Happiness Through Heartache
by Paul Wolf
Happiness is a slippery sucker. We pursue it. We think it's going to call, so we wait by the phone. Then we're disappointed when it doesn't come knocking at our door.
The sooner we realize this approach to happiness — a search for obvious pleasures like food, sex and entertainment — doesn't get us anywhere, the better. It doesn't get us anywhere because, while these niceties enrich life, they're not the stuff of happiness.
"Happiness is achievable when it is a byproduct of something else, and you must hold that something to be more important than happiness," says Dennis Prager, author of Happiness Is a Serious Problem.
This has certainly been the case in my love-hate relationship with the piano. It's taught me about happiness through hardship, fulfillment through struggle, satisfaction through pain, pride through achievement.
As you might have guessed, I'm not a gifted pianist. In fact, I'm downright pianistically challenged.
Nevertheless, a year ago I determined to figure out the piano intro to Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind." Every night for weeks, for two or three hours after my wife went to sleep, I would stop and start a tape of the song, trying to identify each note and rhythmic hitch-step.
My limitations made me angry. Still, every note in the process was a step toward something deeply satisfying.
Recently I spoke to another struggling amateur pianist, a fellow named Thatcher Hurd, who compared struggling with an instrument to meditation.
"I find it totally engrossing, a wonderful struggle, actually," he says. "It required me to focus my mind so intensively that this sense of concentration became part of everything I do away from the piano."
I think Hurd is right. There was a kind of meditative bliss that came from getting my fingers around that piece.
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