Many of the things we most want are in conflict: to feel secure, and yet to be free; to have money and yet not to have to be wage slaves. To be in close knit communities and yet not to be stifled by the expectations and demands of others. To travel and explore the world and yet to put down deep roots. To fulfil the demands of our appetites for food, drink, sex and lying on the sofa – and yet stay thin, sober, faithful and fit.

The wisdom of the melancholy attitude (as opposed to the bitter or angry one) lies in the understanding that the sorrow isn’t just about you, that you have not been singled out, that your suffering belongs to humanity in general. So often our sorrows are egocentric. We see them as special misfortunes which have come our way. Melancholy rejects this. It has a wider, much less personal take. Much of what is painful and sorrowful in our lives can be traced to general things about life: its brevity; the fact that we cannot avoid missing opportunities, the contradictions of desire and self-management. These apply to everyone. So melancholy is generous. You feel this sorrow for others too, for ‘us’. You feel pity for the human condition.

-Alain de Botton

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