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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happiness or Stress? Let's Do Happiness First, with Proust

OK. Will do. Setting aside for the moment the dire headline "More Cuts to Higher Education" and the fact that the heads have started to roll among the most vulnerable people and programs. Let's discuss happiness.

No, this will not be a review of The Happiness Project, by a wealthy woman. I'm sure this book would annoy me as much as Simple Abundance, which counseled women of the middle and upper classes that they (we, I guess) should take time for simple pleasures because we WORK SO HARD. The woman who wrote that tome had a sequel, in which she recounted divorcing her now unacceptable husband because he did not present the desired response to her query: "Do you believe in soulmates?" I asked Mr. FS the same question and he rolled his eyes and snorted. Luckily, we are still together.

Oh yeah, happiness. As you may recall, we are listening to the unabridged audiotape of the first volume of Proust's masterwork. As you may also recall, Proust is the love of Mr. FS's life. This is lucky for me: whenever I have a question, I stop the tape and get an answer (often lengthy, this being Proust).

Today, as we were driving by the Piggly-Wiggly and Dollar General, we came to the iconic Madeleine section, which, I believe is much-referred to by people who have never read Proust. It is great moment: where the tea and madeleine unexpectedly cause a moment of complete happiness and unleash the flood of memories that comprises the next section on Combray. As I listened, I got the chills up the spine that indicate that I am in the presence of a masterpiece. Then I had a moment of happiness because, as the narrator recounted the unfolding of his memories, I thought, "That is like a Japanese paper flower." And then THAT was the image! Of course, I had read the book many years ago, so perhaps my memories were unfolding too.

I stopped the tape and asked Mr. FS some questions. Then I said "So it's like a cathedral." That made Mr. FS happy, because it turned out that Proust himself uses that image later--far beyond what I had read years ago. Mr. FS is a good teacher.

What has this to do with frugality?
We got the audiotape from the library.
We used our commuting time for something extra.
What triggers the moment of happiness for Marcel is a cup of tea and a madeleine: two humble items, affordable by anyone.

Mr. FS told me that later in the book (in the last volume, I believe), a similar moment of happiness and unfolding of memories come from the following: the touch of a napkin, the sound of a clink of a spoon on a glass, the sight of a book jacket.

And what could be cheaper than one of those paper flowers you put in a glass of water? Or more beautiful?

Have you had a moment of happiness today?


Anonymous said...

Well done! This is a post that makes my heart feel warmer. It also reminds me of a very simple event that made my wife fall in love with me. When she made a cup of tea this one time very early in our relationship, I asked her if she could also make one for me. When she saw that her making a cup of tea for me made me happy, she figured that we would be a good match since I appreciated the little things in life, too.

Shelley said...

I spent the day writing blog posts and looking through my pictures from last weekend, thoroughly enjoying myself. I thought of you when I wrote about courtyards in New Orleans.

Lucy Marmalade said...

I know exactly the feeling you're talking about--only instead of chills up the spine, I get a constricted throat and literal breathlessness. Today I felt happy while walking back from class. The sun was shining, I was sipping fresh coffee, and there was the slightest breeze. Ahhhh, I thought. Life is beautiful.

Duchesse said...

Such an evocative post. It is the little things. Tonight we dined on a leftover risotto Milanese, made into little balls and fried with a tiny nugget of cheese inside. One of the best things I have ever tasted.

Chance said...

This morning, the sun is coming up, in the grey early, and for the first time this spring, I heard doves. The soon-to-be cacophony of spring always starts with the doves calling; so it means spring is almost here, despite snow on the ground. Total happiness.

Frugal Scholar said...

@ctreit--My now-husband used to buy me Dannon raspberry yogurt, my favorite. What a wonderful story! thanks for commenting.

@Shelley--A few years back, we did a courtyard tour (money went to charity). It was wonderful.

@Lucy--Coffee adds to almost any experience.

@Duchesse--I've always wanted to make those (called suppli? telephone wires?), but I never have leftover risotto.

@Chance--Snow??? That sounds like the beginning of the Canterbury Tales.