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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Not Craving Stuff.

I've finally started to recuperate from my crazy few weeks, and hope to be blogging more regularly soon. In the mean time - more words of wisdom from my hero. My favorite part is the last line - I feel that exact phrase coming to my mind in a mall.

Extracts from Samuel Johnson's
The Adventurer, No. 119. TUESDAY, DECEMBER 25, 1753

When Socrates was asked, "which of mortal men was to be accounted nearest to the gods in happiness?" he answered, "that man who is in want of the fewest things."

In this answer, Socrates left it to be guessed by his auditors, whether, by the exemption from want which was to constitute happiness, he meant amplitude of possessions or contraction of desire.

These two states, however, though they resemble each other in their consequence, differ widely with respect to the facility with which they may be attained.

To make great acquisitions can happen to very few; and in the uncertainty of human affairs, to many it will be incident to labour without reward, and to lose what they already possess by endeavours to make it more: some will always want abilities, and others opportunities to accumulate wealth.

It is therefore happy, that nature has allowed us a more certain and easy road to plenty; every man may grow rich by contracting his wishes, and by quiet acquiescence in what has been given him, supply the absence of more.

Yet so far is almost every man from emulating the happiness of the gods, by any other means than grasping at their power, that it seems to be the great business of life to create wants as fast as they are satisfied.

... there is no man who does not, by the superaddition of unnatural cares, render himself still more dependent; who does not create an artificial poverty, and suffer himself to feel pain for the want of that, of which, when it is gained, he can have no enjoyment.

It must, indeed, be allowed, that as we lose part of our time because it steals away silent and invisible, and many an hour is passed before we recollect that it is passing; so unnatural desires insinuate themselves unobserved into the mind, and we do not perceive that they are gaining upon us, till the pain which they give us awakens us to notice.

Much of our time likewise is sacrificed to custom; we trifle, because we see others trifle; in the same manner we catch from example the contagion of desire; we see all about us busied in pursuit of imaginary good, and begin to bustle in the same chase, lest greater activity should triumph over us.

One man is beggaring his posterity to build a house, which when finished he never will inhabit; another is levelling mountains to open a prospect, which, when he has once enjoyed it, he can enjoy it no more; another is painting ceilings, carving wainscot, and filling his apartments with costly furniture, only that some neighbouring house may not be richer or finer than his own.

But there are yet minuter objects and more trifling anxieties. Men may be found, who are kept from sleep by the want of a shell particularly variegated! who are wasting their lives, in stratagems to obtain a book in a language which they do not understand; who pine with envy at the flowers of another man's parterre; who hover like vultures round the owner of a fossil, in hopes to plunder his cabinet at his death; and who would not much regret to see a street in flames, if a box of medals might be scattered in the tumult.

He that looks upon the business and bustle of the world, with the philosophy with which Socrates surveyed the fair at Athens, will turn away at last with his exclamation, "How many things are here which I do not want!"

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At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great post. I often feel that I am caught between trying to minimize my posessions and collecting stuff that I think I need at the time or that is given to me. I used to think that this was a symptom of our modern, disposable society, but it sounds like our need to posess is deeply ingrained in our natures. I moved four years ago and it was an eye-opening experience in terms of the amount of junk I had. And I hate to shop!

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Alma said...

Agreed. It feels so good to clear things out of stuffed closets, to fill up a bag full of stuff and send it off to AmVets or whatever... but then there's that feeling 2 years later when you look for something, and then suddenly realize you sent it off to AmVets and will have to, absolutely HAVE TO, go out and buy it again. Ugh!

At 7:01 PM, Blogger Maricruz said...

Wow!!! It reminds me of the tale of the guy that had a little house with his wife and every day he went to fish. Every day he got two fishes one for him and one for his wife. One day a very rich man came and told him that he was crazy that he should fish more. “What for?” the fisherman asked, “to sell it in the market” was the answer. “What for?” the fisherman asked again, “well, to have money”, “What for” the fisherman asked once more. The man replied to be able to do wherever you want, the fisherman then said, “but what I want the most is to be able to fish every day” :) I don't know but this was my philosophy when I was younger, now days I find myself more and more troubled with the need to posses more things, maybe I should ask myself What for?


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