Paradise Found

In your last post, NT, you talk about building paradise – bridging the gap between the world as it is and the world as you’d like it to be. It’s a great point, and it reminds me of the Thoreau quote: 

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; there is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”

What struck me reading your post, though, is whether paradise is about the world we live in, or who we are and how we see the world. Many philosophies would say that life is about wanting what you get, not getting what you want – that in our modern consumerist society, the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough money, or a big enough house, or a fast enough car, but that we have taught ourselves to crave those things.

I’m pragmatic enough to suspect that’s a hard principle to apply in adversity – going hungry isn’t a matter of perspective. But I think the point people like the Stoics were trying to make wasn’t that going hungry is as good as not being hungry. We all prefer to eat. Rather, I see their point as being that we can make things worse if we take the wrong attitude; we should work to control what is in our power but accept what is not, as per the Serenity Prayer.

Does paradise or happiness come from within?

Perhaps more fundamentally, one of the things I’ve taken from those philosophies is that it is risky to anchor our happiness on external things. Even a walled garden or a paradise can be paved over. Money can be lost, possessions destroyed. If we’ve made the right decisions and done our best, we should still be proud of what we’ve achieved, even if we don’t successfully build our paradise. 

I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with you. We should try to build our paradise. And not just for us, but a paradise for others, too: if we are happy and fulfilled, we are more likely to help others be the same. But it pays to be a little careful about what paradise consists of. And, paradise might be the process, not the destination. Building the walls for your garden, laying the seed beds, cultivating the trees; that work itself can be paradise. To change the metaphor, maybe the goal of self-improvement isn’t about getting somewhere in particular: it’s about constantly laying stones as you build that castle in the air.

All that is pretty philosophical. Maybe it’s time we get more pragmatic. So here’s a question for you. What role does work play in the paradise you are building? If money was no object, what would you look for in work, if anything?

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