Why Is Shakespeare Great?

“Shakespeare is like life. There are almost as many ways of taking him as there are ways of living… The lawyer believes he must have been a lawyer, the musician a musician, the Catholic a Catholic, the Protestant a Protestant. Never was there a more protean genius. Whether his dramas should be taken as plays or as literature has been disputed. But surely they should be taken as both. Acted, or seen on the stage, they disclose things hidden to the reader. Read, they reveal what no actor or theater can convey.” ~Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare

* * *

Imagine that you have entered the small lecture hall of a crotchety, old, dinosaur professor at a major university. It’s near the end of class, so you find a seat in the back and look around.

The African-American professor stands behind a podium using lecture notes and does not look up when you enter. Fewer than half the seats are occupied. He wears a worn gray tweed jacket, faded blue shirt, and a thin, darker blue tie. His mottled speckled-gray hair is splayed out, part afro, part Einstein.

The students look like first-year university students¾bored, fidgety, a couple actually napping. In the middle of your aisle, you notice a young woman with short black hair, wearing a black dress and black lipstick. She has her hand raised, arm waving slightly, supporting it with her other hand, which suggests she’s been waiting quite a while.

“…presents the reader with many challenges, not the least of which is Elizabethan diction and Shakespeare’s poetic compression. But every reader willing to take the time will discover a bounty of humanistic treasures.” The professor stops and looks at her over his silver reading glasses.

“Yes?”

One word conveys his lack of good cheer. Questions are not encouraged.

“I’m sorry, professor, but I just don’t get it.” She exudes the sweet naivete of intellectual youth. “Shakespeare represents the view of the classic white-male Eurocentric patriarchy, in a dated vocabulary that’s hard to understand. What’s his relevance today? I mean, what could Shakespeare possibly have to say to me, a Chinese-Hispanic lesbian?”

As she speaks, the professor’s eyes glaze and his head lowers slowly until he is staring down at his podium. He gives every appearance of being an old man in constant mental and physical pain. A curmudgeon.

Several students murmur at least partial agreement. The professor stands silent for almost a minute before turning to the blackboard. He picks up the chalk with a trembling hand and writes two words on the board—chair and stool. He turns and stares at her.

He speaks softly.

“Would you say, Miss…..”

“Ms. Powers.”

“Would you say, Ms. Powers, that the words chair and stool distinguish two similar things?”

“Uh, I think… yes, of course.”

“And do you think, Ms. Powers, that these represent a distinction worth preserving? For example, if I were to ask you to bring me a chair and you brought me a stool, would we have reason to believe there existed between us some failure of communication?”

“Yes.” Her tone embodies confidence.

“What would be the nature of the failure?”

“Uhh… a chair normally has a back for support while a stool does not.”

“Good. So you concede, Ms. Powers, that vocabulary helps us more clearly distinguish the specific differences among like things?”

“Yes.”

“Is it a good thing to distinguish more clearly the specific differences between like things?”

“I suppose.”

“And that it would be better to possess a mind with a larger vocabulary than a mind with a smaller one?” Although he still speaks softly, the air begins to thicken.

“But just because someone has a better vocabulary doesn’t mean that they are a better person.” She speaks with less confidence now.

“Ms. Powers.” His voice is a bit louder. “If we are going to understand each other, it is best that you respond to what I actually say rather than what you think I am saying. I did not say anything about a better vocabulary or about being a better person.”

She stays silent.

“I asked if you thought it better to possess a mind with a larger vocabulary rather than a mind with a smaller vocabulary. Especially since you have already conceded that it is a good thing to more clearly distinguish the specific differences between like things. Or do you see another way of distinguishing specific differences in ways other than a versatile and specific vocabulary?”

“No.”

“Ms. Powers, suppose you and I walked into a garden, and while I was a novice in gardening, you were an expert gardener who had a command of the technical language and knowledge of botany and horticulture. Would our experience of a particular garden be any different?”

“Uh….” She senses a trap being set for her. She tries to avoid it. “Yes, a little. We would both see the same thing, but I would probably be more knowledgeable about it if you asked me questions.”

“No, Ms. Powers.” His face is reddening, his voice gets louder. “I’m afraid you are entirely mistaken. We would not be seeing the same garden at all. I would merely see pretty flowers, maybe some trees and grass. I may be able to tell the difference between a rose and a tulip, but that is all. I would see the mere surface of the garden. Its mere appearance. But you, Ms. Powers…”

She shifts with discomfort.

“You would see an entirely different garden. You would be able to penetrate its depths. You would be able to recognize not only the different flowers—the carnations and snap dragons and pansies and hyacinths and lilies—you would also recognize the relative health of each of those flowers. You would recognize any pests or diseased plants. You would be able to spot where each plant and flower was in its life cycle.”

More students perk up. They suspect something big is coming.

“By their arrangement and care, you would know their past. In some cases, whether or not they were recently planted. You would know how much the person who tends the garden knows about his or her occupation. You would also know the difference between annuals and perennials. And this knowledge would allow you to see not only the present garden, but the future of that garden. You could predict its course and suggest actions to alter that course.”

She stares back at him.

“No, Ms. Powers, you and I would not see the same garden at all. Because a true and rich vocabulary opens one to higher levels of perceptual and conceptual awareness. A specific vocabulary rewards you, not only with a greater awareness, but also the possibility of a deep causal awareness. The ability to distinguish true causes and their array of effects. And, were you so inclined, you would naturally begin seeing the world in terms of the garden. You would begin constructing analogies and similes, perhaps even metaphors, connecting life to that garden through an array of subtle similarities.”

He pauses and surveys the room. He is speaking to everyone, although he continues to use her name.

“Do you know the number of distinct words in the average person’s vocabulary, Ms. Powers? About three thousand words, assuming that all forms of a word—like run, ran, running—counted as one. Three thousand words, enough to get an average person through the day, and through their lifetime.

“Do you know how many distinct words are in the King James Version of the Bible? Around four thousand three hundred, not counting names. That means that all of the history and philosophy and meaning, all of the variety of ideas expressed in the Bible, can be transmitted in a vocabulary of forty-three hundred words. Enough to challenge the average reader.”

You suspect that there is a university committee somewhere that can’t wait for this professor to retire.

“Soon we will get to John Milton’s Paradise Lost. John Milton commanded an incredible vocabulary. He mastered several languages, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and French. He wrote not only epic poetry but many rigorous political tracts. Some of his sentences are so powerful and complex in their vocabulary, grammar, and meaning that they contain several dozen clauses. John Milton was a genius who mastered and crafted meaning out of a vocabulary of almost eight thousand words, more than almost all living writers.”

He pauses, and looks out through slitted eyes.

“But Shakespeare.” He chuckles. “Shakespeare exists in his own genus. When a rhetorician reads Shakespeare, she points out that Shakespeare was a master rhetorician, who knew not only all the technical terms, ancient and modern, but was a master practitioner who applied that knowledge throughout his poems and plays, in ways that have stood as examples for generations to follow.

“When a gardener reads Shakespeare, she says that Shakespeare must have been a gardener, because he not only displays the technical terminology of botany and gardening and herbology, he demonstrates the kind of knowledge that comes from working in or studying closely a sophisticated English garden.

“When a lawyer reads Shakespeare, she tells us that Shakespeare must have had a legal education because he not only displays an astonishing range and accuracy with his use of legal terms, be he also commands an understanding of the history and philosophy of law. And you can point to other professions: actor, soldier, physician, courtier, historian, politician.”

He pauses, taking a breath, and when he begins again, his tempo and volume increases.

“But that’s not all. In his plays, he explores the range and depth of human emotions and experience. He explores love, but not just the young romantic love of Romeo and Juliet. He explores love between siblings, and parent and child, and comrades in arms¾young love, middle-aged love, old love. Love between the low and the low, the low and the high, the high and the high, false love, true love, jaded love, betrayed love, self-love, love of good and love of indulgence. Like turning a diamond in the light, he explores every facet of love and hate and envy and greed and lust and jealousy and innocence and sweetness and revenge, and a hundred subtle emotional and intellectual states of which you have yet to take conscious stock.”

“His capacious mind wandered everywhere, and in almost every way he has arrived there before you have, articulating it with a mastery that leaves later writers sick with wondering what territory of the human heart, human intellect, and human action is left to explore. He seems to have experienced the full range and depth of common human experience and encapsulated that experience more beautifully than any other.

“Shakespeare, Ms. Powers, displays a vocabulary of well over twenty-two thousand words, almost three times Milton’s vocabulary, and you wonder why you find reading him challenging, and you dare to wonder if Shakespeare has anything to teach you?”

She sits frozen. You suspect she is considering filing a grievance. In the spacious silence, the professor speaks softly again, with a sardonic smile.

“May I suggest to you, Ms. Powers, that you have a choice. You can continue to dwell on the surface of life, holding up external appearances as if they were everything, parroting the rhymes and rhythms of a social media consciousness, flaccid and without true self-animation, smug in the knowledge that you have comfortably given yourself over to a group numbness, submitting to mere external authority—or maybe, just maybe, with personal effort, a healthy skepticism, and a sense of individual exploration, you may become your own authority, by expanding your mind in a constant effort to comprehend Shakespeare’s. That you may go on to explore Shakespeare’s artistic depths, his innovative characters, his invention of the human, as one lover of his work has said¾his carving out new states of poetic, dramatic and human consciousness, in which we all can play, learn, and grow.

“May I suggest that until you are well along into that journey, your mind and emotions may remain susceptible to every sophistic thought that knocks on your door, seeking to enslave you with its mere appearance of originality. It’s time, Ms. Powers, that you begin feeding on Shakespeare rather than on that damned fast food.”

He pauses.

“That’s all for today.”

_____

Secrets of Better Decision Making

In 2004, Annie Duke won the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

She did not start out as a poker player. In fact, she had been working towards a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology when, in 1991, a month before defending her dissertation, she got sick and moved back to her home in Montana.

Her brother was a poker player, and she soon found herself in a new kind of lab, studying how poker players learn and make decisions. She writes in her book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts:

“Over time, those world-class poker players taught me to understand what a bet really is: a decision about an uncertain future. The implications of treating decisions as bets made it possible for me to find learning opportunities in uncertain environments. Treating decisions as bets, I discovered, helped me avoid common decision traps, learn from results in a more rational way, and keep emotions out of the process as much as possible.”

She illustrates what she means by “decision traps” by comparing success in life to success in chess and success in poker.

Success in chess is about making quality decisions.

Success in poker is about making quality decisions
 AND luck.

For Annie, Life is Poker, not Chess. And understanding that difference makes all the difference.

One decision trap is assuming that a bad outcome can always be traced back to a bad decision.

She gives an example of a controversial decision made at the end of Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 (the annual championship of the American National Football League).

The Seattle Seahawks trailed by four points and had 26 seconds to score a touchdown. Everyone expected the coach, Pete Carroll, to call for a running play.

Instead, the coach called for the quarterback to pass. The pass was intercepted and the New England Patriot’s won.

Next day, the media headlines called it “The Worst Play-Call in Super Bowl History” and “A Coach’s Terrible Super Bowl Mistake.”

There were a few dissenting voices, many of them pointing out the history of such interceptions in that situation was about 2%. But those voices were drowned out.

What did the coach get wrong? Simple. The play didn’t work.

Think about the headlines if that play did work.

“The Best Play-Call in Super Bowl History” and “A Coach’s Terrible Super Bowl Mistake” and “A Coach’s Incredible Super Bowl Win.”

As Annie Duke points out, “Pete Carroll was a victim of our tendency to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome.” (My italics.)

She explains that as she was learning how to play professional poker, other pro players would warn her to avoid the temptations of “resulting.” Resulting means changing your strategy just because a few hands didn’t turn out well in the short run.

And she points out that Pete Carroll understood this critical distinction when he said a few days later, “It was the worst result of a call ever… The call would have been a great one if we catch [sic] it. It would have been just fine, and nobody would have thought twice about it.”

The media critics treated football like checkers. All the pieces are on the board and it is about making quality decisions.

In checkers you have all the facts.

But not in football. Like poker, winning is about quality decisions, but it is also about luck. Sometimes it does not matter how good the decision is—sometimes luck works against good decisions.

In poker, as in football, and as in life,
you do not have all the facts.

In life, what makes a quality decision great has nothing to do with a great outcome. Sometimes great decisions still land us in not-so-great outcomes.

When creating your life, even when you are end-result oriented, beware of “resulting.” Good strategies can have short-term failures while keeping you on the path to long-term success.

Stick with a winning strategy
and stand resilient against the failures.

 

1. Creating Your Life thumb

Secrets of Failure

Successful high performance thinkers and creators understand the value of failure.

The innovation team at the Silicon Valley company that employed me had a strong motto:

Fail faster!

The great inventor, Thomas Edison, understood this idea. He ended his life with 2,332 patents worldwide. You may have forgotten some of his inventions:

— The incandescent light bulb

— The phonograph record

— The motion picture camera

— The carbon microphone, used in telephones until 1980

— A system for electric power distribution

— The fluoroscope

When asked about his failures in inventing a working light bulb, Edison reportedly answered, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that did not work.”

In other words, his failures were a form of success.

So how did Edison do it? How did he become one of the most prolific inventors in history? In a word, attitude.

Here are some of Thomas Edison’s critical quotes:

Genius is one percent inspiration,
ninety-nine percent perspiration.

If we did all the things we are capable of doing,
we would literally astound ourselves.

Opportunity is missed by most people because
it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize
how close they were to success when they gave up.

I find out what the world needs.
Then, I go ahead and invent it.

Hell, there are no rules here—
we’re trying to accomplish something.

Edison had a rare quality—resilience.

Objects like rubber balls have resilience, the ability to spring back into its original shape.

Humans who are resilient have a strong capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, or in Edison’s case, from failures.

How did he do it? He simply did not recognize failure. And this is how the innovators at my Silicon Valley company thought. Fail faster means recognizing that when you are innovating, creating something new that’s never been done before, it is a natural fact that you have to move through a number of “failures” to get to success.

Failures are the norm for successful people.

They do not see failures as stumbling blocks.
They see failures as stepping stones.

 

1. Creating Your Life thumb

Mozart and Great Music

From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music thumb

Introduction

The meaning of music lies not in the fact
that it is too vague for words,
but that it is too precise for words.
Felix Mendelssohn

YouTube – Playlist 0: Mozart and Great Music

If you learn one thing only from this little book, then let it be this:

You can directly experience
heavenly states of consciousness
listening to Mozart.

Contrary to popular belief, truly Great Art (such as that created by a Shakespeare, a Mozart, a Michelangelo, a Sesshu, an al-Mutanabbi) is more objectively great than most people realize, not just a matter of subjective opinion.

True, some people have preferences that may exclude Great Art. They may even have profound, sublime experiences with the works of artists that appear simplistic and trite to others.

Some insist that Pachelbel’s Canon in D, a favorite at weddings, is heavenly:

Pachelbel Canon in D
https://youtu.be/jdRNTXaweoo

Pachelbel’s Canon can be moving and beautiful.

But it is not objectively Great Art. Not in a world that includes Mozart. Is this merely my subjective view? We will see in Chapter 1. But first, one question must be answered:

What makes Great Art great? The answer, paradoxically, points to how Great Art induces in someone rare and powerful subjective experiences.

Great Art transports one into realms
that makes one wonder, “How is it possible
that a mere human being created that?”

Great Art can imbue a spiritual revelation
each time one experiences it.

Great Art carves out states of consciousness
that transcend the human.

Great Art embodies an eternal mystery.

Great Art catalyzes, transforms, and transfigures.

And more often than not, Great Art requires you to meet its demands before it unlocks its transfiguring mystery.

People who have never tried to meet the demands of Great Art (through education or training), or who have tried but stopped before the door opened, may call all art a matter of opinion. They may believe it all to be mere preference, without one preference being greater than any other.

Not true.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D may provide extraordinary pleasure for some, but it cannot possibly be defined as Great Art. The same can be said for most popular music today.

These works do not transport one into realms
that makes one wonder, “How is it possible
that a mere human being created that?”

Don’t get me wrong. I spend more time listening to popular music than music that is Great Art. I love jazz, pop, ambient, rock, metal, alternative, and many genres beyond and in between.

I love The Beatles, John Coltrane, The Cars, Evanescence, Brian Eno, Ella Fitzgerald, Enya, Led Zeppelin, U2, Al Di Meola, Fever Ray, Robbie Williams, Devin Townsend, Steve Morse, Yes, Cirque du Soleil, Jon Mark, Peter Murphy, Rodney Jones, Larry Siegel, Dean Martin, Todd Rundgren, Adele, Blue Oyster Cult, Keith Jarrett, and many more artists.

But rarely do their creations rise to Great Art. (Occasionally, in my view, some jazz greats achieve it, like John Coltrane, Charlie Bird, and Dizzy Gillespie.)

Examples of Great Art include the likes of the already famous Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music), 1st Movement allegro. (The “K” stands for the Köchel number, created by Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who catalogued Mozart’s works.)

525: Serenade in G major, Eine kleine nachtmusik, 1st movement (with score)
http://youtu.be/YqN-5EujyaM

Or the achingly beautiful 2nd movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. This video with an animated graph helps you “visually hear” the individual instruments.

467: Piano Concerto No. 21, 2nd Movement, (Serkin)
https://youtu.be/cHpfjehLSzA

Or the groundbreaking Symphony No. 40 in G minor. (The term “G minor” refers to the musical key in which the symphony is composed.)

550: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, 1st movement (with scrolling score)
https://youtu.be/xvtoqE33iZg

These pieces of music have been played so much that, as beautiful and profound as they are, they have almost become cliché. So we will focus on other music, less popularized, to achieve some freshness in recognizing Mozart’s heavenly beauty.

Among the many composers who consistently create Great Art, Mozart stands alone. The unique Danish comedian, conductor and pianist Victor Borge, sums it up best:

“I always thought that if you went to heaven,
you would meet all the great people;
anybody who came up there
would all gather in huge rooms.
But Mozart has a room all by himself.”

The great conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim gives us in these two short videos a description of how to begin telling the difference.

“How to Listen to Music” by Daniel Barenboim
https://youtu.be/LCKZDSIHV80

Barenboim Talks about Music
https://youtu.be/bCwthMqPGYo

How This Little Book Can Help

The aim of this book is simple—to give you a direct personal experience with a heavenly state of consciousness while listening to Mozart’s music.

Or if you already have access to Mozart’s heavenly mansion, to provide you a glimpse into more rooms within that mansion, with greater appreciation.

Fortunately, YouTube provides all the musical examples we need to unlock the doors to the mansion. Throughout this book, I will link to YouTube videos that offer inspired performances. And inspired performances make a difference.

Mark Twain once said:

“The difference between the right word
and the almost right word
is the difference between the lightning
and the lightning bug.

And so it is with great music:

The difference between the right performance
and the almost right performance
is the difference between heaven
and a dictionary definition of heaven.

Also, at the beginning of each chapter I provide a link to the YouTube playlist that includes all the pieces of music mentioned in that chapter in order. (Note: If a video becomes unavailable, an alternative can usually be found by searching YouTube using the Köchel number.)

Links to the playlists, and much more, are also available at:

https://markandrealexander.com/one-click-to-mozart/

Listening to inspired performances is crucial.

Not all recordings are inspired.
Not all do Mozart justice.

But lucky for us, intrepid lovers of Mozart have made available many of the performances I had hoped to find.

But be aware of the limitations.

Mozart’s music, like all great music,
is best experienced by an inspired live performance
in a great concert hall or chamber venue.

Next best, on a great sound system in stereo. Or on headphones.

Therefore, YouTube can only offer a small experience of that heaven. Be prepared to track down and purchase inspired recordings, recommended by me or by some of the guides listed in “Recommended Readings and Recordings” near the end of the book.

Here’s a glimpse into what follows:

Chapter 1: Why Is Mozart Great? surveys what people from several professions think of Mozart, indicating a broad appeal.

Chapter 2: Hearing Mozart, Part 1: Serenade No. 10 for Winds, “Gran Partita” focuses on one piece of chamber music to illustrate how Mozart provides a harmonic approach to music rather than a purely melodic one.

Chapter 3: Mozart—The Child, the Myth, and the Man details his childhood accomplishments while also subverting the man-child myth.

Chapter 4: Hearing Mozart, Part 2: The Magic Flute, Overture extends the idea of listening to Mozart differently in a harmonic, multi-level way, even when he is composing something especially melodic.

Chapter 5: Mozart’s Piano Concertos covers some of Mozart’s greatest contributions to music, pitting a solo pianist against an orchestra, foreshadowing a composer like Beethoven who extends the distinction even further.

Chapter 6: Hearing Mozart, Part 3: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat introduces the idea of musical rhetoric, and classical music as oration and conversation.

Chapter 7: Mozart’s Chamber Music: “A Blessing of Inconceivable Richness” strives to illuminate Mozart’s incredible range of music for small ensembles: sonatas for two players, trios, quartets, and quintets.

Chapter 8: Hearing Mozart, Part 4: Singular, Idiosyncratic, and Special-Occasion Gems surveys a range of unusual compositions that illustrate Mozart’s wide range of musical interests.

Chapter 9: Mozart’s Symphonies points to a few symphonies, with greatest emphasis on his final one, the “Jupiter.”

Chapter 10: Hearing Mozart, Part 5: Symphony No. 40 in G minor dives deep into a symphony regarded as Mozart’s finest.

Chapter 11: Mozart and Opera: Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) touches on his seven great operas, with the great The Marriage of Figaro as the main attraction, thought by many to be one of the finest comic operas of all time.

Chapter 12: Mozart’s Heavenly Mansion provides a special listening session of heavenly musical architecture.

Next you will find “The Mozart and Great Music Checklist” and “Recommended Readings and Recordings.” There is also an appendix that offers a compilation of links to online resources for audio and video recordings.

Several chapters include an “Extended Discussion” section for readers interested in going more deeply into a particular piece of music or some other musical fundamentals.

The recommendations in this book, faithfully applied, do deliver. They will help you experience Mozart’s heavenly music in ways that may transfigure and transform you.

So let’s begin this marvelous and very dear musical adventure.

***

What Is Happiness?

Figuring out the definition of something often means comparing it to, and contrasting it with, other things to see how it is different.

Is happiness the same thing as contentment or satisfaction or pleasure?

Or are they all different things?

Let’s compare and contrast each of these to happiness:

Can you be satisfied and not be happy?

Can you be content and not be happy?

Can you experience pleasure and still not be happy?

Another way to explore the question of happiness is to ask…

Can someone be struggling or suffering hardships,
yet still be happy?

The answer to these four questions should be “yes” for anyone who thinks them through.

Yes, you can be satisfied but not happy. You have heard of people who have made all the money they need, but end up killing themselves.

Yes, you can be content but not happy. Like being satisfied, being content is a small state of consciousness. You’ve just made a good bargain, perhaps buying something valuable for a price far below what it is worth. You are content.

But does that feel like happiness? Doesn’t happiness feel like it should be something larger?

Yes, you can experience pleasure and not be happy. You just ate a good meal, heard good music, or experienced great sex.

Does that mean you are happy? Does the pleasure stay or go away over time? Isn’t there something about happiness that is more…permanent?

Yes, you can struggle and suffer hardships and still be happy. Talk to parents who have successfully raised children who have gone on to successfully raise their own children. They may have suffered and experienced loss, yet they see that they have had a complete life. Despite the struggles, they are happy.

Why?

Exactly what is happiness? That is, true happiness, not anyone’s relative, momentary personal opinion of happiness?

Is it possible to define this kind of happiness?

A Short History of Happiness

The ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, had different, though related, definitions of happiness.

Plato, in the Euthydemus, acknowledges that happiness seems to rely on acquiring good things. But in the Symposium, he makes clear that a balance is involved:

Happiness is spiritual well-being.
A harmony in the Soul,
an inner peace arising from
a proper order of all parts of the Soul.

In The Republic, Plato goes so far as to say that a happy person would receive an injustice rather than inflict an injustice on another.

In Plato’s world, a happy person would never forcibly rule over another.

Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, provides another angle on the definition of happiness:

Happiness is living a complete life;
the ultimate purpose of life being
an activity achieved by exercising
positive virtues, even in difficult situations.

It is a life of purpose and noble achievements, even when recognized by no one but the happy person.

Those virtues, according to Aristotle, include Courage, Generosity, Justice, Friendship, and Citizenship.

There are hundreds of books on happiness. But it seems that many of today’s writers have little to add to Aristotle.

Perhaps the key to Aristotle is to understand what he implies but never directly states, at least in modern terms. But we will get to that at the end of this chapter.

Dennis Prager, in his book, Happiness is a Serious Problem, believes that happiness cannot be defined for everyone. However, he does think that achieving happiness in its full form requires wisdom, and the hard work and self-discipline to put that wisdom into practice.

You can get an idea where he aims the reader by some of his chapter titles:

“Happiness is a Moral Obligation”

“Unhappiness is Easy—Happiness Takes Work”

“Comparing Ourselves with Others”

“Equating Happiness with Success”

“Equating Happiness with Fun”

“Seeing Yourself as a Victim”

“Develop a Perspective: Cultivate a Philosophy of Life”

“Life is Tragic”

“Find the Positive”

“Accept Tension”

“Everything has a Price—Know What It Is”

“Seek to Do Good”

“Find and Make Friends”

His chapter on friendship is particularly interesting, with subtitles like “Family,” “Marriage,” “Finding Friends,” and “Keeping Friends.” Aristotle’s definitions of friendship can be seen implied in this chapter.

Charles Murray has written a wonderful little book: The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.

This book is a must for young people looking to make their way into the working world.

Here’s a glimpse of the kind of profound, solid advice he gives to the youth. Although he offers this advice in a chapter other than that on Happiness, it applies to anyone seeking happiness:

You probably possess two of the most important personal qualities for success—high cognitive ability and good interpersonal skills. But it is unlikely that you have already developed another important trait: resilience.

Murray provides the dictionary definition of resilience as the ability of a material to return to its original shape after being stretched or deformed in some way.

Young people who have not exercised their capacity to be resilient are more like crystal glasses. But they have the potential to exercise resilience and learn to bounce back like a Super Ball.

He continues:

… if you’ve grown up in a loving and untroubled environment, that potential is unrealized. Here’s the problem: You can be sure that your resilience will be tested sooner or later. When it happens, you don’t want to shatter into glittering shards. If my description fits you, now is the time, when you’re still single and more or less without responsibilities, to start exercising your elastic limit.

Such character traits as resilience, tenacity, focus, independence, self-reliance, and many more need exercise to develop.

Good parents, teachers, and friends
actively help you build these character traits.

Each of these character traits has a role to play in a life that can truly be called happy.

In the section Murray titles “On the Pursuit of Happiness,” he provides some advice that hits true (built right on Aristotle’s definition of happiness: “lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.”)

He develops six ideas. Check out his book to appreciate how he eloquently develops each idea:

1) Show up.

2) Take the clichés about fame and fortune seriously.

3) Take religion seriously, especially if you’ve been socialized not to. (Murray describes himself as agnostic.)

4) Take the clichés about marriage seriously.

5) Be open to a startup marriage instead of a merger marriage.

6) Watch Groundhog Day repeatedly.

If you have never seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, put it at the top of your movie list and watch it as soon as you finish this book.

Hugh Hewitt, who teaches constitutional law, frames his book The Happiest Life around gifts and givers. For him, generosity is the precondition for happiness.

He first works his way through “The Seven Gifts”: Encouragement, Energy, Enthusiasm, Empathy, Good Humor, Graciousness, and Gratitude.

Of these seven gifts, he says:

Everyone is eligible to be a giver of these gifts. Everyone. You don’t need wealth. You don’t have to be twenty-one. You don’t even have to be literate.

And if you’re not giving these away, you are being a miser.

Then he follows with the seven kinds of givers we can be:

The Spouse, The Parent, Family Members, Friends,
The Coworker, Teachers, and The Church.

And to be a giver, you not only need to have generosity, but also courage. He starts the introduction of the book with a quote from the ancient Greek General, Thucydides:

The secret of happiness is freedom,
and the secret of freedom is courage.

Hewitt then writes:

You have to have courage to give away what you hold dearest, again and again and again. Every day. Remarkably, self-sacrifice and generosity produce the greatest, most enduring happiness.

Hewitt’s book is warm and wise, and full of illustrative stories to provide a sharp and insightful definition of the gifts.

For example, to bring home what empathy actually is (as opposed to sympathy), he shares a conversation he had with a rabbi.

Sympathy is sharing suffering at a distance.
Empathy is sharing suffering up close.

The rabbi said simply, “Show up and shut up.”

You don’t have to tell the suffering person that you know what they’re going through. You don’t know.

You don’t have to tell them it will be all right. You don’t have to share your own experience with suffering.

As Hewitt says, “The gift of quiet, advice-free companionship in the midst of suffering is a gift of the highest order.”

He makes the point that empathy is a costly gift because it means “reliving past sorrows and entering into new ones.”

Balance

Why so much talk of happiness in a book about sex and romance?

Simple: We seek sex and romance, not as ends in themselves, but as means to happiness. And often, thinking sex and romance are central to happiness, we discover they are only the beginning.

Although happiness is composed of many parts, knowing those parts and seeking a balance among them may help you move closer to happiness.

******

From Sex and Romance: What You Should’ve Learned as a Teen

3. Sex and Romance thumb

Secrets to Male Consciousness

I just feel like every kid is growing up too fast
and they’re seeing too much.
Everything is about sex, and that’s fine for me.
I’m not saying I don’t like it.
But I don’t think it should be everywhere,
where kids are exposed to everything sexual.
Because they have to have some innocence;
there’s just no innocence left.
Ellen DeGeneres

Male consciousness tends to be externally oriented, linear and focused on a goal, direct and explicit in expression.

Life is full of variety, more than we know or recognize. Male consciousness tends to manifest in male bodies, and female consciousness tends to manifest in female bodies.

But both can exist in each. Often, one predominates. But the potential is there.

If you think about it, you have seen female consciousness expressed in a male body, and male consciousness expressed in a female body. Furthermore, sometimes even strong males display a female side to their consciousness, just as occasionally females display a strong male side to their consciousness.

In this chapter we focus on the characteristics of male consciousness.

Symbolically,
male consciousness tends to be a line,
while female consciousness tends to be a circle.

It seems nature exhibits these symbols in male and female anatomy.

Both male consciousness and female consciousness have positive virtues while being quite different.

Here’s a humorous video about one characteristic of the male consciousness. The video is called IBM – Keep It Simple:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoj5Scm7HaY

Male Consciousness: External, Linear, Focused, Direct, and Explicit

Male consciousness tends to focus on the external world. Men gravitate toward:

— external activities,

— sports and politics,

— tools and electronics,

— cars and machines,

— mechanisms and wireless controls,

— building things and taking them apart,

— model ships and airplanes,

— remote-control cars, airplanes, and helicopters,

— playing soldier, shooting guns, fishing, hunting, running around, and being rowdy.

Many men find joy in putting together complex electronic equipment, and then mastering the complexity of a sophisticated remote control.

They can love the competitiveness of sports, memorizing baseball statistics, reciting a litany of background data on players and teams, their history, and wins and losses.

Males are goal-oriented problem solvers. This is an evolutionary advantage that is useful when they need to hunt for food or protect their family or community.

They like to solve problems
and fix things.

They love to achieve goals and win.

When men speak as boys, they may tend to be too direct and unsophisticated. They need to be “civilized” into being more aware and sensitive to the effects their words have on others.

Male consciousness tends to be relatively simple, playful, and action-oriented. Self-reflection, consideration of feelings, and examination of inner motivations are rarely the male default setting. Often those behaviors need more attention.

Once a high school graduating class was taken on a camping trip in the desert.

A creative writing teacher decided to lead the students on an exercise to develop their imaginations, to make them more sensitive.

They were given notebooks, pens, candles, and matches. The instructions were simple: Walk a short way into the desert, find a place alone, and proceed to “discover yourself.”

What did the girls do?

They followed instructions.

What did the boys do?

Since the assignment baffled them, they gathered together, piled up their notebooks, lit them with the matches…

…and started a bonfire.

In Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys, the author tells a story that illustrates, in a funny way, one key difference between male consciousness and female consciousness.

A young man and a young woman have been dating each other for many months.

One evening while he drove her home, she says, “You know, as of tonight, we’ve been together for six months.”

Silence.

She begins thinking that what she says bothers him, that perhaps he thinks she’s placing some kind of obligation on him, pushing him into something.

And he’s thinking, Wow. Six months.

And she goes off examining their relationship and her motives, where they are going…

Marriage? Children?

And he’s thinking, Six months. That means we met after I took the car in for service, and…wow, look at the odometer. I’m way overdue for an oil change…

And she’s thinking about what he might want from the relationship, issues of intimacy and commitment and…

He’s thinking about how he may have been ripped off by a car mechanic…

And she’s thinking, He looks mad…Perhaps I said something too soon…

When the two of them start actually talking again, is it any surprise that the young man essentially says, “Huh?” while she’s trying to explain that she didn’t mean anything by what she said.

My synopsis cannot do justice to the original story. Dave Barry’s book is very funny precisely because, as outrageous as it sometimes is, he bases his humor on some very true and fundamental differences between male consciousness and female consciousness.

Male consciousness tends to be, and expects others to be, explicit. Male consciousness is not naturally responsive to subtext.

We will save examples of this distinction for the next chapter on “Female Consciousness.”

******
From Sex and Romance

3. Sex and Romance thumb

What Is Wealth?

It’s not money that makes life better, it’s wealth.
You don’t have to have a lot of money;
you want wealth.
Richard Maybury, Early Warning Report, June/July 2008

What is wealth?

If you answered “Money,”
Bzzzt! Wrong.
Thanks for playing.

Money as it exists today can be a sign of wealth. It can be used to measure or trade wealth.

But money is not wealth. Knowing the difference can make all the difference in how you choose to make a living. And how you choose to view people with wealth and those who want your wealth.

Later, we will talk about what real money is. First, let’s look at wealth…

Here’s a clue:

If governments could create wealth,
they would have no need for taxes.

Wealth is goods and services—food, clothing, homes, tools, auto repair, plumbing services, literature and the arts, entertainment, personal and professional skills—just about everything that makes life better is wealth.

Money makes trading wealth easier. I can use money to specify the value of my professional skills and physical work in relation to the products you are selling.

A monetary value can be placed on goods and services; therefore, money is one method of measuring your wealth.

Money can also predict your ability to acquire wealth. If you have a wage or salary, you have an idea about what kinds of, and how much, wealth is available to you.

But money itself is not wealth.

Let’s break it down…

Imagine three small islands, each with a village of about 100 people:

  • Gold Island
  • Silver Island
  • Iron Island

The people on Gold Island are, by nature, good and ethical people who trust each other. They appear good, and are good inside. They all have to work hard just to survive day to day.

They live by a high standard of ethics.

The people on Iron Island are just the opposite. They are bandits and pirates: dishonest, ruthless, manipulative, selfish, and dangerous. They appear bad, and are bad on the inside.

In other words, they are openly bad, and do not care who knows it. They form thieving bands that believe in “honor among thieves,” mostly. They do not want to work hard to survive. They enjoy taking from others who do have to work hard.

The people on Silver Island are a mix. They are inherently both good and bad, and everything in between. Some of them can appear good, but be bad on the inside. Some of them are good on both the outside and inside in some situations, but not in other situations. They can work hard to survive, but cut ethical corners when the opportunity arises.

Let’s first focus on the people of Gold Island.

Each day in order to survive, each person on Gold Island has to catch one fish, get one coconut, and drink two gallons of water. It takes twelve hours of work each day on average for each person to get the food to survive.

Everyone barely manages to live.

One day, one man, let’s call him Tor, gets an idea. Tor labors extra hard to get an extra fish, an extra coconut, and extra water. He now has enough for a free day.

He spends that day inventing a fishing pole. He practices with the fishing pole until he develops the ability (the skill) to use it. The next day he catches ten fish.

This man, this inventorusing his imagination and creativity, and sacrificing for his visionjust created wealth. Specifically, labor-saving wealth.

Labor-saving wealth is created out of two things:

  1. A valuable labor-saving idea
  2. The work necessary to manifest that idea

Wealth is created out of
imagination and work.

Labor-saving wealth often saves people time,
freeing them from mere survival.
Wealth has inherent value to you or others.

Notice that money is not necessary to create wealth. If you have good ideas or good skills, you can create wealth out of your work, or out of the work of others.

On Gold Island, both the fish and the ability to catch fish are actual wealth.

Because our inventor, Tor, can now catch ten fish in the time it used to take to catch one fish, he has more free time. (Fishing used to take four hours; it’s hard to catch a fish in the ocean with your hands.)

He and his wife Sophia can now go several days without having to fish (if they salt the fish).

In fact, Sophia doesn’t have to fish or get coconuts anymore. Tor is skilled at getting coconuts (two hours on average to get one). His wife is strong, and willing to walk the six hours, round trip, to get enough water for them both.

Meanwhile, in his free time, Tor is fixing the roof and building an additional room, since Sophia is newly pregnant.

One day Sophia has a good idea. She’s been thinking of ways to get coconuts more quickly. Throwing rocks at coconuts works sometimes when they are overly ripe. But often, coconuts grow higher than her husband can throw. And the ones that are ripe will not always drop when hit by a hand-thrown rock.

Sophia dreams up the idea of a slingshot.

Working together in their spare time, they create the slingshot. They both practice until they have the skill to knock down ten coconuts in the time it once took to knock down one.

Tor and Sophia now have even more wealth, more time to do other things.

Wealth is one of the most important things anyone can create.

Wealth frees people from drudgery.
Wealth grants time to do other work,
or time to play.
Wealth is essentially good.

In other words,

Wealth grants freedom.

There are other kinds of wealth.

Ver is a great storyteller. He can gather the community together around a bonfire and begin telling tales of old.

Tales of monsters and heroes, and stories of great passions, both hateful and loving.

Ver has the extraordinary ability to voice many characters. He can act out the parts. Villagers from miles away will come to hear his stories.

Ver enriches everyone’s life with sorrows and tears, and laughter and joy, and all the passions his characters experience.

His tales provide moral examples of what happens to those who do right. And what happens to those who do wrong.

And because he is such a unique and wonderful storyteller, he becomes known as Ver the Great Storyteller.

The villagers are willing to give him food and drink and other goods in order for him to keep telling his stories.

People who are free from constant labor may write a song or a book, or may paint a picture that someone else wants. These provide pleasure. They may not create something that saves time and labor, but they may still create something that others want.

Something others value. Something that enhances their lives.

Great music, great art, great literature, great storytelling: these are all kinds of wealth that, when created with noble ideals, can uplift, improve, and generally better people.

Leisure-enhancing wealth.

When someone like Ver the Great Storyteller creates something that others value, they have created wealth. Not necessarily labor-saving wealth, but it is still a kind of wealth. It has value, or at least someone sees value in it.

Wealth has intrinsic value;
that is, wealth has value in and of itself.

Ten salted fish have value when others know that they have to work four hours to catch a fish. Even if no one else wants the fish I have, I can eat it. It has intrinsic value, not just an official value that some authority, like government, declares it to have.

The same is true of gold or silver. If someone has it, they can make jewelry out of it. The value is intrinsic, in the thing itself.

People use their imagination and develop skills to create, out of thin air in a sense, things with intrinsic value. Wealth. Both labor-saving wealth, and leisure-enhancing wealth.

Like debt, wealth is a habit.
Wealthy people realize
that life is more than luck.

Life is action. Life is imagination.
Active, hardworking people create wealth.

******

from Money and Wealth

2. Money and Wealth thumb