Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

13 FEBRUARY, 2012

Elizabeth Gilbert on What the Porcupine Dilemma Can Teach Us About the Secret of Happiness

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On how to connect without getting pricked.

In January of 2010, PBS aired a fascinating series titled This Emotional Life, exploring cutting-edge insights from cognitive and behavioral science to explain some of the “why” behind a wide range of mental illness and mental health, from addiction to depression to resilience. The series featured a number of prominent authors, psychologists, clinicians, and other public figures, discussing the science and everyday grit of these complex issues.

Among them was Elizabeth Gilbert, who authored Eat, Pray, Love and gave one of the best TED talks of all time. Gilbert relays the porcupine dilemma made famous by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer — a beautiful metaphor for how we choose to go through the world and relate to others, in a quest to master the intricate balance of protective self-containment and the vulnerability necessary for the warmth of true intimacy.

For a deeper dive, see Deborah Luepnitz’s Schopenhauer’s Porcupines: Intimacy and Its Dilemmas.

Thanks, Rachel; top image courtesy of Hkuchera

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02 FEBRUARY, 2012

A Beautiful 1928 Letter to 16-Year-Old Jackson Pollock from His Dad

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“The secret of success is… to be fully awake to everything about you.”

As a lover of letters and famous correspondence, I was thrilled to stumble across this 1928 letter from Jackson Pollock’s dad, LeRoy, to his son, uncovered by our very own Michelle Legro in the “Family” issue of the always-excellent Lapham’s Quarterly. Culled from American Letters 1927-1947: Jackson Pollock & Family, the letter is a beautiful paean to what matters most in life, and how to cultivate it.

Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life.

Jackson and LeRoy Pollock at the Grand Canyon, 1927 (Smithsonian Collection)

Full text below, courtesy of Lapham’s Quarterly:

Dear Son Jack,

Well it has been some time since I received your fine letter. It makes me a bit proud and swelled up to get letters from five young fellows by the names of Charles, Mart, Frank, Sande, and Jack. The letters are so full of life, interest, ambition, and good fellowship. It fills my old heart with gladness and makes me feel ‘Bully.’ Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life. I do not think a young fellow should be too serious, he should be full of the Dickens some times to create a balance.

I think your philosophy on religion is okay. I think every person should think, act & believe according to the dictates of his own conscience without too much pressure from the outside. I too think there is a higher power, a supreme force, a governor, a something that controls the universe. What it is & in what form I do not know. It may be that our intellect or spirit exists in space in some other form after it parts from this body. Nothing is impossible and we know that nothing is destroyed, it only changes chemically. We burn up a house and its contents, we change the form but the same elements exist; gas, vapor, ashes. They are all there just the same.

I had a couple of letters from mother the other day, one written the twelfth and one the fifteenth. Am always glad to get letters from your mother, she is a Dear isn’t she? Your mother and I have been a complete failure financially but if the boys turn out to be good and useful citizens nothing else matters and we know this is happening so why not be jubilant?

The weather up here couldn’t be beat, but I suppose it won’t last always, in fact we are looking forward to some snowstorms and an excuse to come back to the orange belt. I do not know anything about what I will do or if I will have a job when I leave here, but I am not worrying about it because it is no use to worry about what you can’t help, or what you can help, moral ‘don’t worry.’

Write and tell me all about your schoolwork and yourself in general. I will appreciate your confidence.

You no doubt had some hard days on your job at Crestline this summer. I can imagine the steep climbing, the hot weather, etc. But those hard things are what builds character and physic. Well Jack I presume by the time you have read all this you will be mentally fatigued and will need to relax. So goodnight, pleasant dreams and God bless you.

Your affectionate Dad

Find more everyday poetics in the fantastic collection of letters, from which this gem came.

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23 JANUARY, 2012

It’s Only with the Heart One Can See Rightly: A Hand-Drawn Quote from The Little Prince

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“…what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is not only one of my favorite children’s classics with philosophy for grown-ups, but is also among the finest books on optimism ever written. Its highly quotable and memorable wisdom endures as a timelessly existential lens on the world. From Hand Drawn Quotes comes this lovely visual rendition of one of my most beloved quotes from the classic:

It’s only with the heart one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

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