Friday, November 21, 2008

Quantity and Quality

"The quantity of our happiness depends the quality of our thoughts." I saw this quote on an art quilt in Quilting Arts Magazine. It was not attributed to anyone; it has a literary sound, or even the sound of a new age guru. However, it's memorable and I wanted to immediately agree with it. But then I begin to wonder, what does this mean? What are "quality thoughts"? Who is responsible for that definition? Are they what I think of as Dalai Lama thoughts -- those mediated by a life of meditational practices emphasizing compassion? If that is the case, I think I would agree. But most of us do not have thoughts of that quality, most of us have lived very different lives that have made us less serene, more venal, less balanced. Most of our thoughts are terribly commonplace, terrible egocentric, terribly scattered and terrible practical.

Does our happiness depend on doing away with at least some of those common place thoughts and replacing them with more "quality" thoughts? Maybe the answer is yes. Maybe that's why almost of the great religions, maybe all of them -- I am not erudite enough to say this with assurance -- insist that time is spend in prayer or meditation both of which may be quality thoughts in so far as they are not selfish, not grasping or angry or negative thoughts, but positive ones -- ones of rejoicing at the good things of life and wishing well to at least those we love and perhaps as broadly as to all sensate beings, perhaps as widely as to the earth as a whole.

Yes, I do think that positive thoughts produce positive feeling, and that is exacty what happiness is -- a positive feeling. I think those positive thoughts, those "quality " thoughts" come also from chosing wisely what we fill our minds with. I do not suggest that we looked only for the saccharine, the cute and sweet and darling. Not at all. I would say that the more we fill our minds with the best we can, good literature, good art, good music the better. But I'm aware that "good" is a subjective term. What is good music to a 15 year old lover of rock or rap or whatever the in kind of music is, is not good to me, the lover of Beethoven and Mozart and Bach. And vice versa, of course.

I feel that I will get into some boggy mire if I carry on in this vein. So I will return to the original quote: "the quantity of our happiness depends on the quality of our thoughts." There is a reading in the I Ching that says we are the sum of what we put into ourselves, which means everything from the air we breathe, the food we eat, the scenery around us, the sounds we hear, the things we read/watch/pay attention to. How could it not be true? What else can we be? So finally it come down to the defintion of "quality." And we'll mostly say, we know it when we see it. What is the quantity/quality of our happiness?

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