I said in a post a month ago that according to a film that Kim and I saw, two of the significant factors associated with happiness are flow and collaboration. The earlier post dealt with flow, and, as promised, here’s one about collaboration.
Despite the fact, obvious to Kim, that I can be content in isolation, reading or writing or just going to the gym, I feel that collaboration is a deep source of joy. My solitary pursuits are an occasional break from an ongoing collaboration – needed, yes, but only occasionally. To collaborate is to work together, and we work together, currently, to maintain our home, to build a new home, to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, and to restore Kim to health. When I say that we collaborate, I do not mean to suggest that the two of us contribute equally – another fact obvious to Kim. She will cook dinner, despite her fatigue and sore back, and I offer to wash the dishes, a task requiring about 20% of the time and 5% of the skill. But still, it’s collaboration, and it makes me feel good. Yes, I also feel happy when reading or writing, but who says there is only one kind of happiness?
Kim and I collaborate in a number of other ways:
· She cooks dinner; I stay out of the way.
· I make the salad; she makes salad when I forget.
· I carry her heavy 500mm lens. She photographs birds.
· I make the bed; she readjusts the covers so the sheet is not sticking out the side.
· I drive; she alerts me to oncoming traffic.
· I dress myself; she makes sure that my shirt is not twisted where I tucked it in.
· She pores over the cottage blueprints to find mistakes and make adjustments; I watch and nod, grateful for how much she knows about making a home livable.
· She goes to the Cancer Center for regular check-ups, infusions, etc.; I drive her there and back.
· I tell her to rest because she is doing too much; she does too much.
· I draft these blog posts; she reads and makes suggestions, which I incorporate.
· She feels constant back pain; I feel unable to help.
· She rubs me the right way; I rub her the right way.
You get the picture. Collaboration takes many forms, and there are degrees of collaboration.
What is the deep source of the happiness that comes from collaboration? I have no definitive answer, but for me, I like to feel useful. Maybe that’s what people wiser than me call “living a meaningful life.” Useful. When I played drums in a jazz quintet years ago, I hated taking solos. This was largely because I was not very good at it, but also because what I really enjoyed was making the other guys in the group sound better, driving the sound rhythmically and building on what the bass and piano were doing: making music. Useful. Now Kim and I are more of a duet than a quintet, and we each take our solos, but we are collaborating.
I should note in conclusion another profound source of happiness: bad memory. I vaguely remember hearing about and old man somewhere in Europe who was asked about the secret of his happiness. His answer: “bad memory.” He went on to explain that he simply could not remember all the insulting things that had been said or done to him over the years. Perhaps you know people who carry and maintain those hurt feelings like a colostomy bag, as if feeling wronged gives them something they need. Perhaps you are such a person. Well, that old guy – he might have been French – did not have such a burden. So maybe this is a benefit our aging – we can forget and let that shit go.
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