Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Vanity is also a really funny-sounding word.)

14-All_Is_VanityI’ve been kind of sick for the last week. Not incredibly sick, but just sick enough that I was disinclined to do anything. It was terrible. My productivity went into the toilet. I became emotionally depressed. And all I wanted to do was lie in bed and sleep a lot.

But I did learn something from it. I’m just not exactly sure what that thing was.

I think it was maybe that it’s okay to do nothing for a week?

A year ago, I had this earth-shattering epiphany–a real road to Damascus type of moment–when I realized that the key to happiness is just to try to be happy each day. I don’t really know how to lead a happy life, but I do have a fairly good sense of how to have a happy day. And if I concentrate on that, then the happy life will follow.

This epiphany reorganized my thinking on how to spend my time. Now, I try to make sure that every single day, I do everything that I need to. Every day, I try to read books, do my writing, do my social networking, answer my emails, eat right, sleep well, etc.

Which is all great stuff that I am happy about.

But the downside to this epiphany is that it came with this incredible sense of time passing. I look on my spreadsheet and see a week go by in an instant, and I think, “That was a week of my life. Did I use it wisely? Was I productive? Was I happy?”

And there’s an anxiety in that thought which does not please me.

Because the truth is that no matter what you do during the day, at the end of it, it’s gone. Happy moments fade just as quickly as sorrowful ones. You can’t store up a happy day and spend it later on. And if you have a sad day, then you haven’t really lost or wasted anything. The day is just as gone, no matter what you do.

Being happy and being productive are good things. But they’re games, just like anything else.

My week of sickness taught me that it’s okay to have an unproductive week (month, year, life). I pay lip service to the idea that accomplishing things doesn’t really make us happy (because, to me, that seems obvious). But it’s obvious that I don’t really believe it, because I spend each day trying to accomplish things. And I rate myself on the basis of whether or not I’ve accomplished them. If I have, then I’m good; if I haven’t, then I’m bad. My life is full of unexamined assumptions like that; ways in which the ethos of the rat race have worked themselves into my soul.

And that’s fine too. But when I get mired in that kind of thought, it’s good to step back and remember that none of it really matters. Even happiness is ephemeral.

 

7 thoughts on “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Vanity is also a really funny-sounding word.)

  1. Widdershins

    Very true … hope you’re feeling better … strangely enough I’ve had a cold all this week and have gone through a similar process … must be the weather!

      1. Widdershins

        Heh! Right now, it can’t make up its mind if it’s going to rain, thunder, blow a fog bank in, or just be plain dreary. I’m going back to bed!

  2. jrfrontera

    Holy crap… your post here just echoed MY EXACT feelings on happiness and MY EXACT problem I sometimes have of feeling that I am bad if I do not accomplish certain things on my list for each day, whether those are house chore things, work things, or writerly things. The GUILT that eats at me if I don’t make my word quota or don’t edit that chapter and instead end up doing something else (or nothing else) is just aggravating. Usually I can toss this guilt aside and start fresh the next day, but I too just had an epiphany sort of goings on just a few days ago when I suddenly felt super depressed by the whole concept of the “work your fingers to the bone to even have a CHANCE at succeeding in writing”… and I thought… am I doing the right thing? Is this really how I want to spend every free moment? I also have a young son, and more than anything I do NOT want to miss his childhood… so. That was my step back, my realization that HEY, it’s okay to do nothing sometimes. It’s okay to NOT work on my writing sometimes. Which funny enough also relates to your post “In Defense of Not Working Much on Your Writing”!!! So, way to go! Thank so much for your posts, it’s good to know I’m not the only one going through these things! đŸ˜›

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      I’m glad you liked it! Yeah, working hard is worthwhile, but success really is not guaranteed. We all know that, but it’s hard to really believe it. I usually oscillate between thinking I am definitely going to succeed and thinking I never will. It’s hard to remain in a state of uncertainty, but I think it’s necessary–it’s only when we’re honest about our chances that we’re able to assign to each thing it’s proper priority (I.e. it makes sense to work hard…but not to sacrifice EVERYTHING).

  3. Morlock Publishing (@MorlockP)

    > Every day, I try to read books, do my writing, do my social networking, answer my emails, eat right, sleep well, etc.

    A few years back I read “The Happiness Project”, which – being off in the direction of the self-help genre – is something that is pretty antithetical to my normal appetites. I read this, though, based on a series of columns in Slate.

    Anyway, it’s a great book and I highly recommend it.

    One of the many things I got from it is the phrase “you are what you do every day”.

    I realized, around the age of 35, that I was “going to” write. I was “going to” do woodworking. There were so many things that I was going to do…but if I did them rarely, or not at all, then it was something even less than aspiration or vicarious living – it was pure bullshit. Nothing more than lying to myself.

    Since then I’ve done those things that I want to do…and done them daily.

    There aren’t enough hours in the day to do EVERYTHING, but I fill my days and I occassionally rotate hobbies – when I’m taking a break from the novels I get more time to play guitar or do woodworking.

    tl;dr: “you are what you do every day”.

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