I feel like now that there are a few more of you reading, I should
explain some things about myself. Not sure where to start.
First, I have a melancholic disposition. I get pretty bummed out,
pretty often. I also experience periods of transcendent inspiration,
and times of deep, quiet satisfaction. All in all the it balances out;
but moreover it is my balance, for better or for worse. My
melancholy has never yet rendered me unable to function, and so I
choose not to treat it like an ailment.
This is not, incidentally, a sneer at people who have their depression
treated. Some people aren’t so lucky to have manageable levels of
depression, or to have a life situation that gives them some leeway to
take occasional mental health days. Good on you for making a very
difficult decision for the good of yourselves and those who depend on
Second, I am a public person. What I feel, I write; and, with rare
exceptions, I write publicly. Some people write songs, some people
drink; I write. Transparency comes naturally for me, and privacy is
uncomfortable. I know that doesn’t work for a lot of people, and
that’s fine. It works for me.
There are limits to my transparency. I don’t tell other people’s
stories without their permission. I don’t air grievances unless I’ve
tried and failed to address them privately. I bare my soul to an
extent, but I make a great effort not to bare anyone else’s, or to
embarrass anyone. As for me, well, it’s right there in the Twitter
profile: 80% angel, 10% daemon, the rest hard to explain. I don’t have
much of a “business face”.
Sometimes I think about keeping these journals private. But every time
I write a particularly personal, gut-spilling,
bleeding-all-over-the-page entry, I get an email from someone who saw
it and identified with it, thanking me for putting the feelings into
words. So maybe it’s a good thing that one of us nerds can’t keep his
feelings to himself.
Third. I am profoundly blessed: I was born in a place and time where I
have the ability to choose my path to a greater extent than was
imaginable in most of human history.
I’ve made certain decisions about where my life is going. Most of them
were made with eyes wide open. All of them I take full responsibility
for. I am where I am because of my choices. Not many people are lucky
enough to be able to say that.
Some of those decisions have meant greater responsibility and stress
than someone in my position and at my age would ordinarily have. For
instance, I and my wife share the desire to have a large family. To
homeschool our children. To stay at home with our children rather than
leave them for jobs outside the house. And to pursue that classic
American dream, the farm in the country. There is an implicit
timeframe to all this too: this is something we want to enjoy with our
children, not just our grandchildren.
Friends—-very good, kind, concerned friends—-write me and tell me it
is time to make a change; that I am clearly making myself unhappy. And
indeed, there are many changes I could easily make. For instance, I
could put all my projects on hold and, take a pay cut, and take any of
a half-dozen full-time jobs that would be low-stress and sufficient to
pay the bills.
Here’s the problem: I am not a hedonist; pleasure itself does not
bring me true fulfillment. People get hung up on the idea of pursuing
happiness. Stacey and I are not pursuing happiness; we are after
Eudaimonia: satisfying the deepest need. Satisfaction and happiness
don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. In fact, a lot of people have made
themselves very unhappy doing what they knew they had to do. Including
a lot of the cultural heroes we venerate today. Our satisfaction stems
from a way of life that demands considerable investment, and
considerable leeway: far more than the average wage-slave enjoys. Few
are blessed with the opportunity to voluntarily reach for that dream;
I have been, and I’m taking it.
Nor is it just some far-of dream of perfection. Step by step, day by
day, we get closer. I emerge from my office and see my family headed
off to pick fresh berries at a farm in the middle of the day, and
despite the fact that my heart is pounding and head buzzing with a
million stressors, despite wishing for all the world that I could drop
what I’m doing and go with them, I know I’m on the right path. I’m
making the dream a reality. And in a few more years I will be able
to drop what I’m doing and accompany them.
And so I am ambitious from necessity. The ambition gives me great
mental distress, because it is a tool, not a natural part of my
personality. In another life I would have been just another nameless
engineer, feeding at a corporate trough and happily tinkering in my
spare time. It is a constant strain. And sometimes I falter, and I tap
my tension and emotional exhaustion out onto the screen and hit
But when you read these words, understand the unstated backdrop: the
pain of pushing myself to be better and greater every day is nothing
compared to the soul-rending desolation that would drop down on me
should I ever give up on my dreams. These days I am constructively
depressed; I have been destructively depressed in my youth, and I
don’t ever want to go back there.
EDIT: My mom explains the way I sometimes feel more accurately than I could describe it myself: http://cryptoromicon.posterous.com/lifting-weights
I guess… to me.. Eudaimonia and happiness are synonymous… because I don’t necessarily associate happiness with joy or pleasantness or ease… I associate it with exactly what you are talking about.. the fulfillment of one’s life goals… I’m not nearly as melancholic as you though.. but also probably not as ambitious… In any case–good luck in all.. 🙂
I’ve never heard the term Eudaimonia, but I can say that it’s not stressed enough. Fulfillment and satisfaction are indeed not always pleasurable but are what most people seem to mean by “true happiness”
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