

This is Poet Laureate Charles Simic's advice to people who want to learn to be happy, at the conclusion of his little interview with Deborah Solomon in this Sunday's New York Time Sunday Magazine:

Solomon: Have you noticed all these new nonfiction books on “happiness”? It’s an industry.

Simic: It’s really frightening. People need to read a book on how to be happy? It’s completely an American thing. Can you imagine people in Naples sitting on a bus or in a trattoria reading a book about happiness?

Solomon: What advice would you give to people who are looking to be happy?

Simic: For starters, learn how to cook.

Some simple things I think might improve the likelihood that you'll be happy: find something you like to do that there aren't too many barriers to doing--like taking a walk, going to the library, watching sports on television. Develop some kind of hobby or art, and give yourself over to it. Enjoy the people closest to you. Get enough sleep. And yeah, learn to cook.

I do think a certain modesty in what you want is conducive to happiness. I read somewhere in The Nation awhile ago an argument that aiming for happiness is unreasonable, given the state of the world. I certainly have felt that way. I have often thought that the steady state of the human condition is actually grief, and that happiness is lucky, infrequent, a blessing when you find it, but you shouldn't expect to feel happy all the time. On the other hand, how unreasonable is it to tell people that? Like, somehow advising people that coming to terms with misery, sorrow, and grief as your lot in life would be persuasive. I think I'll keep working on that cooking thing. And getting enough sleep.


  1. Yes, getting enough sleep. And cooking. What else is there? Oh yeah, art. I'm for cooking first though. It's important and achievable. There's an end in sight. With art? Who knows.

  2. I think there are seasons in life, I wouldn't say the overwhelming theme of my life is right now is grief, I like to think there is a lot of joy. Maybe you just need more grandchildren closer to you. That might raise the joy factor. Also raising the joy factor: if someone else would do my dishes after my joyful cooking.

  3. Hey, I like the new look of your site. Wait, maybe it isn't so new... I just woke up, after all.

    People are notoriously poopy at knowing what'll make them happy, but I've heard it's been proven that three things consistently make folks happier, which are:

    1. Long-term committed relationship (marriage or some approximation)
    2. Pets
    3. Meditation

    Children were a null set. A push. Zero sum.

  4. yes, I think cooking and sleeping are all you really need. and maybe cooking is the meditation of sleepy-e's list. pets? I'm not sure I buy that one, but I'm a petless grump.

  5. But isn't that one of the points of The Geography of Bliss? That Americans have a narrow and generally ineffective understanding of happiness? Of course, like so many books, I haven't actually *read* it...I just listen to interviews on NPR!



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