I have been spending my days with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had to replace my house manager from Madison, and people told me that I should put an ad on the grocery-store bulletin board. That’s how people get jobs where I live now. So I did that. I got two responses.

The job listing said $10/hr and Jeanenne said she’d do it for $20. That’s something I would do. So I hired her. Everyone knows everyone in this town. And when I mentioned Jeanenne’s name, everyone said, “But she’s a Jehovah’s Witness.”

I didn’t really know what this meant. I mean, I knew that they’d probably say something like that about me, being (probably) the only Jewish family in the county. And I knew that when I was a latchkey kid, and Jehovah’s Witnesses would knock on our door, I would often invite them in to talk.

They never made any sense to me.

Now I know why. Jehovah’s Witnesses are all about being happy. They are all about having the answers, knowing the rules, and following them to happiness.

1. The real path to happiness is contentment, and it looks a lot like hell.

Jeanenne recognizes that this is the big difference between us. She took this photo for me. She said, “The cow reminds me of you.”

I laughed right away. The cow has acres of land with corn and grass to feed on all day long. But she went to the edge of the fence and poked her head through to somewhere else. That’s how I am.

Happiness is not interesting to me. I ask Jeanenne why she does not want to argue with the Watchtower. I ask her why she does not want to try doing bad things to see what it feels like. I say, “If you’re going to make your whole life about living according to the Bible, then why not learn to read the Bible in the original language instead of reading someone else’s translation?”

This is so completely not interesting to her. She trusts the unnamed person who tells her what the Bible says. When I question whether it is okay to use birth control if it’s not okay to masturbate, she sends me a three page, well-reasoned email response.

So here’s where we are: I want to find what is wrong, what is unsettling, what leads to inner turmoil and conflict. She wants to have peace and happiness by believing that there is one way to interpret the Bible, and that the Jehovah’s Witnesses know that one way. She wants to help other people find that.

I want to help people find conflict and self-doubt.

2. Contentment is intellectually boring and creatively unchallenging.

So the happiness in Darlington, Wisconsin is killing me. People are genuinely happy here. They do not want to fly to New York City to see what they’re missing at Annie’s Blue Ribbon. They have better things to spend their money on. Like family togetherness or something.

It’s just not in me to be happy. I love questioning everything. Now that I’m a Jew among Christians, I realize that the big difference isn’t Jesus—the big difference is that Jews are always asking more questions. Jews celebrate doubt, angst, and searching in dark places. We love that stuff.

The other day my son asked the farmer why we can’t use dirty napkins at dinner.

The farmer said, “Don’t ask why. It’s rude.”

I nearly fell over. Really. I had never heard that ever in my life.

3. Uncertainty and disquietude make life worth living, but they don’t make contentment.

This is another thing about living in farm country: If you want to say something nice about someone, you say they are a hard worker.

Apparently, people here have not read my post about how you should never be the hardest worker. Because here, it’s a competition. You know how if you want to go home early, you make sure to send a bunch of emails as the very last thing you do so that everyone thinks you’re working? The farm version of that is cutting hay. Or corn. Or soybeans. Everyone can see how far along you are.

The farmer is always early. He says he’s early because he’s a hard worker.

We pass a farm and I say, “Why do you think the corn isn’t cut?”

He says, “I don’t know. Maybe they’re lazy.”

I say, “Maybe the husband just killed the wife and the kids are trying to deal with a grand jury while they’re trying to get the corn cut.”

You know what is most lovable about me to me? I can find drama in anything.

4. Intense solitude and internal voices are essential to life, albeit an unhappy one.

Now that the positive psychology types are coming out with iPhone apps, we know that people with a lot of free time on their hands are not happy. Those people spend too much time thinking miserable thoughts.

The problem is that this seems so nice to me.

And the problem is that now it all starts to make sense to me that Jeanenne is always busy doing stuff for Jehovah’s Witnesses. For instance, 400 people volunteered their time to build a new meeting place. I don’t think Jews would do that. We would donate money so that we could have more time to think dark, unsettling thoughts. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses keep busy. And anyway, going door-to-door is a lot of work.

The farmer and I went to visit.

We had to leave after only a short time because we had to pick the kids up from my Ex and I still needed to fight with the farmer about whether or not he can boss me around with my chickens if he won’t let me boss him around with his pigs.

5. Intellectual angst and constant turmoil are so fun and interesting that you won’t miss being content.

My friend came to visit. She is a friend who has been a professional flutist, novelist, gardener, and now I think she’s on her way to professional photography. Here is a random picture she took of the cows and the barn.

Anyway, she has a nose for nuisance, and she took one look at Jeanenne and said, “I can tell she brings a lot of stability to you. It’s good you have her.”

It’s true, really, that you can SEE stability in Jeanenne. That’s how she is. And she has a stable family and her kids are growing up and being good Jehovah’s Witnesses. And she doesn’t care that they’re not going to college because really, what is college about except challenging everything you already know?

This is one of my favorite pictures. It’s my son sitting in a crowd of boys watching my other son play a video game where he kills everyone.

This is a picture of the life I’m raising my boys to enjoy: a tangled life of misery and conflict, and gatherings to celebrate that. I am not crazy for wanting this. We are officially in the backlash period of the positive psychology movement (I am declaring that period beginning: Now.) As a backlasher myself, I’m convinced that you cannot have both a happy life and an interesting life; you have to choose one. Adam Philips recently made a contribution to this backlash in the Guardian with a review of one of my favorite books, Lord of the Flies, to show that people want interesting lives over happy ones. Tyler Cowen was so far ahead of this curve that he had to disguise his diatribe against happiness as an economic treatise. And I credit him with making me understand that an interesting life is a better goal than a happy one.

The farmer and I wake up very early in the morning. There’s a lot written about why you’ll be happier if you wake up early, but who cares? Because the farmer doesn’t want more happiness —if he did, would he have married me? I’m way too much trouble. The farmer wants to be busy. He put in this wood burning heating system and every day he wakes up early to chop dead trees in our forest.

I wake up early to think. Because I don’t want to be happy. I want idle time to let my mind wander because the unhappy result is so interesting. I watch the sunrise through the smoke, then I sip coffee and stress about what I’m doing with my life. Then Jeanenne comes to remind me that the other side’s always there if I change my mind.

166 replies
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  1. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I think you have saved me a lot of money, Penelope. I think this because instead of going to some ridiculously expensive therapist you have made me realize my problem: right now I am happy. And it’s awful. I worry constantly about this happiness. I need some drama and some movement. It seems much harder to achieve than it should be. I often wonder about the girls that have made “careers” from being socialites: their lives often appear empty and without direction since they have so much money and fame, but since they are rewarded for creating drama (drugs, sex tape scandals), it should be easier for them to have interesting lives. But are their lives really more interesting? Their dramas are usually breaking rules instead of pushing boundaries. And do they really have more freedom or are their lives actually more boring than we as a society give them credit for since they tend to waste this freedom with inane activities like clubbing, instead of exploring the world and meeting the people most of us will never have access to? I think perhaps this is the greatest injustice in modern American culture.

  2. Emily Van Metre
    Emily Van Metre says:

    A guy I work with moved to the Netherlands, and he says that when they talk about a good quality in someone there they say they’re “interesting,” whereas in the US we say they’re “nice” or “friendly” and put all this value on “happiness.” He said the whole culture there seems to place a lot more value on interesting than on happy.

  3. Sara
    Sara says:

    Totally off topic – but had to tell you. This post confirms my belief that there’s no way you’re an ENTJ. You’re totally missing the J – you’ve got to be an ENTP or based on your continual rants that you hate people an INTP. It might help you discover happiness if you stop trying to be something you’re not.

  4. Sue Miley
    Sue Miley says:

    I guess I wanted peace and contentment more than interesting because I went from Jewish to Jesus Freak at the age of 36 (10 years ago). But if you have ever studied the bible, in addition to life-changing, it is certainly interesting!

  5. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    I loved this post, I had to read it out-loud a few times to anyone that would listen. I especially loved that you hired her for $20. Since I have been a consultant for so long I always pay people more than they ask if they do a really great job for me because I’m thinking “That’s so cheap, you can’t live on that”.
    Anyway, great post once again, love your personal ones the best. People always say that about mine so I need to write them more often!
    We need to see your Christmas decor next Penelope!
    xo
    Maria

  6. littlepitcher
    littlepitcher says:

    Great, offbeat post.
    I see no conflict between contentment/physical happiness/low stress, and intellectual curiosity. These are not opposites. Children make the shift between the two, and even maintain both simultaneously. Empathy may cause unhappiness, in which case recovery programs’ advice to “wear the world as a loose garment” applies.

    Having endured abuse in childhood and external stress thereafter, I intend to “become as a little child” without the crutches of religion and without Alzheimer’s disease.

  7. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    “2. Contentment is intellectually boring and creatively unchallenging.”

    So this is why Martha Stewart’s disturbing inner life is a good thing, right?

    (it keeps her trying to find contentment through creative shit that actually helps only those who are already happy)

  8. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    “The other day my son asked the farmer why we can't use dirty napkins at dinner.

    “The farmer said, ‘Don't ask why. It's rude.’

    “I nearly fell over. Really. I had never heard that ever in my life.”

    I nearly fell over, too, but because it’s such a lazy response. Seriously, he fell back on “rude” when the real answer is “hygiene”? Or “compulsion”? Or, really, any number of other, more honest answers. And it wasn’t even rude, unless your son used a rude tone of voice–which should earn him a reproof on tone, not the question itself.

    What did you say after you nearly fell over? Or did you just let that go?

    • Lauren
      Lauren says:

      I interpreted “Don’t ask why. It’s rude.” as meaning it was rude to ask why, not that it was rude to use a dirty napkin. That would have pushed my buttons big-time, as I gather it pushed P’s.

      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        So did I, although as I look at my second sentence, it doesn’t say so explicitly. However, as I did say just after that, “why” is not a rude question, it’s a request for information. The tone may or may not have been rude (I don’t know, I wasn’t there), but as I said, that’s then an issue of tone, not of the question itself.

        Refusing to answer questions that ask “why” and doing so by claiming (falsely) that such questions are inherently rude, is lazy. I found that interesting in light of the conversation Penelope relates in point #3.

      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        I am not doing well at tracking today. That should read “‘Why” is not a rude question, it’s a request for information. However, as I did say just after that, the tone may or may not . . .”

  9. Liza
    Liza says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE Love love LOVE this post.

    It’s intellectually challenging, it’s inspiring and it is completely totally allowing you the expression you crave to offer on your blog.

    I’m reading it again after I go out for lunch. :) and then I’ll probably have a great discussion with my b.f. about happiness vs. interesting later tonight.

  10. john burns
    john burns says:

    I spent my teen years growing up on a farm and often wondered why those cows, standing waist high in beautiful clover and alfalfa would lean over the fence to eat burdocks and thistles and all manner of prickly things, it is as I suspected, cows are dark and evil creatures and they don’t make good Jehovah Witnesses.

  11. Sarah Bush
    Sarah Bush says:

    So I buy it. But I still think what you need is a new project because inquiring minds want to DO stuff. You want to be in the HARD.
    You gave birth to Brazen Careerist and now you’ve sent it off to college and it still sort of needs you, but not like before. And now you’re wandering around the house looking at its old room wondering what to do with yourself.
    You need a new HARD project that excites you. Too much navel gazing for the brainy and you start inventing stuff you’re angsty about. For instance, when I’m sick, I always think I’m depressed, and then I start thinking up the reasons I’m depressed, but really, I’m just sick and when I start to feel better, I remember that. But I get fooled every time.
    Time for a new hard project Penelope Trunk. The farmer is thinking up new projects for himself all the time. He’s such a good example, and you love good examples.

    • Kandeezie
      Kandeezie says:

      I just realized I do the same thing. Every single time. I get sick = I’m depressed. Then I realize I was just sick and that’s why I couldn’t move as fast as I wanted to. Maybe that’s why winter depresses me too. The snow makes it harder to walk, which makes me think I’m not moving fast enough, which makes me think I’m depressed. HA!

    • Christine
      Christine says:

      Sarah, you are right on. Penelope is ready for a new challenge, and I am thinking something in the visual arts/film.

  12. Erika
    Erika says:

    I am so on the fence about the “contentment is boring” thing. On one hand, I’m very content, and veer more to the boring than interesting side. But contentment doesn’t mean stagnation or certainty. I’m not certain of anything — I can’t guarantee I will always be married, or that my kids won’t become druggies, etc. The thing is, I am content in my uncertainty. I am constantly searching & learning, but I like doing that kind of stuff.

    I spent a fair amount of time being dark & angst-ridden. Maybe I got bored of that?

  13. Treacle
    Treacle says:

    I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, and beneath all the happiness and contentment you perceive, is an outright disregard for people who disagree, question, or leave that faith.

    I don’t want to perceived as stirring up drama in the comments of your blog, but I will say that the way they treat outsiders (who they’re hoping to convert) is very different from the way they treat people within the faith.

    For my heart, I’ve never been happier, more contented, or more at ease than since I’ve left.

      • 20Years
        20Years says:

        For 20 years I was a JW.

        Goodness, decency and love are not trademarks exclusive to the JWs. If anything, in fact, JWs can get quite nasty (and most usually they are) with people who disagree with them – especially with those who no longer walk with them.

        This is the complete opposite of the ‘love and respect’ they display in an attempt to lure new ones into their faith.

        JWs, sadly, have become the very things they are so eager to condemn.

  14. Doug Jordan
    Doug Jordan says:

    As expected no doubt, this post attracted a lot of comment. In my view any thinking person would prefer an interesting life to a contented stress-free life. The problem with your post Penelope is the premise that a happy life is defined as one of placid contentment. That’s not how the Positive Psychology movement would define happiness. In my view an interesting life and happy life are not mutually exclusive, but both are hard to achieve.

  15. ASH
    ASH says:

    I recognize that top from the pictures of the BC Wash DC party! I totally get having the go-to outfit. Last year I had the perfect party outfit and I often wore it once or twice a week in December, always with different people. The problem is this little program called Facebook where you get ‘tagged’ in other people’s photos, and every picture that other people took of me was in the same outfit. I endured multiple Seinfeld references (the girl who wore the superhero dress?). This year I will make sure and mix it up.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      Oh my God – I have that Facebook problem too! You think you are wearing the same outfit to different events that have different people at them (Ie not the same crowd), and then people looking at your photos think you wear the same thing constantly, how embarrassing ha ha..

  16. Diana
    Diana says:

    I enjoyed this post because I used to work with a woman who was a Jehovah's Witness and I learned so much about who I was compared to who she was. I liked her a lot though. I just couldn’t believe (anything).

    And you are SO FUNNY today! “400 people volunteered their time to build a new meeting place. I don't think Jews would do that. We would donate money so that we could have more time to think dark, unsettling thoughts.” This made me laugh out loud because my analyst is Jewish and she is like my alternate mother (since I don’t have one). She teaches me stuff like this all the time. It’s so opposite what my mother would have taught me but it makes me happy to know I don’t have to work so hard and that it’s OK to contemplate unhappiness.

    Lastly, and most important. I love your photo. Nice blouse for a cow town!

  17. Ana
    Ana says:

    My Catholic mother behaves like you: she ruminates, overanalyzes, and just loves to be unhappy.

    I really don’t see the difference between Jews and Christians-they all have similar rituals with different names.

    Now do you want to see people who ask questions?
    Talk to some agnostics, some atheists; or maybe some Universalist Unitarians.

  18. ray
    ray says:

    Rockin! I’ll add a great quote from a bad movie: “Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain! “

  19. Rob
    Rob says:

    Great post! I appreciate your candidness. We need more of this in our society. By the way, are you an Meyers-Briggs INTJ?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m an ENTJ. And, to the person who asked about the P/J above. A big difference between an ENTJ and an ENTP is thinking about the moment or thinking about the future. I’m obsessed with long-term planning — that’s what makes me a J. Well, among other things….

      Penelope

      • Sara
        Sara says:

        FYI J vs P has nothing to do with long range planning. I has to do with the need for order and structure versus flexibility and spontaneity. Are you more interested in finishing projects vesus starting etc. It really gets into ones analytical/logic type of personality versus curious/creative.

  20. juliette
    juliette says:

    Why the uc on ex and lc on the farmer?
    “from my Ex and I still needed to fight with the farmer”

    Just wondering. For some reason it’s always struck me that the Farmer is deserving of capitals.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s a good point. I think about that. Sometimes I worry that if I write ex people will read ax. And sometimes I think that there are too many capitalized words in the world, and we are not in Germany, so I should err on the side of lower case.

      This is all lame reasoning. I guess it’s a convention I’ve developed. Maybe ten years from years I will know the subconscious meaning of all this..

      Penelope

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I used to be a Jehovah’s Witness.

    The metaphorical “straw that broke the camel’s back” for me is when I was attending one of their Sunday meetings, and the speaker on the pulpit said, “And sisters (their name for female members of the religion) this is why you shouldn’t wear short skirts…because you might get raped.” That’s not exaggeration or paraphrasing; it’s his words verbatim, and I remember them because of how shocked and disgusted they made me feel.

    Though that one talk was the pivotal moment for me, there’d been a build-up towards my leaving for several years. In the Jehovah’s Witness faith, men hold all the power. Not only are they the only people allowed to speak from the pulpit, every man is considered to be the “king” of his household. His word is law and all his decisions are final. In addition, Jehovah’s Witness actively discourage their children from higher education and actively encourage them to marry early (though since premarital sex is a strict no-no, I guess one can understand the reasoning behind that).

    My biggest issue with the faith though, is how it wrecks families. I’ve known women who stayed in physically and verbally abusive marriages for years because they’ll be shunned and forbidden to remarry if they get a divorce. I’ve known abused children who were isolated and encouraged to “take back” their stories because they accused prominent men in the church of abuse. And I know parents who’ve thrown their teenage children out of the house for going against the religion’s tenets…which is just stupid and sad to me.

    Obviously, I feel very, very strongly about this. As a former Jehovah’s Witness, I lost everything I knew and everyone I knew when I left that faith in my early 20’s, and I wish no one else would ever have to go through that again.

    • Lorri
      Lorri says:

      You don’t use the correct words to be considered an ex Jehovah’s Witness, we don’t call it a ‘pulpit’ – we don’t throw our children out of the home if they choose to not become Jehovah’s Witnesses. We don’t encourage wives to stay in abusive marriages, we don’t shun those who divorce. I have separated from my abusive (non JW) husband, yet I am still considered a member of the spiritual family at my KH.

      • LK
        LK says:

        If you believe these things don’t happen, perhaps you should take the time to research your religion a little bit more.

  22. Lianne
    Lianne says:

    Happy is like love – both wordscontain so many meanings that talking about them like we all know what the hell each other means by them is futile.

    It seems quite simple to me, Penelope, you are, above all, a philosopher. Your life would be incomplete without a “tincture of philosophy”, your “happiness” is in the wonder found in uncertainty -hell, let me just quote Bertrand Russell full on:

    The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, as we saw in our opening chapters, that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.

  23. MoniqueWS
    MoniqueWS says:

    **The farmer said, "Don't ask why. It's rude."**

    Really means I am busy right now and I don’t have a good answer. Asking why is not rude. :-)

    Jeanenne needs a lobotomy if she really wants to be happy. She won’t need to ever think for herself again.

  24. justamouse
    justamouse says:

    LOLOL!

    You and me both. Although, I have to say I’m pretty happy and content, but I’m the one telling my Christian friends that they shouldn’t trust their bible translations, that masturbation is OK with God and that you can get angry at him and put ants on crucifixes and call it art. I think He’s OK with that. He can handle pissed off people.

    Having had chickens, and having loved them to death until I slaughtered them for my girlfriend who had no food, I say you fight hard for those chickens. :-)

  25. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    I think I want to be Jewish now!

    I tried the happy life and the interesting life.

    Interesting wins hands down!
    thanks for the smiles!
    :)

  26. darrell
    darrell says:

    There are times when I long for the certainty of belief, and when I hear/watch the news I would like to turn it all over to God and know it will all work out. Since that’s not an option for me, I listen to Sports talk radio. The world can’t be too bad off if people can spend a half hour discussing an off-hand comment by a millionaire athelete. Very reassuring!!

  27. Jen Gresham
    Jen Gresham says:

    Penelope,
    I share your interest in happy vs. interesting. I write about it all the time. I am ambitious as all get out, which is another way of saying I crave an interesting life.

    But here’s the thing I finally discovered. You can have both happy and interesting. It comes from setting big goals for yourself, but then also being okay with what you already have. It’s essentially optimisitc ambition. This goal didn’t work out? No trouble. There’s always another goal behind that one, trying to elbow it’s way to the front of the line.

    And I would argue you’ve found that too. You are happy with conflict. What brings you contentment is drama. It sounds impossible, but I think it may very well be true…but maybe only for you. That’s the thing. What makes one person happy will make another miserable. And that’s where the happiness studies go astray. They try to be prescriptive, when you have to figure out what makes you happy yourself.

    Jen

  28. Marcy Dockery
    Marcy Dockery says:

    Penelope, I don’t know how I found your blog but it’s in my RSS feed so I read you all the time and enjoy every single one of your posts. I’m from the Midwest originally though live in California now and I remember when I was young sitting on a fence with corn fields on one side and the bright lights of the city on the other and wishing to exist in both. But you can’t so happiness is always on the other side.

  29. lqholiday@yahoo.com
    lqholiday@yahoo.com says:

    This was entertaining. I think it makes some sense for some people and a lot of sense for a lot of people. For me, I think it’s based on a faulty premise. I agree that, yes, striving and desiring (angsty thoughts) leads to change, productivity and an “interesting life”. I also agree that for some and maybe most, contentment makes people happy. Contentment, being comfortable with the status-quo doesn’t change and can be construed as boring. So yes to both those points. What I don’t agree with, is that striving for something different or better makes one necessarily unhappy. I don’t think it’s a choice between interesting and happy. I prefer interesting, but I don’t enjoy pain, angst, dark thoughts or conflict. I enjoy challenges, new experiences, growing and living. I’m happy. I look forward to thinking my own (sometimes dark, but mainly not) thoughts AND being busy. I think everyone needs some of both. You are hilarious. I loved this thought provoking article and I’m glad you’ve been able to neatly categorize all the people you come into contact with in this pre-packaged philosophy; but, it doesn’t apply to everyone. :)

  30. Tom
    Tom says:

    Totally love the post. John Lennon once said; “just give me some truth.” Love your truth-you remove the fog better than anyone I have ever read and you just get at it. You’re a precious gift Penelope and you make me and lots of others happy.
    I thought I would share my thoughts/struggle with happiness/interesting from a different perspective, that of being in the context dating/relationships.
    For the sake of full disclosure I am a 45 y.o. bachelor/never married (keep reading). I was in long relationships (5/6 years) with both “happy” women and “interesting” women as I was seeking to find my way in the world and what I thought I wanted (this was all well before the happiness movement). Just out of college I was stuck with the usual American male directive to go out and make money (implicitly, you will be happy) and had no time to consider such ideas as happy/interesting (I got degree in engineering-because it paid the most and my adviser said I scored well in science and math). That is what “advisers” did back then. Look at what you scored well on and point you that way-never asked what you like to do etc. Sad really. Anyway, my thinking was a guy without any “real” money wasn’t worth much, as neither choice was available; happy nor interesting. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find the first love of my life just out of college. She was all the things I (and most guys) wanted: gorgeous, loyal, easy going, independent, tremendous cook….gorgeous. She was however, not college educated and did not know various “facts” that I thought the mother of my children should know. Things like what prompted World War I. Why it was important to check/understand for yourself and “do the math” proving Einstein’s E=MC^2 . Dated her for 6 years and “couldn’t take it anymore.” She was so happy, while knowing so little. This was my happy doesn’t work relationship (I was a fool). Next, I was incredibly lucky (sarcasm) enough to find a women who was all the things the first woman wasn’t, other than she was gorgeous too (guy’s will be guy’s-just being honest). So, this women was extremely educated, multifaceted (MBA who did stand-up comedy on the side), couldn’t boil an egg, a bit clingy, and of course everything was up for debate. I will call this interesting. We couldn’t agree on which movie to see or what recently positively reviewed restaurant to visit much less which couch to buy. She ended up clinically depressed and I “was the root of it” per her psychologist. Needless to say that ended that (this relationship lasted 6 years too). Next, the good engineer in me took tally of what was good with the first and good with the second and tried to find someone who had both. Surely, that’s the answer. As luck would have it, I found her too (I dated a lot). Absolutely, brilliant, happy wonderful, gorgeous woman. Long story (sorry) and for the sake of brevity I will just say that I started getting daily migraine headaches (I wonder why) and was often in a foul mood and she left (can’t say I blame her). Since then I solved he migraine issue (diet related-of all things…). Anyway, I learned more from these women than reading every book on Amazon (and I have read them all-Amazon serves ’em up on “readers who chose this book also enjoyed …..”). The answer (for me) is you gotta have BOTH, but not necessarily simultaneously. Do a little interesting. Plan a trip to Morocco. Learn a little language, history and then go meet the people, see it and feel it. Exhausted? Great. Then chill a bit with content and happy. Eat drink and be merry kinda stuff …getting tired of that? Grab some interesting. Works for me …now if I can just find a woman who likes this stuff. Ha-Ha. I’ll find ya.
    Keep removing the fog Penelope- just LOVE Love love you. And John Lennon would have loved you too!

  31. Eileen LeBlanc
    Eileen LeBlanc says:

    There are plenty of angst filled Christians- even in Wisconsin.

    And if you don’t believe me do a google search on some of these books:

    Dark Night of the Soul by St John of the Cross
    The Cloud of Unknowing
    Come Be My Light by Mother Theresa
    New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
    anything Dostoevstky wrote ever…

    Seems to me that the angsty Christians are the ones that tend to be the most private about their faith. At least that’s how I am.

    Just sayin.

  32. dianna
    dianna says:

    I haven’t yet read the other comments so forgive me for any redundancy. I am reminded of Fran Lebowitz who said something like this: happiness is a feeling not a condition. so go ahead and feel happy when it strikes you. your thoughts and conflicts and so-called darkness must result in many happy feelings along the way, no matter how fleeting. I happen to be Christian and subscribe to the thought that I am a work in progress toward becoming more Christlike. That is not stability or contentment but can result in happiness from time to time. Happy Hanukah to you and your family.

    • sandy
      sandy says:

      Interesting subject! Gandhi said happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. So if you’re a questioning Jew who likes angst and exploring conflict and self-doubt that must in some way make you happy right? What would make you unhappy is to impose rules that you can’t question things and must act in a way inconsistent with what does make you happy.

      Happy people are not always content and can certainly be both creative and interesting. I think what you’re saying is that you feel YOU wouldn’t feel creative and interesting if you were happy and content in the way that Jeanenne is happy. That’s very true. But if you follow your own angst-driven path I suspect you do feel a measure of happiness because it’s truly you.

      One major thing that Jeanenne has going for her is a community of people who believe as she does and support her. As I read your post I thought that is one thing you’re missing. You have your family but you don’t have a community of like-minded folks in Wisconsin to support you. That can be a real challenge.

  33. S
    S says:

    You CAN have an interesting life AND a happy life, however, you CAN’T have an interesting life and an EASY life.

  34. Peter
    Peter says:

    1) Contentment is not a path, nor is it happiness.
    2) “Happiness” is an impossible abstraction and cannot be arrived at via a path – it is not “out there” to be won, or achieved.
    3) Asking questions and searching in dark places does not contradict this “happiness” and it is not exclusively a Jewish phenomenon.
    4) An interesting life and a happy life are not mutually exclusive. Not even most of the time.
    5) The opposite of happiness is boredom.
    6) Happiness is shallow. I agree that people should stop looking for it. Meaning is deep. Go find that.

  35. Granny Kate
    Granny Kate says:

    I love this! Spiritual evolution demands going beyond the limits someone else sets for you, or even those you set for yourself. “Enforced unaninimity” is mass spiritual suicide. Give me the edge of the new field just beyond the fence. THIS is why I prefer goats to sheep.

  36. LK
    LK says:

    Penelope, may I suggest some more research into the Jehovah’s Witnesses? You may be surprised by what you find.

    And, just because some folks build a new ‘kingdom hall’ (which probably wasn’t needed in the first place), doesn’t mean they aren’t giving money hand over fist.

  37. ioana
    ioana says:

    “Now that I'm a Jew among Christians, I realize that the big difference isn't Jesus – the big difference is that Jews are always asking more questions. Jews celebrate doubt, angst, and searching in dark places. We love that stuff.”

    EX-freakin’-actly!! What’s the Talmud all about? Questioning. Being irreverent.

    Fantastic post Penelope. Thanks.

  38. Jody Urquhart
    Jody Urquhart says:

    The most interesting conversations are about the challenges, triumphs and depressing times people have been through. When I listen to people who have it all together and life just goes swimmingly for them, I am bored. I move on. If someone tells me about their unfortunate circumstances and i think wow, it sucks to be you… this is an interesting conversation. It’s almost like you have to figure out why things went wrong and see if there is a next step for them.

    I walk away from conversations like this ( ie- a lady i spoke with the other day whose son is bipolar and in the hospital) and I remember them sometimes a year later and think I wonder how they are doing now?

  39. Margarett
    Margarett says:

    Jehovah’s Witnesses go door to door because we ‘don’t’ think we’re better than others. Please open them. Regards.

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