Refining Happiness

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth” – William Butler Yeats

Of late, I’ve found myself furiously taking notes while reading through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  For those not acquainted, Rubin determined for herself a few year’s back that while she led a charmed life, she perhaps did not appreciate it enough.  For anyone who may feel that appreciation is something they lack for themselves or their situation (I do), especially in critical moments where things feel tight and we aren’t sure of important outcomes; this venture hits home.  Only part-way through her report on her findings, I am finding her structure to be something I believe I’d really benefit from.  I have augmented some of what she’s done, but plan to mimic several aspects, tweaking along the way.  I also have found the research she has included, as well as the quotes and stories to fill areas of my quest that I had not yet been able to define.

While The Edison Project is simply a continued experiment to determine a path towards many things; authorship, intentionality, documentation of my life for my children – it is also a probe into what makes me happy.  Striving for positivity and remaining focused on these objectives have led me down extremely intriguing paths.  I have set markers for myself at the beginnings of each of these forks, that I might – much like Hansel and Gretel – find my way back to probe each of these deeply as I move through life.  The timeline for this experiment is a long one.  Such a discovery has led to increased patience as I feel the need to understand these undiscovered aspects of my character before determining a singular course for anything as massive an undertaking as a book.  Where this time last year I was aimlessly creating characters and scenarios, I’ve pulled back to uncover the reasons for why this person might exist in my world – or that one might not necessarily need to be involved.  I’m working to understand how these people may behave in such a world – or worlds – as my ideas vary from month to month on where such an effort should most organically take place.

So here I find myself exploring the quote above.  That happiness is characterized as most likened to growth is the truest explanation I’ve ever felt.  When I read that passage, I looked up from the page, set my book down, and began to investigate that posit within my own life.  Indeed I have always been most happy when at the cusp of something new and important.  I’d add only that to Mr. Yeats’ deep and layered thesis.  That growth must be focused in ways true to our character is as important as the fact that growth is even happening.  Fortunately, there are many areas in which this young man can grow.  I intend to continue to believe that for as long as I draw breath.

At work, new building techniques, applications, building uses and challenges may create a large learning curve, but it is determination I already posses.  When arriving at the apex of the challenge, where the curve drops off and the production takes form, I am exhilarated beyond belief.  Such has been the case for the seven years I’ve now undertaken this industry.

At home, witnessing landmark events, exploring my children’s own unexplored territory with them provides a rush and sense of bonding that can’t come from the dinner table, not to dismiss the importance of a family eating dinner.  Working with them to create their own perceptions of what is good, what is worth exploring, I find myself inspired to look inward on my existing perceptions and alter, perhaps, some of them to include lessons they’ve just then taught me.  The adventure can be as simple as watching my infant daughter lay on the floor giggling.  It can be as trivial as observing the ways my son constructs duplo-blocks to portray, even if in a slightly ambiguous form, towers or castles or rocket ships.  It can be as superficial, yet layered, as interacting with my oldest while she’s holding and caring for one of her many baby dolls.  Watching how she loves these inanimate objects alerts me to what she’s learned through witness, and creates in me a heightened sense of my contributions to this formula.

With my wife, watching each other grow as we establish new roles while learning to balance all of our existing responsibilities as we balance our natural desire to grow with the weight that parenthood can sometimes add to focus and energy; I am bolstered by what the future promises.  I am emboldened to act now the way I want to feel later.  It is in these acts where the depth of our relationship is revealed; that although we have known each other for nearly ten years, we have merely skimmed off a fraction of what we are capable of – both individually and together.  Beginning to depart from old habits in order to create space for new goals makes me love her in a light I haven’t before held vantage of.

These are the aspects of my life that create my happiness.  It is not the thought of becoming happy, but the act of fulfilling happiness that compounds on itself.  And each and every day we are granted here on earth we have the opportunity to invest that effort into areas that will generate into something greater.  Refining that happiness towards growth in the foundation of our character reflects areas, yet undiscovered, where light can be found and happiness experienced in full.

What a truth to explore!

Yours in the Pursuit and Growth of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Laid to Waste by ‘Beneath a Scarlet Sky’

***SPOILER ALERT***

The following are my thoughts in response to having read Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.  If you have designs to read this book, while I appreciate you frequenting my blog, please save for a later date.


Edison Project BASS

Calamity.  Utter and total heartbreak.  Those are my feelings today, as I’ve closed the book on Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.  I don’t know how I’ll ever open another book.  In the week since I first opened this beautiful, hopeful, inspiring and yet altogether heart-wrenching novel, I’ve cheered for Mimo and Uncle Albert, scorned General Leyers, revered Father Re and Cardinal Schuster and fallen in love with Pino and Anna. The kind of love where your hope resides in a greater future for the love you posses within yourself and for others.  The kind of love only found in Eden’s paradise, before we cast ourselves into shadow.  I don’t know that I’ve ever cursed at a book out loud before.  I probably only did so because I saw it coming, and was powerless to stop it.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky is set in WWII Milan, leading us through the winding trials of Pino Lella.  Pino finds himself in one harrowing predicament after another.  Shortly after the bombing of Milan began, Pino’s parents scuttle him to Casa Alpina, where he’d spent much of his youth skiing and studying under the careful tutelage of Father Re, the remote school’s headmaster and priest.  Pino soon discovers Father Re has other designs for Pino; leading one expedition after the next over a chain of Italian Alpine Mountains with Jews seeking refuge in Switzerland has his repetitious mission.  Pino encounters thieves, doubt and avalanches along the way.  His faith is tested but his outlook on life remains untainted, ever-desirous of finding love.

Prior to turning 18, Pino is jettisoned back to Milan under the bequest of his father, that he might avoid the draft and instead enlist in the German Army under a division that would keep him out of harm’s way.  After a near-death incident shortly into his career, an injury places Pino on leave.  Upon returning home he is yet to even set foot in his home before he encounters General Hans Leyers, the chief engineer in Hitler’s Nazi Regime in Italy.  Having learned to maintain and operate vehicles as a hobby while at Casa Alpina, it is his deft technical skill that earns him the new position as driver for the General.

On Pino’s first day as driver, he knocks on the door of the General’s apartment and is greeted by the maid, a beautiful woman named Anna to whom we are introduced earlier in the story.  The night of the first bombardment, Pino has scheduled a date with Anna to see a movie.  She stands him up, avoiding, unbeknownst to her, a bomb hurtling through the roof of the theater.  Their subsequent near daily interaction quickly leads Anna to reciprocate feelings for Pino, who is now operating as both the General’s driver and a spy for the resistance in Italy.  Pino’s love for music abounds as Sullivan deftly conflates Pino’s passion for Anna, and for music, into one solitary tone.  The two fall in love despite the war-ravaged surroundings and become engaged just before the German retreat.  The love scene depicted in the story was written in such a way that anyone looking for clues as to whether or not their days would entail each other for the rest of their loves quickly becomes aware that Anna will not survive the war.

As much as I knew this to be true, still there was hope.  Perhaps the words would rearrange themselves in the coming pages and the tragedy about to ensue I would be spared of.  Fully invested in their world, their happiness, their continued existence, I trudged forward.  Sure enough, a few calamitous decisions on Pino’s behalf coupled with the ill-timed retreat of the Germans and the vendetta killings required by the Partisans set the stage for Anna’s capture, due to her association with General Leyers’ mistress.  A public gathering’s boisterous atmosphere attracts Pino’s attention.  The strapping young man works his way to the front of the mob as an executioner leads out “collaborators” of the Nazi party.  Anna among them.  Before he can explain the mistake, the executioners try the traitors and kill them by firing squad.  Pino has a front row seat to the barbarous atrocities, his heart breaking mine.

I can think of only one other such case where I felt so abandoned by the death of a literary love interest: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.  All of this leads me to feel powerless and forlorn, with a burning resolution to evade Italian-set World War II tragic novels.

I am glad I encountered Pino’s story, it was a world I relished having a window.  Pino is a hero for so many of his actions.  Much like much war literature, Pino’s humanity befalls his passion and love.  Pino’s misfortune reinforces my good fortune.  I am grateful to have never known war.  I am fortunate to have never been separated by my wife.  Blessed to have never feared what might become of me, my wife or my children.  But yet still, here I am, heart-broken over the evil that stole Anna from this world, even if I’d never known her.  To have come all that way in such a perilous time and die at the hands of your misunderstanding countrymen is what makes Beneath a Scarlet Sky so difficult a pill to swallow.

Yours in the Passionate Pursuit of Happiness – Con Smania

Will O’Connor

Happiness Through Books v 2017: My Recommendations Based Upon What I’ve Read This Year

In addition to pledging to write more this year, I also pledged to read more.  There is a wonderful website out there called GoodReads.  I’m sure many of you who read are also aware of it.  GoodReads has a book tracker on it, where you can take a challenge, and evaluate your goal for reading on a personalized basis.  The general rubric is 12 books; one per month.  I pledged for such a goal.  I am currently reading my 19th book of the year, which I hope to finish by year’s end: by far the most I’ve ever read in a single year.  I have ordered them here, with a very small write-up.  I’d suggest anyone interested in broadening their book list take a look at the various authors and suggestions that branch off of those authors.  GoodReads does a really nice job of suggesting for you what you may enjoy if your enjoyed a specific book.  So here’s what I learned about this year:

2017Books

  1. thirteen moons – Charles Frazier – Frazier’s second foray into fictional novels, thirteen moons is a book a read half of when I was in my early 20s.  I’m so glad I waited until now to return to it, for the book is powerfully potent at allowing the reader to examine his own past choices through the choices of Will Cooper, the protagonist.  Not only is the story beautiful, the prose is masterful and the imagery paints a landscape rich with detail on each and every page.  I can’t wait for Frazier’s ‘Varina’ to come out this spring.
  2. When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi – one cannot simply read this book and move on.  Written in the same vein as Tuesdays With Morrie or The Last Lecture, Kalanithi’s life was truly one to be memorialized.  Having never met him, I mourn his absence from this earth and wonder what medical advances we may have seen if he’d lived.
  3. Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance – The first book I read this year, Hillbilly Elegy knock’s an arrow and find its true target.  JD Vance, a man born to poverty and family drug addiction, tells his story of rising from the ashes by way of his own mistakes and does a masterful job of detailing reasons for why he, and people like him, get caught up in the quagmire of various societal structures, including the education system, the military and the failings of socio-economic mobility.  A must read.
  4. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell – Of all the books I read this year, I believe none of them have neither the historic nor present-day significance as this book does.  Set in a dystopian future, which has since passed since the writing of this book, Orwell describes a totalitarian regime and the control it exerts and demands of each of its citizens.  I’d read Animal Farm in highschool, but missed this cunning, artful story that very articulately details the risks we run in giving government too much control; in sacrificing freedom for security.
  5. Devil In the White City – Erik Larson – this book is a thriller and at the same time, a wonderful historic work detailing events surrounding the World’s Fair of 1892.  In it, Larson brings together the lives of both the chief architect of the fair, and a serial killer, loose in Chicago at the time of the fairs preparation and commencement.  Great read.
  6. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy – I believe I will make it a law to read at least one McCarthy book a year until I read everything he has ever written.  In reading The Road last year, easily among my all-time favorites, I was turned on to this author.  I told many while reading Blood Meridian that I had seen no evidence McCarthy had used the same adjective twice.  A true test of one’s command of the English language, this book starts off slow and nebulous, but establishes some powerful dialogue and questions of morality and the nature of humanity through war.
  7. Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman – In reality, this book should be nearer the top of the list.  Easily the most piercing book on social economics I’ve ever read, Kahneman details his life’s work in studying how people think, and which parts of the brain command our life’s choices.  While this book is an important read, it is also extremely dense.  The book requires commitment but the reader is rewarded ever-forward with a greater sense of understanding of one’s self and those around him.
  8. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut – I had to spend some time to determine which Kurt Vonnegut book to read first.  Slaughterhouse Five being my end-choice, I had no idea I was getting into such a humorous selection while simultaneously dragging me through terrible atrocities witnessed on the European front of World War II.  In 2018 I’ll select another Vonnegut work, and hope it proves to be as spectacular
  9. In A Pit With A Lion on A Snowy Day – Mark Batterson – I read this book at the perfect time, having to make some decisions in my life on risk I was willing to take in order to obtain personal and professional goals.  Batterson is a pastor of a large non-denominational church in Washington, DC.  The book is biblically centered.  He does a great job of illuminating and obscure passage of the bible to detail the ways in which we can be purpose-driven in our lives.  I would highly recommend its read.
  10. Killing Reagan – Bill O’Reilly – having a history background as my field of study, I am ashamed to admit I did not know more about the life of Ronald Reagan.  I recommend this book, as O’Reilly, regardless of one’s thoughts on him, thoroughly captures the life of one of our greatest patriots and Presidents.  I also felt, going in, that O’Reilly would deify Reagan to a large extent.  To my surprise, he handled the decisions and legacy of Reagan with significant balance.  If one wishes to learn more about Ronald Reagan, I’d highly recommend this book.

Other works I read:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  • The Man in the High Castle – Phillip K Dick
  • Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
  • About Grace – Anthony Doerr
  • A Light Between Two Oceans – M.L. Stedman
  • A Torch Kept Lit – William F Buckley, Jr.
  • handling the truth: on the writing of memoir – Beth Kephart
  • American Sniper – Chris Kyle

Memoir, Biography, Thrillers and Ficitonal Novels all, this year was a captivating tour through reading.  I hope to continue placing reading as an integral part of who I am.  For in these works, I can learn, evaluate and lose myself.  I can link to thinks both better and worse than my experiences in life, and hope to encourage others to continually do the same.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor