Monday, January 16, 2012

Flourishing, or the Pursuit of Happiness

I'm going to take as my theme for 2012 the idea of flourishing.  It's a wonderful word, luxuriant in its optimism, but I became more interested in it last year as I was listening to a series of lectures on early American history.  The topic was especially pointing to the moral and classical underpinnings of some of the Revolutionary ideals.  Now, I'll briefly apologize right off that history is not my best subject, but jumping off a deep end with lots of thoughts is.  So I'll stick with my strengths.

Here's the crux of what germinated in my mind after listening to these lectures: that flourishing is what we really all seek, what government was hopefully designed to encourage and allow, and that flourishing must specifically include tangible extensions of ourselves, or the process of creating something that will last.  You can't truly flourish without leaving something behind.  It was even posited as the original idea behind the well-known Pursuit of Happiness we all enthrone.  Or as it originally stood, the Pursuit of Property.  Many people have lauded the change from property to happiness as the end in mind, but what surprised me was that they were more synonymous (and less greedy) than we may have realized.  Property in its strictest and oldest definition was not simply the accumulation of goods; you can't really claim, in a deeper moral sense, that the fancy gizmo you purchased and flash around is "yours".  You can use it, yes, even personalize it as our modern fetish would have you, but none of your own moral fiber went into its creation.

On the other hand, a painter truly "owns" their work, even if it has been bought by a gallery or collector.  Property accumulation was a slow labor of love, as a farmer worked his land and improved its buildings and groves, passing them on to his children, or as a mother sewed quilts to warm and cheer her family.

In fact, just last night I sat in a meeting at which I heard about some quilts that were made and used just last year in my area.  Our stake (basically the whole state of Delaware) had encouraged its Primary-aged children to keep track of their scripture reading in 2011, and each 10 days they read would represent a quilt square.  These quilts were real, not figurative, and throughout the year volunteers sewed them as they were "earned" by this spiritual effort.  I don't know how many there were at the end (though I know who to ask), but I know there were far, far more than the leaders expected when they proposed the project.

There was a bishop in the neighboring ward who was struggling with pancreatic cancer in 2011, and whose condition became clearly terminal as the year progressed.  He wasn't all that old, maybe a very young grandfather, and he passed away sometime in early December.  He received one of the first quilts completed by the children in his ward, and reportedly wore it everywhere until he died -- at home, in the hospital, and there were even jokes about him being buried in it.  (His family kept it as a memento in the end.)

That is the kind of property, and pursuit of happiness, and flourishing, that I think the founding fathers were trying to express.  That quilt didn't just come from a store; it didn't even "just" come from a neighbor's hands, made with care; it was truly consecrated by the love and spirit of those young people that he had known and served in his turn.  What a gift, and what a truly lasting creation, both in temporal and spiritual terms.  The quilt has an origin, and the children have a stronger spirit and a memory that I think would qualify as flourishing.

As a young adult, I often mocked those who liked handicrafts, and preferred deep, internal, intellectual pursuits.  I still like those, but I have come to understand another side of what we crave as humans.  This year, I'd like to really understand what I have and will leave behind, and try to consciously pursue those things that are of lovely, and of good report, and praiseworthy, and that reflect my heart and what I've worked to plant there.

Let this blog be a beginning.

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