search for identity

Smoke went up from the whole earth, from the vapoury of oceans (212)
Their dark darting quivering bodies flying clearly against the sky
A dark flash, a swerve, a flutter of wings
Flying high and low but ever round and round
Their cry was shrill and clear and fine
They, unlike man, are in the order of their life and have not perverted that order by reason,
A sense of fear of the unknown moved in the heart (218-219)
Away then: it is time to go.
A voice spoke softly, bidding him to go and telling him that his friendship was coming to an end (239)
To discover the mode of life or of art whereby your spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom
Freedom! (240)
Using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use, silence, exile, cunning—
Alone, quite, alone…not even one friend (241)
Away! Away!
Shaking the wings of their exultant and terrible youth
Welcome, O life!
Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead. (247)

This passage, collected from quotes throughout the end of chapter 5 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, encompasses the journey of Stephen in his pursuit of happiness and fulfillment of the yearning in his soul. The picture of birds soaring in the sky reflects his passion to be free and to be released from his straining world. Yet in his life, he turns to extremes in order to find gratification. In his pursuit of prostitution to find another human to sin with him, Stephen chases after his lust. However, with his dissatisfaction, he turns to a monastery and practices religious piety and again fails to fulfill his desires to ultimately be free in himself. Stephen concludes he must leave and separate himself from the nets holding him captive. Although, if he aspires to fly life birds, why does he seek solitude? By disputing the support of a flock of birds, does Stephen try to completely disconnect himself from nature? His pursuit of happiness in his society fails when he pursues extreme ends, yet he ultimately follows a path toward loneliness in order to free his soul.

happiness in work

To me, Andy Goldsworthy epitomizes the ultimate success of happiness. So often people talk about what job they plan to pursue based on the income and assume gratification will accompany wealth. Especially now, contemplating what area I want to study in college and goals I have following my education, the movie Rivers and Tides is such an encouragement to see someone actually live out a dream. Although his art may seem pointless to numerous people, the opportunity to work in his passion every day is something countless others lack. I often fear I will end up working in an office building at a computer all day long and never accomplish my dreams of working for National Geographic or living in Africa for an extended medical mission trip. Goldsworthy, however, expresses himself through fleeting creations in nature. Even though his work is often destroyed by the wind or water or other elements, the moment of creation and developing a masterpiece instigates a thrilling fulfillment which, to me, encompasses happiness.

“Ideas must be put to the test. That's why we make things, otherwise they would be no more than ideas. There is often a huge difference between an idea and its realization.”

“My sculpture can last for days or a few seconds — what is important to me is the experience of making. I leave all my work outside and often return to watch it decay.”

“As you grow older you realize that art has an enormous effect. It's frightening sometimes to think of the effect that we can have.”

“Beauty is what sustains things, although beauty is underwritten by pain and fear.”

“Art is not a career – it's a life.”

“Effort…to make something look effortless.”

“The real work is change.”

futile delight

A rejected love, genuine and true
In return for shallow praise,
False honor, selfish pride.
One great king confused with ambition
Seeking happiness in others’ lies.

An illegitimate son pursuing fortune,
Revenge for a past
Unfair and broken.
Dissolution of family because of one
Seeking happiness through innumerable lies.

Yet with what result?
The destruction of all and separation of ties.
All innocence vanished
In the path of selfish pursuits.
And what happiness left?

None with the dead.

(King Lear)

searching and longing

In a world of instant gratification—lust, greed, pleasure—the direction towards happiness is often blinded. Magazines draw attention to “how to make your dollar last” or “how to free your skin of imperfections” or “things to improve your relationships.” Ads smother the pages to focus on the materials necessary to a “happy” life. However, I daily watch girls obsessing over blemishes in their makeup, I see guys taking shots to experience a drunken frenzy. I experience families fall apart because a younger, sexy female is so much more desirable than a loving wife. Where is the happiness in the world? Living in America, temptations constantly encompass each day and victims spiral into a whirlwind of addictive pleasure.

This summer I stepped away from American society and traveled to Ghana for two weeks. The first week I lived in the village, Dagbe, and I never imagined that spending a week there could be so challenging and rewarding at the same time. The night we arrived, about 70 villagers greeted us with dancing and singing for an hour, just thoroughly ecstatic that “obrunis” (white people) came to see them! The first couple days were the hardest because of the culture shock and the physical discomfort. Imagine a 92 degree, 100% humidity jungle night, with 9 girls in one room on the floor and wearing socks, long pants and a long sleeve shirt to avoid mosquito bites—and add three spiders of 3 inch diameter on the walls! Then try to sleep. For a Colorado suburban girl who complained when my house reached 78ยบ, I was way out of my element. The second night I even questioned why I decided to come to Africa and thought it was the worst decision of my life. But that quickly changed after the days at the work site. I’ve never been a kid person…ever…but my heart melted the minute the village kids ran out of their huts to greet us. When I saw them wearing the same shirt each day with stains and holes and dirt everywhere, but still watched them laugh and smile and take care of each other like family, I realized that experiencing life there was not about how sweaty we were at night or how I looked into the eyes of the fish on my plate I was supposed to eat or counting the hundreds of insect bites on our bodies. Life in the village was the epitome of joy, an example of true happiness even without all the materials we surround ourselves with here at home.

In The Tempest by William Shakespeare, the pursuit of happiness results in disaster through an attempt to regain power. Prospero tortures his brother and other conspirators through the utilization of enslavement of creatures. Although, in the end, he justifies the actions against him, Prospero still lacks happiness in the power he desires. He claims he is helpless, lacking authority and without family—ultimately succumbed to the utter will of nature.

Sophocles also addresses the pursuit of happiness through the turmoil in Oedipus Rex. However, “happiness” Oedipus strives for is because of his family. His humiliation for his deeds causes him to gauge out his eyes. Yet in sacrifice, he tries to retain what happiness is possible for his children.

Thrown back into this culture, I realize that happiness differs from pleasure and especially instant gratification. Beauty fades, strength diminishes, colors dull and even talents can be plucked away in an instant. The importance of bliss and the pursuit of individual interests develop a happiness that, as I continue to discover, alters with age.