Mies van der Rohe, a design hero of mine, once said “I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good.” He meant his architectural designs, of course, but what are we doing other than designing our own lives? The comparison can be pondered generally about life, as well. Interesting or good? By “good” Mies likely meant serving a purpose, in the form follows function vein. And without superfluous decoration. As explained in the Wikipedia entry, he strove for a minimal framework of structural order balanced against the implied freedom of free-flowing open space. I could go on and on relating minimalism to contentment, but then I wouldn’t be being minimalist, so I hope, dear reader, that you “get it,” at least a little.
Interesting or happy?
Recently, I stumbled upon Penelope Trunk, a former startup exec, now homeschooler, conflicted work-at-home mom, blogger and generally supersmart and interesting ultra drama queen, who is going to say in her forthcoming book (I think) that it’s better to have an interesting life.
She has many posts on her blog about a happy life vs an interesting life, including a quiz she says helps determine whether your life is happy or interesting. My result was -1, which means: You are suspiciously well balanced. Or lacking a self-identity. I’m not sure which. I am going to go with well balanced. I don’t seek happiness, I seek contentment, which is even better, but maybe even more boring.
For me, it is more important to live a happy/content life. I think it is important to be able to find it without relying on material things or even other people. As I type this, I don’t know that valuing this is, necessarily, that much different from having an interesting life, it must depend on who’s assessing it, and I can only assume that each person must be responsible for assessing whether their own life is interesting or not. I mean one person’s interesting, is another person’s harried. I hate harried.
Trunk says in another post, “I think I want an interesting life. Not that I want to be interesting, but I want to be interested. I’m talking about what I think is interesting to me. I want to choose things that are interesting to me over things that would make me happy.” I do, too, but I don’t believe that I have to live in New York, change jobs alot (or even have a job), or insist on alot of choices to be interested. In fact, I am overwhelmed by being interested.
Part of my “problem” is that I am interested in too many things. I wake up, thinking I’m going to check e-mail, see what’s up on Facebook since I last checked before going to bed (and sometimes if I wake up in the middle of the night) and then move on to my day. But, I often stumble upon a link someone posted, or remember something I wanted to find out, then one thing leads to another, and another and I am dreaming up some new side project or buying a book I must read, or finding out about something I must try. This happens too much. This (and having to actually work to come up with money for living and tuition) is why it took me 10 years to complete an undergrad degree. To some extent, this keeps me from achieving the Miesian goal of being “good” (jack of all trades, master of nothing). To get good, you need some focus, right? I’m good at focusing on specific projects, like in a work environment. I am good at meeting deadlines for others, but when it comes to the openness of my own mind, my own life, it’s another story.
One such recent Facebook post lead me to this idea of keeping a logbook (instead of a full-on journal, where, you know, you have to write longhand sentences and full thoughts). The logbook is brilliant. Quick bites of things that hit you that may be useful or interesting to remember. I started one for the new year and already what stands out to me is how I want to be more present with my child. So, I have to find more interest in things I can do with her than in my internet explorations, or at least strive for more balance than I have now. This is likely to be my last winter at home with her and then, last spring, and maybe even last summer, before school and bigger-kid life sets in. I need to be more focused on savoring this time. I need to be present.
A Mayo Clinic article talks about cultivating contentment and lists among its tips devoting time to family and friends, and living in the moment. I know I have heard in yoga practice that being present is key to contentment. I would like to find more scholarly articles, maybe studies on this to link to, but I think in my heart I know it (INFJ, here). And as I try to complete my thoughts and wrap this post in a good way, my girl is literally clamoring for my attention and so I must go.
This post is shared, but by no means complete. But if I don’t come back to it for a while, it’s a good thing, because it will mean I have found the strength to focus on things to make me more good. And, in one is good the way Mies meant it, they are bound to also be interesting.